Secrets Behind A Successful Business - Everest Lounge
8th December 2021
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An Interview with Pradip Karanjit, Everest Lounge Restaurant:

It was a rather cold Wednesday evening on November 3rd 2021, and I had arranged to meet Pradip of Everest Lounge Restaurant in St. Mary's Road, Market Harborough. I was intrigued to know more about the man behind this popular business which in October this year had WON the National Oceanic Consulting '10th ENGLISH CURRY AWARDS' in the category 'Best Nepalese Restaurant in England 2021', and I had asked him for a short interview to share some of the secrets behind the restaurant's remarkable success.


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Mr Pradip Karanjit - Everest Lounge Restaurant, Market Harborough

Simon: Okay, Pradip, thank you for agreeing to speak with me for this special blog post. Can we start with you telling me a little bit about yourself? A little bit about your background and your early life.

Pradip:
Yeah, absolutely. I was born and brought up in Kathmandu, Nepal, and went to school in Kathmandu, finished my college, and then I wanted to study medicine. At that point in time we didn't have any medical universities, and that's what brought me to Europe. So, I went to Germany for my early university education, spent about three years there. But it didn't really work out. It was difficult for me to get to a university, because I literally had to learn the language for a year and a half, and then compete against native German speakers for university places and it was very difficult. And that's what lead me to believe I potentially could do better, coming to England, where languages shouldn't be the barrier.

But that being said, it was also a very difficult time, very expensive in the UK to get to medical university. And that's why unfortunately, I had to think again.

Simon:
How long ago are we talking about here?

Pradip:
1998 I left Nepal, so I was about 20, 21 years. Really young.

Simon:
Still a young guy then.

Pradip:
Absolutely.

Simon:
So from a young age, you were focused on wanting to be a doctor?

Pradip:
Absolutely. I had a passion for it, which is where I think some of my behaviour, - that passion, being compassionate, and ‘caring’ – comes from. But that's how I grew up. I saw lack of access to healthcare from an early age, so therefore I wanted to get into healthcare and be a doctor, or a medic, look after patients, people, and that's really what drove me.

So after coming to the UK, and not being able to get to medical university, I literally thought that's the end of my study career, and I virtually gave up. I didn't really do anything for 18 months. A lot of friends and families encouraged me to find different course degrees, and they said, "Look, just accept that medicine wasn't going to work, so why not try something else?"

Simon:
But you wanted to stay in the UK?

Pradip:
Absolutely.

And I said, "No." Because I had been focused, and so determined to get into medical university, when it didn't happen for me, it was devastating - and thought that's the end of the medical journey for me.

And then, I think about 18 months later, there was a 'light bulb' moment, and I talked to myself saying, "You're just being very stubborn, just go and find something out. There must be something that you would be interested in." I popped into East London University, and spoke to one of the professors. When she heard me explain everything, she said, "There might be a course for you”.

And then she recommended this Health Service Management degree course for me. But even when I enrolled myself, at that point in time, I thought it's probably going to be a waste of time. “Three years? -  no way  I was going to finish that." But I think after six months, a year, and then two years, somehow I managed to finish that degree, and that's what lead me to get some experience in hospitals.

So, I went on to do my placement - some voluntary work at Newham General Hospital in East London. That's where I think my professional foundation for my professional career was built and set. And one role lead me to another role, getting promoted, getting recognised for the work, and I started developing through that professional career. And now I work as a Director of Ops for Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust.  I look after a massive surgical division, and that's what has been (and still is), my career in the NHS for about well over 15 years since I started!

Simon:
15 years?

Pradip:
Absolutely.

Simon:
So, that's just one side of your professional life!

Of course during this time you got married, you've got children?

Pradip:
Yeah. I've got two boys, Sebastian and Nicholas. Sebastian is six years old, Nicholas 12. Both boys go to school here in Market Harborough.

Simon:
And your wife's name? Don't forget her!

Pradip:
Yelena, yeah!
She's from Latvia, so we've got a really diverse culture.
We met in London when I was working there as a ‘Food and Beverage Manager’ in a conference centre.  
She came and did some part-time jobs over Christmas, and we met there and then, as they say, the rest is history. So, we've been together now for 19 or 20 years.

Simon:
Wow! So years later, how have you managed to combine your NHS work with your passion for food? How were you able to get into the food industry as well, and then start your own business?

