For Raju Harilela the working day begins at 6am. That is when the 36-year old begins a strenuous 90-minute programme of yoga, breathing and meditation. The exercises, says Mr Harilela, a daily routine for more than four years, have been instrumental in improving his health and the strategic direction of his restaurant and food-service company, the Harilela Strategic Group. Reflecting on his success in the past year against the head winds of a deflation-plagued economy, Mr Harilela says the key has been the ability to bend in difficult times. 'If we can change, that is the only way we can grow. In the restaurant business, we have to follow consumer preferences in terms of pricing levels, in terms of the quality of food, in terms of portions.' On a practical level, that means designing restaurants that serve up a gourmet experience at a mid-range budget. While the cheque in a five star-restaurant averages HK$600 per person, Mr Harilela says his theme restaurants average a reasonable HK$180 to HK$280. The group operates seven restaurants and pubs, including the flagship Viceroy of India, Dv8, Gaylord Restaurants, Saigon at Stanley, Milano, Saigon Restaurants and the recently opened Bayside Brasserie in Stanley. Recent internal restructuring aimed at cutting fat. 'Any profit growth this year wasn't through incremental sales in existing operations, they were through new restaurants or the new divisions we've acquired,' Mr Harilela says. The restructuring entailed splitting the main business operations into four entities with clear lines of reporting. Further efforts resulted in a 4.6 per cent cost savings. While that may sound modest, the effects are dramatic, as expansion now comes at lower cost. The Bayside Brasserie cost HK$6.5 million to bring on-line, but a new restaurant scheduled to open early in the new year will cost an estimated HK$1.5 million. The savings arise form a more streamlined administration, carefully conceived design and aggressive pricing from subcontractors. Mr Harilela says: 'We looked at this as a challenge, how economically can we build this restaurant knowing that the rates of return, or yields today, are nowhere where they were several years ago. Looking at our cost structure, it is fundamentally different from what it was six months ago.' Outside the seven core restaurants, the Harilela Strategic Group has food and catering businesses. These include Equip Asia, a hotel and restaurant supply company; RMC, a restaurant management and consulting firm; Pacific Rim Trading, specialising in linens fabrics and upholstery; Restaurant Management Technology, specialising in hospitality technology; and Dial-a-Dinner, a food-delivery company. Mr Harilela's affinity for the food service industry seems natural in light of his family's long experience in the hospitality business. He is heir presumptive to a family-owned hotel group with properties in several cities, the most prominent locally being the Holiday Inn in Kowloon. Mr Harilela says he grew up in an environment that encouraged dialogue with elders on business issues. After working in one of the family properties, Mr Harilela felt drawn to the business as a career, and pursued hotel administration studies at Cornell University. Back in Hong Kong he worked for a short period at the Hyatt Regency before establishing a restaurant and management consultancy company with a US$25,000 investment. 'It is kind of like a fairy tale in a way; we now have more than 200 people in our organisation,' he says. Looking ahead, Mr Harilela plans to continue building upon his food and entertainment service empire, working to introduce new themes strategically targeted at growing markets. 'I see Hong Kong as a Chinese city. We have always been an international city, and we will continue to be so, but one with strong Chinese qualities.' And what lessons would Mr Harilela pass along? 'Look deep in your heart and ask yourself what you really want to do. Your self-esteem and confidence will rise when you really pursue your dreams, and once that happens, you will naturally become a success.'