People of Asuwere - Sid Sahrawat
Many will know that owning and operating a successful business is no walk in the park - try owning a restaurant. Mastering the craft alone takes years of grit and hard work, and then add a pandemic-sized curveball riddled with labour shortages and it only gets more challenging. Now imagine running not one or two, but three successful businesses of critical acclaim, all at the same time.
Sid Sahrawat has done just that.
At the coalface of 2 of Auckland’s most elevated dining experiences (alongside an exciting new venture), are restaurateurs Sid & Chand Sahrawat, who have firmly established themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the wake of Auckland’s growing restaurant scene.
We had a chat with Sid the Owner/Executive Chef of Cassia, Cassia at Home & Sid at The French Café, and NZ Masterchef Guest Judge (yep, he does all of those things), at his home to get an insight on how he juggles it all, making the Metro Top 50 roll call with all of his restaurants in the same year, and his recipe for success in business and in life.
Has food been something you were interested in at a young age?
A bit of a cliché, my grandma was a great cook and made mean parathas (stuffed naans), I loved watching her, but I didn’t think I would become a chef. I just was not very academically inclined and when the option to leave school to join hospitality training came up, I jumped on it. Initially, I thought I would be front of house or admin but when I picked up the knife, I knew I belonged in the kitchen.
We did a bit of research; you had all three restaurants under your ownership in Metro’s Top 50 in the same year. How does one reach such heights?
I always believe that you succeed through not only the passion you have but also the passion your team has for your vision. We (my wife Chand and I) have been lucky to have amazing people work with us, who share our goals for the restaurants and push to do better each day.
It takes a village to raise a child they say - it also takes a village to run a good restaurant, staff, suppliers, and customers who appreciate it and vote with their feet. We now own two restaurants (Cassia and Sid at The French Café) as we passed on our first-born restaurant Sidart to our head chef Lesley to make room for new projects.
The inside word is that you’ve been known to work 80 hours a week? What does that look like?
I try not to work 80-hour weeks anymore and have a way better work-life balance. Back in the day hospitality was known for its grueling hours but this is changing now, and we are conscious of this as employers and changing systems to achieve a better work-life balance for our staff.
When you own a business, it comes with responsibility, and sometimes when you are short-staffed you have to jump in and work more than your normal share to keep the business going, customers happy and staff employed…. there is no other choice.
Cassia at Home is a step into the FMCG world, which we imagine has a slightly different set of challenges to the restaurant game. Tell us about that?
Cassia at Home was a “pivot” to establish Cassia as an essential service through the pandemic, create a revenue stream when there was no other and keep our staff employed.
Well - that was the idea that Chand my wife and I came up with. We realised very quickly that we had bitten off more than we could chew, as the popularity of the sauce range overtook our ability to keep up production. We had to find a contract manufacturer and work with them to teach them the recipe and establish consistency.
We now are stocked in more than 35 retail stores across the country and have a good volume of B2C sales online. We are also growing the line this year with new products, it’s all about bringing the Cassia experience to the customer’s home but making it easy and foolproof. So, with our curry sauces, you just cook your protein and add the sauce, warm up and dinner is ready in 10 minutes.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve learned across the span of your career?
Stay focused and remain true to what you do, trends come and go but you need to find what makes you happy and do that to the best of your ability.
What are your favourite cheap eats in NZ?
Canton Café in Kingsland for Peking duck and prawns with the whanau. New Flavour in Dominion Road for after-work dumplings with the staff, Paradise in Sandringham on a day off when we can’t be bothered cooking and want some Indian curry.
What is the appeal of Asuwere to your lifestyle?
I love the understated elegance of Asuwere clothes and the clean lines, I used to shop when on holiday overseas but realised that with the border closures I had no time or opportunity to shop. I love to support local and Asuwere ticks that box for me, the membership aspect makes it super convenient.