Pradip:
Yeah, it's sort of weird. I think, of course, in terms of hospitality, the food industry, the restaurant business, as a student everybody worked in restaurants and bars, and I did that as well - working in restaurants during the early days in Germany, and then when I first came to the UK as well. And then as I've said,  I went on to work in a Conference Centre in London, as a Food and Beverage Manager, and then a few other restaurants here and there. I think my love for food and culinary, the food I was exposed to in Nepal, the culture, all of it, kind of kept me in touch with that taste and hospitality very close to me. And, again, there were a number of opportunities to get involved but because of my NHS professional career, my time was always limited. So therefore, at first I avoided the opportunities.
    
But I always wanted to get involved in them, because the hospitality industry is something where you've got the opportunity to socialise, as well as the food aspects. Yeah, I enjoy good quality food! And that's what I think drove me on. And with both these professions, I think that the caring aspect, the customer care side of it, looking after people, and working with them, have complimented each other and been the golden thread that I’ve really enjoyed.

I think the socialising aspects of it is what brought me back into the hospitality industry, despite being really busy with my NHS work during the day. But I really enjoy spending time at the restaurant.

Simon:
Fantastic! So, Everest Lounge is your first restaurant business?

Pradip:
Actually, this is the second.
We had a pub /restaurant for a while in Nottingham.

Simon:
Pub restaurant? Tell me about that.

Pradip:
Yeah, 'Kathmandu Lounge', for a year. But it was an hour away from where we are here and it was a bit difficult to commute, to get to. And so we had been thinking about closing that, and looking for something closer to Market Harborough. And then, this opportunity came in February last year (2020). So, we decided to hand the pub back so that we could open here at Everest Lounge for March.

So, in a way, this is a second venture, but Nottingham was a kind of pub/ restaurant, and we went in as ‘operator’ rather than ‘owner’ as we are now here at Everest Lounge restaurant. But the valuable experience gave me some sort of exposure into it when we took over. So therefore, I had some sort of background and fresh ideas in terms of what is needed for a quality restaurant.

Simon:
And looking back at that time, what would you say were the key lessons you learned, if you like, about hospitality? I know you come from a hospitality background in many ways, and where you've been working at and whatever. But what were you able to take out of that experience, working at the pub, that you were able to bring to Everest Lounge?

Pradip:
I think one thing I most regretted in Nottingham, was not being able to spend enough time with the customers. I'm very personable, I like interacting with people, being sociable, and because of necessary travelling time, I wasn't able to spend enough time in Nottingham, so I was ‘ad hoc’ every day, or once a week. It’s something I regretted, I wasn't able to assess what the customers’ needs really were, and therefore respond to.

Looking back, I was really far removed from what happened on the day to day basis. So, to try and run a restaurant, which is an hour and a half drive away, and going there every other week or so, that's something I regretted a lot.  So therefore, when we opened here in Harborough, I was literally five minutes away from where I live. So, I think that's something I had immediately changed, and I’m now able to spend plenty of time here, even though sometimes I don't need to, we’ve got a great team here.

But I think that interacting with people, just saying ‘hello’ and greeting them saying, "How are you?" That sort of thing makes all the difference at Everest Lounge. So, the learning from that Nottingham experience, I was definitely able to change. Because if you're present, you don't need to be working, but you get to see and hear what customers are saying and thinking, and you can read their thoughts, and get a feel for it. So therefore you could adapt your approach, change it if necessary. And if sometimes we get it wrong, if I'm here I can deal with it, and listen to customers, make them feel valued and change that. And I think that's where some of the learning came really valuable for me.

Simon:
Well, you started Everest Lounge in June 2020?

Pradip:
Yes.

Simon:
Right in the middle of COVID, which was quite a brave thing to do! But the day you opened, what did you see as your main priorities, and how were you going to be ‘different’ to other established Indian Nepalese restaurants in the region? What initially were you aiming to achieve?

Pradip:
To be honest, again as I said, I had a bit of exposure in Nottingham, but when we opened here, I think we had already formed a different concept. We wanted to bring that special authentic Nepalese & Tibetan cuisine to Market Harborough. In a way it was an experiment, but I had a brilliant chef, and a couple of good friends with different skill sets all coming together saying, "You know what, let's try something different, authentic Tibetan & Nepalese food." And even when we were preparing, writing our menus, we were I'll admit a bit concerned - are we able to sell this? Because people wouldn't know what genuine  Nepalese Tibetan cuisine is, it wasn’t that well known here.

Simon:
‘Indian’ food is of course very popular here in the UK, but I'd say until quite recently, it's mostly ‘English’ traditional Indian dishes we know.

Pradip:
Absolutely. So therefore, even when you look at our menu, you could see we still left some footprint of old-school menus, purely because at that point in time we didn't have enough confidence to change everything. But at the same time, I think I’ve lived in Market Harborough for long enough to recognise the community spirits, and it's a small town. So, if you get it right, you could really make it work, because the community support would be there. It's not a massive city like Birmingham or London, where you get lost in business and all of it. So therefore, I had that in my mind as well, saying, "Look, I live here, I'm local here."

