Brewing up a frothy venture

| Updated on March 09, 2011 Published on March 09, 2011

Rahul Singh (left) and Pradeep Gidwani, partners, The Beer Café.

The Beer Cafe.

With beer literally on-tap all day, the Beer Café promises a drinking experience on the lines of the coffee chains.

Beer is at the tipping point in India,” says Pradeep Gidwani, founder and Coach, Sweet Water Hospitality Pvt Ltd, which runs the Beer Café. Passionate about the frothy drink, it was natural for the former Managing Director of Carlsberg and Foster's in India to turn to the frothy drink for inspiration when the entrepreneurial itch bit him.

And it's only fitting that the idea of The Beer Café was brewed over a glass of the foamy spirit. Over a pint of ale, he and Rahul Singh, founder of Golfworx, an indoor golf arena, firmed up the plan to open a slew of beer cafés across the country, similar to the coffee chains. The first one opened in Delhi a few months ago.

“When the coffee retail cafés first opened in the 1990s, nobody took them seriously. But there are thousands of them in the country now,” says Singh, former CEO of the Greg Norman collection, who turned entrepreneur at age 35 with Golfworx and has been a serial start-up guy since then. Now, at age 40, the former Reebok India Executive Director, who continues his association with the sports brand by owning franchises, is the retail expert in the partnership, even as 46-year-old Gidwani brings to the table the beer gyaan.

“Rahul has a great understanding of the retail environment, while I understand the drinks part,” says Gidwani. From Unilever's Brooke Bond to Red Bull (he was the MD, Asia) to Moet & Hennessey and Diageo among others, Gidwani has over two decades of experience selling beverages and knows his spirits pretty well.

“I have lived a lot of my life in bars,” he grins, pointing out how selling liquor is a bit like live theatre. “You can gauge customer reactions live here, no need to do brand research and surveys, but share a few drinks with your customers and they loosen up and tell you how it is,” he says.

While he has sold the entire range from wine to whisky, beer — the ultimate buddy drink — remains his favourite. “It's a casual, fun drink, warm, friendly and natural,” he says, explaining how the ambience of the Beer Café has been deliberately kept sunny to echo these values.

The 46-year-old is like a teenager as he takes you through the cafe, done up in bright yellow hues, in Ambience Mall in New Delhi's Vasant Kunj area. “It's a place where grandparents and grandkids can walk in too — there is nothing pub-like about it, it's more like a café with small eats,” explains Gidwani. The idea now is to scale up the concept beer cafes and take it countrywide, following the model of the coffee shops, but with a few more quirks.

Buoyant about beer

Given that the per capita consumption of beer in India is just over a litre for a one billion population, do they really think it is a winning proposition? “Yes, compared to the Czech Republic which guzzles 156 litres per capita, Germany 130 litres, the UK 110 and Ireland 136 litres, and even China where it is 25 litres, the per capita consumption here in India is negligible,” agrees Gidwani.

But he feels there is a lot going for beer. “We are a young country, we have got a hot climate, beer goes well with spicy food and leaves no hangover,” he says.

With a slew of microbreweries and beer and sports bars opening up, where the buddy drink is being quaffed more and more, Gidwani insists that beer is now at take-off point.

Cheaper permit

Also, as both Singh and Gidwani point out, most State Governments are now changing excise rules, which is helping wine and beer promoters. For instance, just before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the Capital came up with a new licensing system that allowed eateries to apply for a cheaper beer and wine permit as opposed to a hard liquor permit. Barista was the first to get the beer and wine permit in Delhi, and The Beer Café the next.

“Several other States are redefining the liquor laws, introducing the beer and wine permit,” says Rahul Singh, pointing to neighbourhood Haryana. But the next few Beer Cafes will be coming up in Gurgaon, Pune, Goa, Mumbai and Jalandhar, where the two have been scouting for ideal locations.

Even as the franchise model is ruled out for now, the two, who run the enterprise on a 50:50 partnership, don't rule out adding another like-minded partner in the expansion journey.

Gidwani points out how they sold 2,700 litres of beer even in the cold of December last year. “It's a reasonably large volume,” he says, adding that he is more enthused about the fact that two women walked into the café at 10 p.m. to have a few beers and a couple came in with their toddler.

“Over January and February 2011, our sales have increased two-fold,” says Singh. More beer brands (from the initial 32, they now have 40) have been added to the menu. “Our sales of imported beer are already the highest in India, which shows that our concept is working and beer lovers have something to cheer for,” he says.

“We have already achieved operational break-even, and this has given us the boost to open more doors this year,” he adds.

A Maths graduate, who loves doing the numbers, Gidwani also throws some figures to show the untapped potential of beer here. “Shanghai with a 19 million population has 83,000 outlets to get beer from. Ho Chi Minh city has a 6 million population and 23,000 outlets serving beer, while Delhi with a population of 17 million, has just 800-850 outlets,” he says.

Thirst-inducing deals

Stocking over 40 brands in a variety of flavours, the objective of the duo is to introduce Indians to as many beer varieties as possible – and with beer fountains, towers, beer on tap as well as the conventional bottles, make it a fun experience. “We want people not to stick to their favourites, but experiment,” says Singh.

Interestingly, at the Beer Café, you have to buy the beer with a no-expiry beer card which lets you track your consumption. “The beer card is the only currency accepted here and you buy it for a one-time fee of Rs 50,” says Gidwani.

Indian beer comes for Rs 175 for 330 ml, while the imported varieties (there are brands such as Hoegaarden, Ansel Light Murphy's Irish Stout, Schneider Weisse, Geist Blond and Geist Whistling) are priced Rs 300 for 330 ml.

In the next few months, the two promise more thirst-quenching beer options as they dot the country with their cafes.

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Published on March 09, 2011
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