Ever wondered about the planning that goes into a restaurant? “It’s not unlike having a baby” chorus husband and wife team of Janis Fraser and Sumer Arora.
When Janis and Sumer decided to go into the food business, they called in food consultants Under One Roof to thrash out a concept, plan a menu, design the kitchen and hire and train staff. It was one of the first few projects of Under One Roof, and their very first complete project in the NCR in the year 1998.
The location was the industrial area in Gurgaon, off Delhi, right by the Maruti factory. Corporate clients, not surprisingly, were expected to account for a large chunk of business, which meant speedy service, although not ‘fast food’, a concept which has little positive connotation today.
The couple already has a franchise for Domino’s Pizza and had a rough idea of their customers’ requirements: hot, tasty food, easy to eat in an office surrounding, and variety. Neither must the food be too rich nor heavy — post-lunch drowsiness is enemy number one for a restaurant of this kind. Most orders were expected to be take-aways, so American Cafe is equipped with delivery bikes, and a range of food packaging from corrugated cardboard to polystyrene.
To fill in the evening hours, Janis and Sumer looked at the possibility of home delivery to the thousands of residences around Gurgaon.”Most of those who live around the area work in Delhi, which means that at the end of a long and tiring day at work, they’ d be game for ordering a meal on the telephone rather than actually going out.”
And because Janis is from the US, the couple wanted the eatery to reflect that. It certainly does. The American Cafe is an explosion of colour with posters lining the walls in the e tiny cafe. Taken on its own, the cafe is attractive enough. There’s a specific reason for the vibrant colour however as a visual relief from the average office environs for those who choose to eat their lunch in the restaurant.
Tiny however, is certainly not the size of the kitchen and facility areas. “We’re planning another couple of things over the next year which we’re not talking about right now, but we did want a mother kitchen which would be able to handle something like 2,500 meals a day,” is Sumer’s comment. American Cafe’s menu revolves around soups, salads and sandwiches — the natural extension to well-balanced meals which are quick to prepare and easy to eat. Indian food is out, being too messy to eat. Instead there are Cajun and Mexican preparations, German, Italian and French touches, even Korean kimchi in an open sandwich combined with paneer.
In addition to salads and sandwiches there are Super Meals which include pastas and fajitas. Add-ons like the sensational beer-batter fried onion rings, the typically Texan corny dogs and flavoured popcorn do double duty for especially hungry diners or as a snack in.between meals.
It’s the sandwich section on which Under One Roof has gone to town. Open sandwiches, bruschettas, grilled or batter-fried sandwiches and baked sandwiches, the latter made with short-crust pastry.
Janis and Sumer were clear about pricing: costs were to be kept low – an average meal for one was not to exceed Rs 100.
This meant that they and the consultants, Under One Roof, had to work backwards. The only pork of reliable quality in Delhi cost so much that they were forced to use chicken instead. As a result, all the ham and sausages that the restaurant uses is made from chicken.
Herbs and lettuce are grown inhouse to cut costs. Jalapeno peppers, the one ingedient that Janis refused to compromise on will be the only item that American Cafe will import. The consultants take pride in pointing out that all the meats that go into any of the dishes are roasted rather than boiled.
Attention to detail is patently obvious: even the peanuts and walnuts that add crunchiness to the coleslaw are first roasted, and the fruit salad is an imaginatively presented platterful featuring kiwi among others. One feels that if the gestation of this particular baby was troublesome, actually watching it grow should prove enjoyable.