Meet the tastemakers of Hyderabad

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Meet the tastemakers of Hyderabad

How Shaaz Mehmood and Shiraz Mirza changed the dining experience in the Indian city... and may soon do the same in the UAE

By Shivani Mohan

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Published: Thu 7 Dec 2017, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 15 Dec 2017, 8:50 AM

They are as different as chalk and cheese. But together, they form a formidable team that has shown Hyderabad how to dine and party better. Often mistaken to be brothers - maybe because their names spell a sweet, well-thought-out synchronicity - Shaaz Mehmood and Shiraz Mirza, partners, Olive Group, Hyderabad, are buzzing with excitement and energy with always something new up their sleeve. Born and brought up in Hyderabad, both come from business families and are lawyers by degree, and chose to court the exciting life of a restaurateur. They have different skill sets but, together, they have created memorable experiences for their guests at the three restaurants ­- Olive Bistro in Hyderabad, SodaBottleOpenerWala and The Hoppery - that brought a paradigm shift in the way dining out was perceived in Hyderabad.

Traditionally, the restaurant scene in Hyderabad had five major players and here were two youngsters, who were charming, keen and media savvy but inexperienced. They managed to convince A.D. Singh, managing director, Olive Bar & Kitchen Pvt Ltd, that Hyderabad was ready for a turnaround from the age-old biryani-meets-kebab-diner format. The site they selected for Olive previously had restaurants such as Athena and Tamara that were considered jinxed. Yet, they took that leap of faith and fought the system, totally turned it around and one by one created three masterpieces that Hyderabadis love. In a chat, the duo maps their road to success, while opening up about their plans for expansion:

How did it all begin?
Shaaz: I was always the kid who organises parties. For my sixth birthday, I hand-made around 45 invites for my 'close friends' and startled my mom. I joined my family business, which was into mining. I was the fifth generation in my family to be in the business, but the mining industry was going through trying times. So, I went to intern in Mumbai with Lafarge Cements. At a family gathering, I got talking with A.D. Singh, and asked him why he hadn't explored Hyderabad. Even though he felt the city was not ready, he told me, "Look for a property at the end of 2012, and we will explore." Sure enough, end of 2012, without any money, any experience, we just took that leap of faith.
Shiraz: Coincidentally, I did my law and was working in civil litigation with an eminent lawyer in Delhi. But I used to work five days in the law office and from Friday evening onwards, I would help my friend in Gurgaon with his restaurant. That is when I realised how much I loved doing that. When I quit my job, Shaaz was graduating and we got talking how we both were inclined towards this field.
What were the initial hurdles you faced?
Shaaz: My father and grandfather were livid that I was deserting the family business at a critical juncture. Then, the established names in the restaurant business, with their tried-and-tested formulae, made life tough for us. There were all sorts of funny things. Being lawyers, we were able to handle them. We have even scraped the gravel off the steps of Olive and painted the door for the first media launch. Initially, guests would ask us, why isn't there biryani on the menu? Or why was the al-dente pasta undercooked? So, we had to patiently handle that by adding pilafs to the menu and giving them softer pasta.

Shiraz: Restaurants in Hyderabad were traditionally not very focused. Every restaurant is 'multicuisine'. But we never diluted our product to cater to the local taste. We had to educate our customers. Initially, the response was good. The partying community was small and they were loyal to their old favourites. Last four years has been my real education. We travelled a lot to their Delhi and Mumbai outlets and learnt on the job.
You have both mentioned Dubai as one of your favourite holiday destinations? What do you like about Dubai?
Shaaz: In 2015, when we were opening SodaBottleOpenerWala, I had gone to Dubai to look at the market. In seven days, I ate at 80 restaurants. It is on the cards for us to move into that market. So, when we go international, maybe not the first, but definitely the second and third outlet, would be in the UAE. Some of my favourite restaurants in Dubai are Sass Café in Dubai International Financial Centre, Eataly in Dubai Mall, Cargo in Pier 7, Pizza Express in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Al Hallab and Shabestan, an Iranian restaurant at the Intercontinental hotel.
Shiraz: I love Dubai. The more money you have, the more fun you can have. What I love about Dubai is you can go there and drive a Ferrari whenever you want.
Describe your food quotients. What are your favourite cuisines?
Shiraz: I love my food but I am not a foodie. I don't eat much although I am decently equipped as far as my palate goes. My favourite food is pizza. I was never fond of the masaledar (spicy) food. Living in Hyderabad, I never had biryani and haleem till I was 22. I love my soup and bread.
Shaaz: My favourite food is Japanese. So my favourite brand of the company is Guppy by Ai, which we will surely bring to Hyderabad in the future. I am a true foodie and I love to cook when I get the time. I make a mean tala huwa gosht and cheesecake that I make the Indian way, with tofu. In fact, I created the Hyderabadi section in the SodaBottleOpenerWala menu here, culling out recipes from our family kitchens.
What were your expectations before getting into this business and what was the reality?
Shiraz: Expectation was glamour. Reality was headache (smiles). I look after the operations, accounts, HR. Shaaz does control, security and legal. Being lawyers, thankfully, we cannot be bullied in that area. Knowing the law well, we follow it to the T.
Shaaz: Well, I did not expect that you have to work so hard. I never expected so many aspects to have to function simultaneously to make it work. This idyllic property, as you see, is in a jungle, which has its charm and mystique, but it also has mosquitoes, rats, dogs, sewage problems to deal with. We manage all that and make it presentable 24x7. We have almost 70 CCTV cameras because we never compromise on security. We are the younger generation, we bring new ideas, new technologies.
How do you nurture your chefs?
Shaaz: Olive Group is all about nurturing chefs. They are the heroes. I just give my vision and parameters. I never instruct my chefs. Olive is all about promoting the chefs and I learnt that from AD. My current favourite is Chef Rishim Sachdeva, who is simply amazing. He is growing fresh produce here and totally dazzling our clients.
What does it take to be a restaurateur today, considering it is a touch-and-go business?
Shiraz: What it takes is passion. I am not in this business to make money. I am focused on learning and getting better. When you are an Olive person, you think of new ways to excite your guests. We are trying to give it its own identity.
Shaaz: After us, now many young people have gathered the courage to enter the restaurant business in Hyderabad. I always tell aspiring restaurateurs that the amount of effort you put in the business, if you put that much effort in any other business, the returns are much more. It is a challenging trade. Do it for the love, the happiness it brings. Don't put your own money. Take a franchise. An established company comes with so many systems, SOPs.

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