Pune Inc: Resto-bar chain struggled with death of co-founder, massive losses to expand into new areas

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From the colors of the tiles to the patterns on the walls, Pune’s chain of resto-bars Hippie @ Heart exudes a boho-chic vibe meant to calm the senses of those coming from the busy outside world. Two years ago when the Covid-19 pandemic started, [email protected] was among the first spaces in Pune to close, even before an official lockdown was announced. The losses were devastating, especially when Vyankatesh Pathre, one of the founders, died of Covid-19 in his late thirties.

Co-founder Karan Kriplani (Photo: special arrangement)

Today, the restaurant chain is run by co-founder Karan Kriplani along with other partners. There are two new outlets – in Balewadi and Kothrud – with two more to come. The crowds are back and the kitchen is buzzing again. Each outlet has attracted investment of around Rs 2 crore and is expected to earn around Rs 6 crore annually. “In the next financial year, we expect revenue of around Rs 15-20 crore in total,” says Kriplani.

“It was a shock when Vyankatesh passed away as we were full of plans for the business. Before 2020, it was not expected that such a young person would fall ill and die. But, in 2020, things we hit hard from all sides. At [email protected], a lot of my other colleagues stepped up, took on a lot of responsibility and we were able to get things done,” he adds.

The hospitality industry has been hit hard by Covid-19. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned the impact of the pandemic in her budget speech, pointing out that small businesses had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Hippie @ Heart’s momentum is due to its philosophy of focusing on the long term. “People now crave personal interactions after connecting through cellphones and laptops. Even in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social interactions rank very high. When people return to their offices, it there is a form of stress. We have designed our spaces in such a way that they help to relax so that customers can approach work the next day with renewed energy”, Kriplani.

[email protected] also focuses away from the center of town to up-and-coming neighborhoods that offer higher footfall. “The city has changed in the almost 20 years that I have been here. Before, there were a few destinations and people went there to party. Today, the population density has increased and the heart of Pune has become congested. Traffic is an issue and this has given rise to localization when people prefer to hang out at a neighborhood restaurant or bar,” says Kriplani.

A Hippie @ Heart outlet (Photo: special arrangement)

Investors are specifically eyeing growth and [email protected] plans to go ubiquitous in Pune to increase business volume. It also brought back its community-building activities, like the Sunday flea market. The one to mark Women’s Day featured local female entrepreneurs.

Calligraphy workshops, arts, crafts, and even a wandering adoption campaign are building a loyal base among people in the building complexes and offices around [email protected] outlets. “There’s a bit of ambiguity in the market right now, which makes it a good time for us to spread out. We’re going against the grain, but that’s always been our thing,” says Kriplani.

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