On Spotlight this week, we speak to Khalid Shukrani, owner of of Hevea Café who brings to table interesting and unique Indochine cuisine that brings home flavours of France and South East Asian cultures together!
Tell us briefly about yourself: where you were born and raised.
I was born and raised in Bahrain. My years growing up in Bahrain were filled with great memories especially of a time closely spent with family. With the passage of time, I developed a keen interest in business studies and wanted to pursue my higher academics in the West. I decided to do my under-graduation course in the US and later went to Switzerland to finish my post-graduation from International Institute for Management Development (IMD).
Did you dream to be an entrepreneur right from the beginning?
While studying in IMD, I was exposed to many new ideas and leanings from the mentors. My stay at IMD introduced me to various new philosophies, which eventually made me realize both sides of the concept of having your own business. So I believe I did pick up the idea of having my own business at some point during my early days in IMD.
Tell us about Hevea Café, and how it was established.
After wrapping up my asset firm I wanted to do something new and challenging. I took a short trip to Thailand where the concept of Hevea Café was born. On my trip, I tasted several famous local cuisines that pleasantly surprised me. During my stay, I also realized that the historic French colonization had some impact on the local food in terms of ingredients and flavors. By the end of my trip, I was overwhelmed by the perfectly balanced flavors that made me want to learn and research more about it. This actually formed the inception base of the Indochine inspired, Hevea Café.
Hevea Cafe’s Indochine cuisine is the epitome of tasteful cooking where the marriage of French and Southeast Asian cultures is truly a match made in heaven. Drawing from influences from the French colonization of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, Hevea Cafe seeks to create a utopia where the dynamic differences of these two cultures come together effortlessly.
What challenges have you faced since you started up Hevea Café and what measures have you implemented to overcome them?
Any new-concept business set up would require a thorough background study on all logistical, operational aspects and a customer preference check. Before setting up the café we did a detailed market research on the customer preferences, food trends and what the locals like. Apart from these assessments, some of the general challenges we faced were in terms of studying the Indochine cuisine, localizing the concept, deciding on the location, getting the kitchen equipment, designing the menu in consultation with an expert chef and also hiring the right staff who would share our excitement and passion for this concept. In the initial days, social media really helped us in reaching out to the audiences and the digital communication campaign resulted in positive responses from the guests and the café saw many repeat and regular patrons.
Any special achievement/award/recognition/customer feedback received so far?
The biggest achievement for Hevea café has been the fact that we have a big loyal customer base who visit the café regularly. They not only love the concept and food but also come back for more. Our guest’s feedback and appreciation is what keeps us striving to constantly better our food and service.
How is Hevea Café unique in comparison to the other cafes in the market?
The most unique point of comparison for Hevea Café is the very nature of the cuisine we serve. Indochine itself is a unique cuisine and is the first-of-its-kind café in the region. Apart from the cuisine, the other prominent differentiating features are the ambience, the décor and an independent identity.
How difficult or easy is it to start up a business where there is already an existing market?
I will not deny that starting a new business in an already competitive industry is no cakewalk. But nonetheless the challenges and experiments is what makes one stronger, wanting to go beyond the comfort zone and achieving success like never before.
Where do you see Hevea Café in the next 5 years?
At present, we are taking each step in bettering and improving our services and food. We want to strengthen our roots in Bahrain before we spread out elsewhere. As part of future plans we are definitely aiming at regional expansion, maybe in Saudi and Kuwait.
What is your message to aspiring start-upers of Bahrain?
The food and beverage industry can look very tempting from the outside based on the common notion that it multiplies your investment in no time. But if you are serious about starting your own restaurant or café, be sure to do extensive research and also work on an approximate business plan with estimated figures. Also, ask yourself this question before starting any venture – what is the most unique selling point of my product or service. If you can answer that in an honest manner and are self-convinced, then go ahead and take the leap. All the best!