So, that was in my mind - we are going to experiment, see what happens!  And my chef was really good, I was confident in his ability to stretch his creativity and bring some of the food that I'm accustomed to back home to mainstream. And at the same time, I said, "You know what, I think I can convince a few people to come and try my food, and then  'word of mouth' will help me generate some sort of activity and attract more." And that's what we did.


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Initially I thought we just needed more ‘people contact’. It was bang in the middle of a pandemic, there wasn't any choice. We weren't able to open for dining, so therefore we were just doing takeaways, and I used every single opportunity to get my food out there and so that people could try and get some feedback on it.

And the early days I think really helped. I remember, I think just even before we opened, I had a few friends, and family over. I think it was on the Monday evening, (we were applying to open from Thursday), we just came in, prepared 10, 12 takeaways. I went to see some friends around say, "Look, you just try and let me know what it is?" And they all loved it.

And then in a way that gave me more confidence, they started talking about the restaurant with their friends, and I had a couple of people saying, "Oh, someone tried your menu and they recommended you, so therefore we wanted to order some food." And I think that just helped me build more confidence to know we were doing the right thing. As I mentioned earlier, we were slightly nervous when we were setting the menu, whether we could sell it. And all of a sudden I had a bit of a confident buildup at that point saying 'this could work!', because the food that we had offered for them to test, were Tibetan Nepalese dishes, such as noodles rather than Tikka Masala and Dim sum or something. Yeah, all our authentic menus, and that gave me confidence as well, and I pushed ahead with promoting those dishes.

Simon:
Which you'd be very good at, the marketing side. As you were setting up, you talk about your chef and his experience. Obviously the quality of the food, and the preparation is actually key to the success of any restaurant endeavour. Tell me a little bit about your chef. Where did he come from, how did you find him and what's his experience?

Pradip:
My chef was born in Tibet but brought up in Kathmandu.
And he used to work in the restaurant that we took over in Nottingham. So when we were planning to leave, the chef said he wanted to stay and work with me. And again, I knew his food, the quality and all of it, and therefore for me it was an obvious choice to say ‘yes, please come with us’.

So, I knew his ability, his skills, so therefore between us I knew of our other different skill sets, and I knew I would be confident to really promote his food. I tested it myself as well, so I knew what he's capable of.

And that's where I focused on our strengths. So much of the food he's really good at, and therefore we did taster menus while I promoted those. And in the early days, and I think every time we had customers, if they hadn't ordered any starters I used to get him to prepare some of the signature dishes.  I talked earlier about the contact I needed with customers, and that's where that helped as well. Because customers were of course ordering what they wanted to eat, but at the same time, I wanted them to 'try test' what my chef is capable of. And I used to get him to do a selection of different starters, or some side dishes, or something else saying, "Look, will you try this for me?" And then people started saying, "Right, this flavour we never tried before."

Simon:
I don't know how many hundreds of reviews you've collected in the last 18 months, whatever it is, but I know they've all been very positive. I think some of that, from my own experience eating here, is down to the quality of food being 'top notch', and it being beautifully presented. But also, along with the ever attentive customer service (you've trained the staff very well), you’ve offered something a little bit different to what you might expect normally. And most people like experimenting, and you are encouraging people to try different things, which I think is always a good thing.


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What would you say has most surprised you over the last 18 months?  Of course, I want to CONGRATULATE YOU and your team once again for WINNING the National Oceanic Consulting '10th ENGLISH CURRY AWARDS' in the category 'Best Nepalese Restaurant in England 2021' -  that's such an amazing achievement after just 18 months. I wanted to ask you a little about how that came about and what, in your opinion, gave you the edge over all other contenders to achieve that award?

Pradip:
Yeah, I think from day one I focused on service, quality, looking after customers, the way I wanted.

Simon:
I think you probably gained that from your experience in health care.

Pradip:
Absolutely.

Simon:
It's given you an insight of what it's like to be looked after, and your caring nature, and your medical background has helped you really to create that situation in the restaurant industry.

Pradip:
Quite rightly. And I remember last year, in August, we were busy and I think that's the first day we made the most takings in one day, and that evening I went to the kitchen and spoke to all our staff saying, "I'm not happy. We made money, but I'm not happy." And they all looked at me in a strange way. I said, "Because we weren't able to look after our customers the way I wanted to."
    
