They make style statement silently

They make style statement silently

Hearing and speech impaired work in the hotel

They make style statement silently
Promoters were prepared to face challenges in the new set-up

It’s a new concept as far as India is concerned.  Mirchi & Mime, a fine dine restaurant located at Trans Ocean House at Lake Boulevard in the Hiranandani Business Park at Powai in Mumbai stands out for its unique concept as the waiters here are differently-abled – they can’t hear and speak. But the service can be compared to the best star hotels of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The hotel has been set up by Prashant Issar and Anuj Shah who are MBA graduates from Henley Business School in the United Kingdom. While Issar is the Chief Executive Officer, Shah is the Chief Operations Officer. The two had a chance meeting in June 2014 at Starbucks in Juhu. A few months later—October to be precise--they had founded Squaremeal Foods Private Limited and launched Mirchi & Mime.

They are driven by two deeply-held core values, which they have acquired from institutions and people they admire--character and integrity are as important as capability and wealth creation is important for society as a whole not just for individuals.
Food at Mirchi & Mime has been defined by carefully picking ideas, trends and principles of cooking from the best of restaurants, chefs, gourmands and food writers who the duo have interacted with, learnt and experienced across the world, over the last 20 years. Each dish on the menu has a thought, an idea and/or a story.

Asked why differently-abled people, Issar explains: “They have pleasant attributes – they are smiling, they are focused, they are intuitive.” “I and Anuj not only decided to do business but also to generate wealth for society. And some friends joined in as investors,” said Issar, who has opened 19 restaurants so far in India and other parts of the globe.

The M&M concept does not stop here – and their overall plan is to have more such hotels across the world. “As far as the international plans are concerned, we are going to have it in Singapore, Dubai and London,” he said.

As regards India, there are plans to have more such restaurants in Mumbai besides cities like New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Gurgaon and Noida. “We have big plans and we are going to execute them,” said Issar, adding that he and his business partner have had countless discussions during which they have put together a list of guiding principles and boundary conditions to ensure consistency of approach. “We would have Mime as common in the name but the word Mirchi may vary from city to city,” he said.

“In our restaurant, you would see that you are actually getting hospitality looked after as a host and with commitment and integrity. In M&M, we have 25 differently-abled waiters and this is not a gimmick…they are good, their service is good and that’s how we are able to sustain,” he points out.

Explaining further how they went about it, Issar said:  “We interviewed candidates along with their families. The insights from these interactions convinced us that our differently abled team members naturally possess the three key attributes that most service teams aspire for--smile, focus and intuitiveness. At the same time, we envisaged the key challenges we would face--trust, independence, confidence and skill in service.”

“We have recruited our team based on their capabilities and not disabilities. We are aware that we cannot micro-manage details of every possible scenario. As we go along, many more such realities will arise and we will deliver an exciting experience interspersed with such realities,” he said.

Subsequently, Prashant and Anuj put together an eight-week classroom training programme in association with Dr Reddy’s Foundation, wherein we were also supported by NASEOH and Rochiram T Thadani High School for the Hearing Handicapped.  “The module was led by Head of Training Clyde Castellino and Head of Operations Ranjan Chakraborty, who joined us in the core team. The programme comprised introductory modules on life skills, job readiness and the English language, these were followed by an extensive basic hospitality skills module. Furthermore, the entire core team of  Squaremeal Foods, including chefs, were taught basic sign language by a certified tutor. The transformation of the team under Clyde & Ranjan’s guidance was ground breaking for us,” he said.

“With new insights and learnings we felt that this was certainly do-able. However, we also feared that it might become a check-in-the-box experience. Going back to the drawing board, we realised that it was food that would have to lead the concept and the service was only value addition,” Anuj said.  Both Prashant and Anuj had undergone the sign language training so that they are also able to communicate better with the customers.

They then managed to put together a team of two young chefs  - Sameer Vijay Bhalekar and  Dipesh Shinde with contrasting experience in world food and classical Indian cuisine.  “Renowned chef from the UK, Manoj Vasaikar, came onboard when we told him about our endeavour. He immediately committed to join us as culinary director to mentor our kitchen team. Through our combined thinking supported by precise execution by Sameer and Dipesh, we managed to put together an unusual and exciting compilation of dishes. This is our strength and the leader of our concept, which we refer to as, 'good food served quietly',” said Issar.

Asked about the response from customers, he said that when new customers come in the manager explains them the concept.  “The food and concept bring them back,” he said.

Narrating an experience, Prashant said:  “During our practice trial runs for friends and family, one of the invited guests asked for some extra chutney. The server while spooning the same onto his plate, repeatedly knocked the spoon on his plate. Since our servers cannot hear, he was oblivious to the noise. I was also at the table and immediately tried to correct the server. The guest, however, stopped me suggesting, this was a moment of truth and realisation for him, reminding him that the person serving him is different.”

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