In 1985, a small unpretentious restaurant in Sharq drew the attention of three young connoisseurs of fine food and gracious hospitality. Infused with the idea of introducing authentic Mughlai cuisine to Kuwait, they threw all their energy and effort into ensuring that great food was always served with a pleasing service in a relaxing ambiance. Thus was born Mughal Mahal, Kuwait’s best known Indian restaurant and a culinary icon in the country.
As Mughal Mahal enters its thirtieth year of serving what are undoubtedly some of the finest Mughlai dishes outside the Indian sub-continent, we take a look at the restaurant, and the trio of Ashok Kalra, Jatinder Suri and Mukesh Kumar, who are behind the restaurant’s phenomenal success story.
Barely one year into their opening, Mughal Mahal blazed into culinary limelight when it was feted as providing a ‘Feast fit for Kings’ in the popular dining review section of a local newspaper. The reviewer merited the restaurant with five stars in the three categories of quality of food, service and value for money, while leaving it with four stars in atmosphere. The total was the highest ranking given to any eatery in Kuwait at that time. The crowds that began flocking to the restaurant from that day have not diminished till date.
Over the years, the restaurant has warmly welcomed seasoned food connoisseurs as well as newbies to fine dining and in the process changed perceptions about Indian cuisines among Kuwaitis and other expatriates in the country. Serving as cultural and social hub for community members and others alike, the restaurant has played host to hundreds of receptions for visiting glitterati, including politicians, businessmen, artists, musicians and film stars.
It was no accident of fortune, place or time that led Mughal Mahal to transform from one small, unassuming restaurant in Sharq into one of the finest restaurant chains in Kuwait. The remarkable expansion and evolution of Mughal Mahal is the outcome of an amalgam of strong management leadership, the tireless dedication and diligence of staff and an unwavering commitment to delivering an exquisite culinary experience to guests.
Attaining and retaining one of the top rankings among restaurants in Kuwait for more than a quarter-century is also the result of an unrelenting attitude to sourcing only the best quality ingredients, preparing dishes consistently to the highest culinary standards and persistently delivering exceptional service to guests in elegant surroundings. The remarkable success story of Mughal Mahal is attested by the exponential growth over the years in its menu, services, staff, covers and revenues.
From serving only an authentic Indian Mughlai cuisine the restaurant chain has expanded to offer specialized Chinese and international cuisines. The brand, once renowned only for its dine-in facilities, now offers the same level of unrivaled food quality and service through its dedicated outdoor catering division and its take-away, home-delivery and banqueting service. What started out with just 55 covers and a staff of five has grown today to offer 1,500 covers with a staff-strength of around 500, while revenues have grown multiple-fold in the same time span.
Operating a restaurant is no easy task, as anyone who has entered the business will tell you. Between space, sourcing, servicing and personnel problems, it is an uphill battle from day one. Factor in the sky-high costs of rent and rising prices of supplies and the chances of success are really very slim. Stories of high-profile restaurants opening with much fanfare and then shortly closing for good are frequent in Kuwait.
It is quite an achievement when any restaurant remains open successfully for a decade or more, but to do it continuously for thirty years is an accomplishment by itself. “For a restaurant to successfully remain in the top tier for 30 years is a rarity in any country; for an Indian restaurant to accomplish this feat on foreign land is even rarer,” said Partner and Managing Director Mr. Kalra. He added, “We attribute this success to the continued support from concerned authorities in Kuwait, our gracious sponsors, dedicated staff and most of all our guests who have trusted us with their patronage all these years.”
“Responding positively to the needs of guests has always been a top priority with us. While developing customer relations and building loyalties are a long-term ongoing process, our extensive menu conceptualized out of a love for fine food and our restaurant’s ethos based on a passion for gracious hospitality have ensured that we continue to deliver a memorable dining experience to our guests on every occasion,” noted the brand’s Partner and Director Mr. Suri. Pointing to the company’s future plans, he added, “We have a clear vision of our growth path for 2015 and beyond; this includes adding a coffee-shop, a dedicated bakery and confectionary to further expand our bouquet of offerings.”
In its three decade long history Mughal Mahal has weathered the woes that Kuwait went through, including economic downturns, political upheavals and an invasion, to emerge triumphant and rebuild itself, as the country did, after liberation. The restaurant reopened without much fanfare in 1991, welcoming back loyal guests, meeting new faces and making them into long-term patrons.
In the immediate post-liberation environment, the restaurant served as a prominent pivot for convivial reunions among Kuwaitis and expatriates separated by the seven-month long invasion. The restaurant’s increasing popularity with the public and growing customer loyalty, encouraged the management to soon engage in an assertive expansion program.
From 1993 to 2005, eight more branches were opened across Kuwait, including three in Salmiya and one each in Fahaheel, Farwaniya, Fintas, Jahra and Hawally.
The next two outlets followed in rapid succession in May and June of 2010, with the tenth branch opening in the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt and the eleventh outlet opening as a lavish banqueting facility in Fahaheel.
“A customer’s repeated visit and menu choices are an expression of their preference; we have ensured that Mughal Mahal outlets are situated in prime location that provide convenient and easy access for our guests. We are also constantly endeavoring to tailor our menus to better define and express the culinary choices of our guests. Over the years, as customer expectations became more nuanced, we have responded by creating meaningful niche dining experiences for them. For instance, when there was a demand from guests for banqueting and events management venue, we then introduced Rayan Banquet Hall in Fahaheel,” said Partner and Director Mr. Kumar.
The foresight and perseverance of management along with the dedication and commitment of the staff, has led to the brand gaining plaudits in various media reviews and winning numerous accolades in Kuwait, which was topped by its repeated recognition as a Superbrand in the country. Over a timespan of three decades, Mughal Mahal has not only captured the culinary taste and imagination of Kuwaitis and expatriates alike, but also created a growing cult behind Indian cuisine in Kuwait.
As an iconic Indian brand, Mughal Mahal through its food diplomacy has been at the forefront in promoting the image of India in the country. Also, their corporate commitment to giving back to society has led the brand to being involved in various community activities, including supporting Indian cultural, social and professional gatherings, and providing voluntary catering to the thousands who arrive for the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations at the Indian Embassy premises every year.
The brand’s corporate social responsibility extends beyond the hospitality sector and offers annual scholarships to deserving students of Indian schools in Kuwait and in India, as well as providing medical care through their support for specialized medical institutions in India. The three Mughal Mahal directors are also loyal and patriotic Indians who never fail to respond immediately through monetary contributions and other support to any national or regional disaster in India, as well as support various philanthropic and needy causes of the Indian community in Kuwait. In between his busy professional obligations, Mr. Kalra has also found time, in the past fifteen years to be an honorary member, and for five years as Chairman, of the Board of Trustees of the Indian Community School Kuwait, the largest and oldest Indian school in the country.
“It is quite gratifying to note that the ripples we created with the opening of the first authentic Indian Mughlai restaurant back in 1985, continues to resonate endearingly with guests to this day. More than anything we owe this continued success to the unwavering loyalty and support of our guests who have taken us from where we were yesterday to who we are today and what we aim to be tomorrow,” said Mr. Kalra in conclusion.