Rising from adversity: Timing was crucial in building Sandeep Sekhri's empire
Restaurateur thought his business was dead as Sars hit Hong Kong
Timing has played a crucial role in restaurateur Sandeep Sekhri's success. The managing director of Dining Concepts has established 19 restaurants in 10 years, including Lupa and Carnevino with celebrity chef Mario Batali.
Despite his achievements, Sekhri admits he wasn't the most academically minded person, and realised early on that he loved the hospitality industry because he liked working with people.
"Over the years, I've had to deal with everyone, from the dishwasher to general manager to celebrity chef," he says. "You have to put yourself in their shoes and adapt to how they would think and not necessarily force your thought process on them."
Sekhri came to Hong Kong 25 years ago from New Delhi and was determined to carve out a career for himself. After working as a restaurant manager for 12 years, he struck out on his own and established Dining Concepts, opening Bombay Dreams in Central in December 2002.
But just as he opened Bombay Dreams in Kowloon a few months later, Sars hit Hong Kong.
"We lost about 80 per cent of business in Kowloon and 50 to 60 per cent in Central overnight," Sekhri recalls. "We kept our fingers crossed in the hopes that no one in the building was diagnosed with Sars, otherwise it would be under quarantine for four weeks."
Meanwhile, Sekhri noticed that SoHo was not as affected, with business only down 20 per cent in that area.
He decided then to convert it into a dining district. While the World Health Organisation warned that Sars might come back, by December 2003, Sekhri pressed on, thinking that he'd already lost everything, so he might as well double down.
His gamble paid off with the opening of Soho Spice at the end of 2003. Because of the excess supply of space, Sekhri was able to negotiate long-term leases at low cost, which led to him opening seven more restaurants from 2004 to 2006.
"That was the turning point," he says. "Dining Concepts grew because of Sars."
The restaurateur is involved in all of his outlets, from the concept to finding the space, working with designers and overseeing construction. "I feel very attached to each of my restaurants and have a huge sense of satisfaction in following my instincts."
With the company expanding, Sekhri has more time for hobbies and family. He enjoys travel and cites New York and Melbourne as his favourite food scenes. When not travelling, Sekhri is out hiking along one of Hong Kong's many trails or playing an aggressive game of table tennis.
He is also glad to have more time with his family after having worked 14- to 16-hour days for many years. "My son is 19 and in university, and [I have] a daughter who is 15.
"As they get older, they need more time. In the last three to four years I spent more time with my son, nurturing and grooming him. I want him to realise his dreams and go to the right school and do the right thing. He's succeeded and that's satisfying." BC