Raymond Doherty 4 May 2018 09:05am

A day in the life: Gauri Devidayal

Gauri Devidayal speaks to Raymond Doherty about why she left a Big Four tax team to open her own restaurant, which is now part of a growing culinary empire in Mumbai

Caption: Gauri Devidayal. Photography: Sara Hylton

How I changed career

I moved home from London in December 2007. I’d been away from India for almost nine years by then. PwC helped me relocate to their tax team in Mumbai, where I met my husband and now business partner. He was a techie who had moved back from San Francisco. He’d just sold his business and wanted to have some fun. Little did he know that this would be the hardest we’d ever work. We are big foodies and always trying new restaurants. He had this idea for starting one – at this stage I had no intention of quitting my job, but I felt the need to get more and more involved. I was struggling to balance both and was becoming interested in the business side of the project. I was very honest with my boss when I realised that I was not able to do justice to both.

We started The Table in January 2011. I ask myself why almost every day. Neither of us are from a hospitality background and probably didn’t envisage what we were getting ourselves into. In 2009/10 the industry in Mumbai was very different. It made sense in theory to do a stand-alone restaurant because there were very few good ones. There was definitely a gap in the market.

Between San Francisco, London and India, we’ve been exposed to great food. Food was in our DNA and is a big part of why we’re doing this.

Our idea was to bring a part of the San Francisco food scene to Mumbai. It’s more a style of cooking than a particular cuisine – it’s about the ingredients. We didn’t realise the level of involvement it would take to create what we had envisioned. You might think you’re going to employ a great team and then step back and run the business from a high-level, but that isn’t how it works. Having said that, in seven years I haven’t wished I wasn’t doing this. Yes, it’s long hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year, but if you really enjoy what you’re doing, it’s worth it. Luckily, or not depending on how you view it, because my husband and I work together we don’t have to worry about seeing each other enough.

The challenges I've overcome

It was a steep learning curve for us, no doubt. It’s not very nice to be dependent on too many people but we were at the beginning, whetherit was on kitchen design or the bar programme or hiring. Our executive chef came from San Francisco and it was his first time living and cooking in India. There was a language barrier, obvious challenges like that. Dealing with government bureaucracy was not exactly a barrel of laughs. There was also the restaurant concept, which at the time was new to our diners. It wasn’t easily pigeonholed. There were different levels of challenge. Part of it was down to our ignorance and the rest is just what everyone in this industry has to deal with.

Once The Table took off, an obvious next step would have been to open a second restaurant along similar lines, maybe in a different part of town or another city. We did look at potential spaces but never found anything that excited us. We ended up doing something very different with Magazine Street Kitchen. It’s a co-cooking space, a bakery and a dining area rolled into one. The building was actually my father’s old factory. It’s in a very industrial part of town, not really on your way to anything – definitely not on your way to dinner. He was going to sell but we thought we could do something interesting with it and took it off his hands. It meant we could work without the thick cloud of rent over our heads.

“We are definitely more commercially minded now but it has to be somewhere we feel connected to in some way”

Our bakery supplies other cafés and restaurants around the city. We’ve already outgrown our capacity and are looking to scale-up. Another restaurant project is a possibility as well. We are definitely more commercially minded now but it has to be somewhere we feel connected to in some way. That’s really important to us. We’re not in any rush to expand with venture capital investment – it has to be our space and not someone else’s.

My responsibilities

I’m working partner and co-founder of the group. That way my husband and I have very different responsibilities and that’s how we’ve managed to stay married. He’s the ideas person and I’m the one who executes those ideas. I’m also more of a people person so I take charge of the HR and marketing side of things. I concentrate on the day-to-day operations and he’s more big picture.

My typical day

As my team has got stronger I have delegated more. My role has changed, which is good, as it never gets boring. Now it’s all about innovating and firefighting. It’s about dealing with all the different personalities. I never have two similar days. We have a farm where we grow a lot for the restaurant. It’s not really a commercial venture, as we don’t make money off it, but I spend a lot of time on it. It’s good to have that balance, doing something I really enjoy along with the day-to-day work. We have a five-year-old daughter so any time not in the restaurant we try to spend with her. We love travelling so on any long weekend or free days we get out of the city.

Industry quirks

I think that many people get into the restaurant business for the wrong reasons. If any budding restaurateur asks for advice, I tell them to do it for the right reasons. It’s not a glamorous job, it’s not about having your own restaurant. It’s a lot of hard work. I don’t think people appreciate that enough. It’s literally morning and night. People look at others and think, I could do it better and cheaper, but it’s not that simple.

How the ACA helped my career

I’d be dead without it. I have so many friends in the industry who say, you’re so lucky to be able to understand the numbers. Honestly, it gives me such an advantage. Even if you have consultants, auditors or advisers, that understanding is vital. To know that people aren’t taking you for a ride.

The habits of an accountant

Attention to detail. That helps in the restaurant and not just with the accounts but also with smaller things, like with flower arrangements.