Kudix Mug Holder of the MonthMeet the lady who's always looking to do something new— Archana 'Mumma' Mittal.
At Toit, our customers have always been our primary focus. They’re the ones who bring life to the place, create memories and end up giving the place its familiar, friendly vibe. And there are so many different kinds of people who come through our doors daily, that we wanted to get to know their stories.
The Kudix Mug Holder of the Month is our little way of celebrating our customers, and their unique stories.
Painter, PR executive, photographer, theatre artist, restaurateur and ‘mumma’ to many—meet Archana, our Kudix Mug Holder of the month, who has pretty much done it all. Oh, and you can add Mother Hen and Agony Aunt to that list as well.
How long have you been in Bangalore?
I was born here, I’ve been here all my life. Yes, I’m a painter, I’m a theatre person, as in I act in theatre, I have a restaurant called Imli and I used to do PR and Advertising for sometime. So I’ve been all over the place basically.
I’m not much of a drinker actually, but if someone says they want to catch up for a drink, I say I’ll come to Toit, otherwise I’m not coming. I love Toit!
Because there’s this one particular drink, which has now, for me, become the only alcohol. I’m not a beer person actually. I don’t do beer at all. But this drink, the Black Diva, the minute I’m here, all the staff here sees me and they get me the black diva. This can also get a little embarrassing because if I come here with a friend after a long time and the staff says Black Diva the minute I enter, my friends are going to wonder what a boozer I am!
…the minute I’m here, all the staff here looks at me and gets me the black diva.
So why do you think you’ve won the coveted title of Mug Holder of the Month?
I think because in the recent past, I’ve been coming here really often. Some days even twice a day. That’s it I think. Not that I drink a lot or anything. I’d like to believe that and I think it’s the truth.
From painting to PR, how did Imli finally happen?
I think everybody always wants to open a cafe/restaurant sometime in their lives. I was just lucky that mine happened before it was too late. And I’ve always been a big foodie, as you can see!
I love to cook. And since I was in advertising and PR, I’d have a lot of these young girls and boys who’d have come from various parts of North India and would miss home food. Like a cup of tea or maybe phulkas. So I’d ask them to come over and cook for them.
The cafe idea was always at the back of my mind and that’s how I decided to make it like a home-style cooking. Imli was always something that I wanted to do, at some point but not this soon I guess. I don’t know, I was just lucky.
Before we get into the restaurant, tell me a little bit about the painting and everything else.
I studied art at CKP. I used to make paintings, and do customised work and have exhibitions at art and photography galleries. And then, from there PR and Advertising happened.
I used to make paintings, and do customised work
How come you keep attributing Imli to luck? Wasn’t it always part of the plan?
Well, the idea that I wanted to have a cafe of mine was always there. I’m the kind of person who needs to keep doing new stuff, to figure out whether I can do it or not. I just like to do different things. I’ve done voiceovers, done an RJ course—all kinds of things.
I like to do fun things like that.
So I knew when it was time to open a restaurant and started looking for spaces. It was a very laid back thing. But when I first saw the space I finally decided was going to be Imli, I knew it was time.
Do you have a work philosophy that you stand by?
I am a people-person. I love people! And I think my husband is also like that. We’ve gone to Benares and become friends with an auto driver, like even now, he calls and asks when we’re planning on visiting next. For us, we just connect with people I guess.
All my boys at Imli stay with us, we take care of their boarding and lodging. And we take care of them on a regular basis. They look at me as this Mother Hen, so they come and tell me all their issues, someone is getting married to the girl I was planning on marrying, and things like that. That helps, because they start looking at the space as not just somewhere they come to work, but more as their own.
I am a people-person. I love people!
And even before, even when I used to train them or when we have our meetings, I’d tell them to remember that if the customer is not happy, they are not going to come back. As a result, I won’t be able to pay salaries. So if they’re keeping the guests happy, I’d tell them not to think of it as a favour but more as something that helps them earn their salary. I mean, that’s how it works right?
Is your restaurant a vegetarian restaurant because you are one as well?
No. It’s because I can cook vegetarian food better than non-vegetarian. I’m in charge of the kitchen, and I’ve trained almost 60% of the staff that works there. So I know what is happening in the kitchen.
