Nicky Ramchandani, a young entrepreneur based in Dubai, is the creator of Zen – an authentic, uber-popular Oriental restaurant in the heart of the city’s central business district. Nicky’s passion for great food and his dream to bring authentic Thai and Chinese cuisine to a city thriving with food lovers led to a career switch back in 2005.
We caught up with Nicky at his restaurant just before the busy office lunch hour. Nestled amid Business Bay’s towering skyscrapers, this charming little space is big on authenticity. It’s no surprise then that Zen is one of the top-rated Asian restaurants in Dubai.
Excerpts from our meeting.
Zen is a product of my passion for food. I’m very passionate about food. I love researching new trends and fads in the cooking world.
Back in 2005, it was hard to find a restaurant in Dubai that served authentic yet great food that could be eaten everyday at a reasonable price. There weren’t many Thai and Chinese restaurants at that time. Most restaurants were into fusion, and compromised on ingredients, altering tastes to suit customers’ palates.
This inspired me to start a concept that served food the way it’s traditionally done on the streets of Thailand and China. We fly in our ingredients like chillies, herbs and noodles every week from Thailand and Hong Kong. We make our curry paste in-house. This is what makes Zen stand out from the rest. We stay true to the core of Asian culture and flavours.
What are the challenges you faced in starting up and running a restaurant in Dubai?
The biggest challenge in Dubai is sourcing the right ingredients. In Dubai, most of the produce are imported. So every six months, the ingredients available are of a completely different variety or country. This makes it very difficult to maintain the quality and taste of food.
Also, as a single-owner small business, another challenge was to put in place the right technology to keep me competitive. And to give me business intelligence to improve my customer engagement. Typically, such systems are unaffordable for start-ups. Luckily, I found Sapaad. Sapaad gave me all of that and because it’s a monthly subscription, it was affordable for a new business. A lot of our initial business challenges were addressed.
With Sapaad, I have instant access to critical sales information. This has helped me make informed business decisions in our year-round assessments. Last year, we were able to knock off 20 items from our menu that weren’t gaining us high profit.
Sapaad gives us great insights into sales trends in our home delivery areas. It helped us carefully-target our marketing efforts, and even cut down our monthly marketing budget.
I love Sapaad. I would, without a doubt, recommend Sapaad to other business owners.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in the restaurant business?
Focus on customer service. Because at the end of the day, the whole restaurant business revolves around your customers. We have over 10,000 customers in our database. When a customer calls, we have all the customer’s information at our finger tips. We address them by name. We know what they like, what’s their favourite food. Customers love this type of engagement. These little things go a long way.
I also advice to keep a record of your accounts from day one. And put aside 5% of your sales from day one, regardless.
Finally, what are the top three must-haves at Zen?
Our BBQ Chicken is a top favourite. Also, there’s the Spicy Papaya Salad, the Red Curry Based Stir Fry, and the Pad Kee-Mao Noodles (pictured here) made with noodles flown in straight from Thailand.
Follow Zen Dubai on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @zendubai or order online zendubai.com.