Food and beverage entrepreneur Sandeep Sekhri was born in New Delhi and came to Hong Kong as a restaurant manager in 1990 at the age of 24. Twelve years later he decided to go it alone, setting up the Dining Concepts group. His first restaurant was Bombay Dreams - and the group now comprises 18 restaurants, including several steakhouses and two food delivery service companies. The group has just opened a new Italian restaurant near the waterfront at Ocean Terminal, called Al Molo.
When did you decide that you wanted to make a career in F&B?
I knew at about 15 that I wanted to be in the hospitality business. I knew I couldn't sit behind a desk and work. The people part of the business always attracted me, and I had a misconception that there was a bit of glamour. When I started, I realised the glamour is on the other side: you're working when everyone else is enjoying themselves. But there are a lot of emotions involved, and a lot of the human touch in what we do. I became passionate about this business. I still do 12-hour days after 20 years, and I look forward to each one. No two are alike.
How does your taste in food influence the style of your restaurants?
It's more to do with what I think the market needs than my personal taste. I'm a vegetarian. It doesn't really matter how I feel after eating in the restaurant. It is the customers who drive the business. If they leave happy then I know my chef is cooking the right food.
You own a lot of steakhouses for a vegetarian
Over the years I've learned a lot about meat. I've studied and I've worked with the chefs. I don't mind holding a piece of meat, but I don't eat it for religious and health reasons. I've been a vegetarian for the past 25 years.
We recently did an Argentinian steakhouse [Tango in Wyndham Street]. We have Craftsteak in SoHo and Bistecca in Lan Kwai Fong - which are barely 500 metres from each other - and I decided to put the new one right in the middle. We tried to be as authentic as we could with a great Argentinian chef and manager there, and it has created its own niche market. It's so satisfying when you introduce something and people like what you do.
Do you try to offer vegetarians interesting options on your menus?
I make it a point with the chefs. In a party of 10 you will always find two or three with dietary preferences, and I think vegetarianism is on the rise. We need to give people an option. I put myself in their shoes. Am I going to be able to go to that restaurant and have a full-on meal? In most cases the answer is yes.
Do you cook at home?
I don't get the time. I learned to cook. I went to a school for a good four years. But after taking on the management side of a business there is just no chance of going back into the kitchen.
What sort of restaurants do you like to visit, other than your own?
I go to Asian or Italian restaurants. I visit New York a couple of times a year and I like to see whatever is new and happening on the scene and the latest dining concepts. Thai and Chinese are two of my favourite cuisines. It's hard to choose between those two. I have Thai food a couple of times a week and, of course, I grew up with Indian food.