“I didn’t advertise before opening AANGAN because I am someone who truly believes in word of mouth” says AJAI ASHOK, OWNER. And word of mouth seems to have worked really well for Aangan. When I visited the restaurant for the interview, it was packed; mostly with families.
Like most individuals who carve a niche for themselves in the food industry, Ajai’s background is in no way related to food; in fact, he is a Qatar based chartered account. He landed in Cochin with the sole intent of shifting his talents to business and the restaurant business was discovered to be one of the most lucrative options Ajai could turn to.
The ideal location for the restaurant took a little more time to lock in. “I felt that Palarivattom is developing rapidly and there were only 12-15 notable restaurants in this area. A proper multi cuisine restaurant that caters to families was absent and hence, I decided to fill this gap in format. Aangan is located in a large residential area with a lot of NRIs and this proved to be a huge market for the restaurant.” The response that Aangan received shows that Ajai has snapped shut that gap for a good family restaurant. Aangan also has a party hall that can accommodate upto 150 guests. Besides the walk ins, Aangan also has a delivery service of 5km radius. About 30% of their orders are home deliveries.
I was served a welcome drink the moment I arrived. This practice is for all guests mind you. It was a glass of Papaya juice but because of my allergies to the fruit, they were courteous enough to serve me a refreshing glass of lime mint cooler abuzz with a pleasing bite of ginger. As mentioned earlier, Ajai is a staunch believer of word of mouth advertising and he makes it a point to interact with all diners who come in. In fact, he has created a personal rapport with most of the repeat customers. The great ambience, reasonable cost and the exemplary service has most of the diners coming back in hoards. “I am not a foodie but I believe in providing the best food teamed with the best customer service. My mother is a fantastic cook hence I have learnt to appreciate good food. More importantly, I want my customers to feel a sense of comfort at Aangan.”
A market research of families who frequent restaurants revealed that most of them prefer a homely atmosphere even while dining outdoors. Most families want relatively quiet, clean settings with ample parking facilities. The most unique factor that Aangan has to offer is that almost 70% of the products used to prepare the dishes come from Ajai’s farms! Apart from the chicken and beef brought from outside vendors, curry powders, most of the vegetables, spices, coconut oil and seafood come from the family farms. Even the paneer and sauces are made in house.
The goal behind this sort of a production method is to provide the customer with healthy, pesticide free food. Aangan serves seven types of cuisines; Kerala, Continental, Thai and Chinese to name a few (ajinomoto is not used while preparing any of the dishes). Apart from serving only whole wheat chapathies, the restaurant also avoids frozen foods as much as possible. “It is difficult to introduce healthy foods to customers. Many want the softness of maida breads over healthier wheat alternatives. Then again, everyone has individual tastes and so satisfying everyone will be out of the question. But yes, there are many customers who appreciate the sincere efforts taken.” Says Ajai.
The restaurant industry is one where there is constant learning, and Ajai is up to the challenge. He does all the purchasing for the restaurant and thanks to his supportive staff; he has been able to run the restaurant like a well-oiled machine.
I couldn’t wait to try out some of the dishes and my happy tummy was served masala batter fried prawns and squid to start off. The masala was a delightfully peppery one with a lovely crunch and oh my god the seafood! It was extremely fresh, soft and tender with absolutely no fishy after taste. It was the most amazing plate of seafood I had ever tasted! The freshness was outstanding! Next up was a sample tandoori platter with portions of tandoori chicken, hariyali kebabs and malai kebabs. I have yet to taste such moist delectable kebabs! The kebabs were soft, easy to cut with just a fork and not drowning in marinade. The marinade, ground from fresh herbs without any food colouring was delicious on its own as well! I really liked the fact that I could taste the succulence of the chicken all the way to the last bite. The house made mint sauce paired really well with the tandoori chicken and it was such a refreshing delight!
The final dish I was served was the paneer butter masala with hot, buttery naans. Oh good lord! The paneer at Aangan is the stuff of legends! The gravy was rich and decadent with generous chunks of the softest, most delicate paneer I have ever had the pleasure of devouring! This is by far the best paneer butter masala I have had in Cochin! I haven’t enjoyed a meal this much in a long time!
“I want Aangan to be more than a restaurant chain. I want it to be an experience. I have in mind a plan to start restaurants with varied themes. I am exploring options regarding the same.” All the best Ajai! You’re sure to go a long way!