Also, I married a Marwari. I’m a Punjabi, well one-fourth a Sindhi and also a Punjabi, but it’s a vegetarian household. So impressing the mother-in-law and preparing vegetarian food becomes second nature to you.
Does your husband also run the restaurant with you?
Yes. We’re both partners at Imli. He’s actually a software engineer, but he helps out with this.
Does he like cooking as well?
No! He only likes to eat. He has no idea what goes into what. Being a Marwari he helps with the business aspect. Which is always good. I would suggest that anybody looking to get into business should get a Marwari partner.
Was it hard setting up a restaurant?
It was difficult. In the sense, I was very confident about my food, so that aspect was not such an issue. But the other things, we pretty much learned on the job, because none of us are from a hospitality background. And I’m actually a painter.
Don’t piss off a customer, don’t ill-treat people who work for you—it’s basic human nature!
I had done a little PR for restaurants, so I had a basic idea. And I think it all comes from within. Whether it’s your food or how you behave with your staff and guests. I think it’s something that doesn’t have a method—there are no do’s and dont’s.
Don’t piss off a customer, don’t ill-treat people who work for you—it’s basic human nature!
That’s the basis on which we built and worked on it. We had our share of ups and downs.
Does the background in PR and theatre help in dealing with customers?
I think it does. By looking at guests, I know where they’re coming from, their mindset, general guesses. So you can tell a lot of things. Earlier I used to get very affected by negative feedback. But then it just fell into place once I realised that not everyone is going to be happy with you all the time.
It’s like a painting or a play—not everybody has to like what you churn out. What you really love, I might totally hate.
You need to be able to tell the difference between when people are being unreasonable for the sake of it. If there’s ever a problem, I go talk to customers, get things from the kitchen to explain, maybe even sit down with them and try to understand. Things like this happen all the time, and that’s why I don’t have a social life and don’t get to be here as much as I’d like to be! I’m usually managing the guests or in the kitchen.
And you still pursue theatre? How do you find time for that?
All my rehearsals are at 6:30 am in the morning! And on weekends, from 7-11 in the night. That’s how I managed the last few sessions.
You’re always working!
Yeah, but even if someone just wants to meet, I walk up here from the restaurant and since the staff is anyway offering me the Black Diva as soon as I enter, I get to hang out a bit.
Once I was at Toit, some long evening, and someone said “get her another one, get her another one!” and Shiva, one of the staff members, promptly said, “she had her three right? She won’t drink more than that!”
…people who like your stuff, will come back. And the ones who don’t, won’t.
The common tangent between Toit and your place would probably be the emphasis you pay on being very Indian. Locally brewed beers here, local, homely cuisine at your restaurant, while still being places for everyone. Is that an image you wanted to have from the start?
Actually, it just happened quite naturally that I wanted to maintain a balance. It was never planned. I was very keen on things like colours being yellow—the restaurant, the uniform. I designed the furniture as well. I drew it out and gave it to the factory, so you’ll see that they’re not regular restaurant furniture size, but more like dining tables at home.
And how did the name ‘Imli’ happen? Was that to go with the whole Indian-ness?
No. Not really. I just wanted something that was really short, and also desi. But mainly something short. I just wanted something that would be easy to remember. No imli related story or anything.
What’s been the biggest learning?
That people who like your stuff, will come back. And the ones who don’t, won’t. They’ll go elsewhere. I mean, you just need to accept the fact that you cannot please everybody. It used to be hard for me, because my greed was to please everybody, in the beginning. Even now when I get a bad review, I talk to my kitchen and try to understand why, but I don’t lose sleep over it anymore.
I love the management here, we sit and chat, gossip…
Any drinking based learning ever happen at Toit?
I never drink to the point where I’m passing out or anything. I do not drink enough to go mental anymore. I think I’ve become a control freak ever since I started the restaurant. I have to be careful. So no, I’ve not had any such exciting thing happen to me here. But yes, before my husband stopped drinking, let’s just say there was once a song that was playing here and he might have started to unbutton his shirt to that song. And all I was thinking was, “Go from here”! I had to chase him away!
But about Toit, I follow energies very closely. Like I believe certain places have very strong energies.
And these energies come with the kind of people that run the place. I love the management here, we sit and chat, gossip, and do a lot of things really. In fact, after hearing a friend of mine calling me ‘mumma’, one of them now calls me the same!