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‘We believe that our markets in South and West India have the potential for more than 100 Chili’s’ – Ashish Saxena, CEO, TexMex Cuisine

Ashish Saxena is the CEO at TexMex Cuisine which owns and operates the renowned global casual dining chain “Chili’s American Grill & Bar” in the Western and Southern regions of India. With 18 restaurants across India, Chili’s is the largest international casual dining brand in India today.

Mr. Saxena has a rich experience of over 15 years across different sectors like F&B, Agribusiness, Airlines, Healthcare, FMCG, Engineering, Pharmaceutical, & IT. Prior to joining TexMex Cuisine, Mr. Ashish was heading a $250 million retail edible oils and fats business for global agribusiness major Bunge Ltd.

Under Mr. Saxena’s leadership TexMex Cuisine has managed to grow leaps and bounds to 10 restaurants spanning across Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune & Chennai. The company is in various stages of opening 5 more restaurants in first half of 2017. His obsession with technology adoption in business has enabled TexMex Cuisine to have one of the most robust systems and process with best in class integrated ERP serving as the backbone of the company.

Ashish Saxena in an interview with Prateek Thakker spoke in length about different aspects of Chili’s, its growth story, the successful marketing campaigns and other interesting details.

Ashish Saxena, CEO, TexMex Cuisine

Excerpts from the interview:

Chili’s Growth

In our view, we have grown at a modest pace so far. We opened 5 new Chili’s in the past 3 years. We were very keen to ensure that the brand and the American-Mexican cuisine resonates well with Indian customers. Having seen the success of our 10 restaurants, this year we are opening 5 more Chili’s! And this is definitely a good pace that we would like to maintain going forward as well. We believe that our markets in South and West India have the potential for more than 100 Chili’s and we are marching towards that goal.

The QSR segment – Threat or Opportunity?

It’s an opportunity. India lags all other emerging economies in the propensity to eat out. With more brands and more offerings, the rate is only going to go up. We are a casual dining brand – the key difference being service and entire experience along with the great food. A lot of our guests today have graduated from the international QSR chains – so growth in QSR is great for our business.

Successful Marketing Campaigns

Chili’s is a 42-year-old casual dining brand in the US. It has over 1600 restaurants across 33 countries. However, the challenge for us is two fold:

I. Awareness of the brand and its heritage is low

II. American and Mexican Cuisine is not well known and accepted.

So our marketing approach is to tackle these two key issues. We defined our marketing mission statement as “Chili’s is the only restaurant chain serving (authentic) American Tex-Mex cuisine in an environment where you can enjoy a slice of the ‘American way of life’.”

Then we set out to communicate this effectively through a campaign that leveraged both mass media as we all as local restaurant activation. The results have been fantastic – our awareness level have gone up and guests are appreciating the Tex-Mex flavors more than before. This year we are taking this even further and positioning Chili’s as the place to enjoy life. Our campaign ‘more life happens here’ has been live from April starting with the Chili’s Stadium experience which will bring the IPL & Champions Trophy games to life on our 100-inch projector screen.

But, the campaign to be remembered is from last year where Chili’s India decided to play Santa for its guests on Christmas eve by helping them fulfill their desires for a happy 2017.

We had our team ask guests a simple question – “What are you doing to make yourself happier this new year?”. We then set out to make them happy. With an average dining time of half an hour, granting some of the wishes was sure a task! However, we managed to fulfill all the wishes, resulting in surprised but happy guests.

Our campaign has been making the rounds of the digital sphere garnering love and engagement from people across the nation.

Indian F&B sector in the coming years

The NRAI Indian Food Services report has outlined the wonderful growth prospects of the F&B sector. There is a huge shift being witnessed from unorganized to organized sector. This for further impetus with the actions of the government in tightening the tax collections and demonetization. The organized food services market currently estimated at INR 1 trillion is expected to double in the next five years. The casual dining sector is expected to grow at more than 20% over the next few years and expected to reach 50,000 crores by 2012 from the current size of 20,000 cr.

Innovations in Chili’s kitchen

Globally we are primarily a grill and are known for grilled and fried delicacies with southwestern flavors. For India, we recognized the need to have a strong vegetarian offering. These dishes are made using Fresh Tex and Fresh Mex flavors only and are not Indianised. For maintaining consistency, some of our restaurants use a special technology called “Kitchen of Future” or “KOF” where we make use of infrared ovens that are built specifically for Chili’s.

Message for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to get into the restaurant business

It is a tough business – so get into it only if you can work 24×7 without expecting results from day one. Many a time you might feel it’s not worth it – but if you keep your focus, you will surely get the success.

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