That's very striking. And it was, in a way painful for me because I wasn't able to look after customers the way I wanted to. Just busy, just didn't have the time. And that really gave me insight in to how much energy I wanted to put into this business, concentrating looking after customers will make the difference. And that actually helped. And in terms of working with the team as well, that sets the tone, what we are expecting in terms of customer service, did we get it wrong? Yes. There are cases we got it wrong, but I think my mantra all the time-

Simon:
You have to get things wrong sometimes in order to learn, don't you?

Pradip:
Absolutely. And my mantra's always been, "It's not about once you get it wrong, it's about how quickly you put it right." And that's what we focused on. And inevitably yes, sometimes, service-wise we’ve got it wrong, or the food wrong, food isn't tasty enough, and we know that's not how the quality should be, but we got it wrong. Acknowledging rather than denying it. We've always been quick acknowledging and trying always to quickly put it right. And I think the combination of the quality of food and how we do the business... Yes, as a business, we are here to make money. But we want to make money by always looking after our customers. Our customers must come first.

Simon:
That's the difference. I think it's not just a business in terms of wanting to make money. It’s about going home at night knowing that you have made someone's life happier by giving quality food and giving them a new positive experience. And that's the impression that I get by getting to know you a bit more.

Pradip:
And that's the key. The experience is the key. And I've touched on some of my thoughts and all of it focuses around Everest Lounge giving a good customer experience. So, for example and even if we’re very busy, if there's anyone who has a birthday, any celebration, we go the extra mile to make sure it's a special day for them. We've got a personalized card printed, so the minute we find out it's someone's birthday, we write a birthday card. It's very simple, but is always much appreciated.

Simon:
All those little extras. Fantastic, yeah.

Pradip:
Tiny little thing. I think the experience is the key. I think my view is we all cook food at home, get a takeaway delivery, can go anywhere. Why do you want people to come to Everest Lounge for that experience, for that memory? And I think that focus has helped us to get to where we’ve got to. Am I surprised? Yes, the progress. But at the same time I think, in my head, this is the direction I wanted to take.

Simon:
And you must feel a big sense of pride. But I tell you what else I've noticed really was when you're not here, and when I had a fabulous meal here last week with my friends, for whatever reason, you had to leave. But the service didn't drop at all, everybody has the same ambition to give that level of service, and they will take ownership, if you like, of the restaurant,  to be the best. And that's what really impresses me. You've managed to instill, or you've found people, who have that same dedication as yourself. And that's a big factor in what makes a good business, the quality and attitude of the staff.

Pradip:
It's a nice way to talk about the team, and I was just going to mention Jake, who is one of our staff. And I think the attitude that I talked about for me, it's a key. And this is something I have learned from managers.
I always say, "It's not just about the qualification, or even the experience. It's about the attitude." If you get people with the right attitude, you could train them anything. And I'm a great believer. And again, I started my career as a volunteer, and I had the right attitude, and someone gave me an opportunity and I made it work.
And I think that's the key thing. When Jake initially contacted me for work, he goes to school here at Robert Smythe. And I asked him, "Do you have experience?" He said, "No." But then he said, "I'll work hard for you. I won't let you down. I'll do anything for you." And that's all, three sentences.

All I did was text back saying, "Yep, come and start with me tomorrow", and he’s been a great member of the team.

And then when I spoke to Sunil, he had said, "There's this guy coming in, it'd be good." And he hasn't let me down. Even during the pandemic, when we were closed, we gave him some shifts, but he kept coming. Pot washing, cleaning, tiding up, brushing, whatever he needed to do, kept himself busy. And he has got a great attitude; he wanted to look after customers.

Simon:
Yeah, and that's golden.

Pradip:
And that's that value. Absolutely. And I'm very proud. And similarly, Joseph as well, he started similar time, and he was such a shy person, lacking in confidence. And over time, the level of confidence I've seen him has grown considerably and he now wants to learn, study business management, go on to do business somewhere.
And I take pride in that and he sees me as a role model.

Simon:
Fantastic.

Pradip:
The way we operate, and his customer service, how we deal with situations, and he's paying attention closely to it. And he's adapting. He always asks me, "Why do you do that? What's the reason?" And he always goes and analyses that. And most recently he was asking me about his interview prep. And he was asking some scenarios and say, "Why are they asking that?" And I sat down with him saying, "It's not about the scenario, it's how you interpret that. What your response is, and how you react." That's what they're trying to test you.

And being able to work with these young students in a way I think I take real pride in. And you talk about them taking ownership. I think that's where it is, because I value them. In response what I get is that ownership responsibility, that they feel really responsible, and they haven't let me down, and there are days they just go, "Look, Pradip, we are fine. We're in control, go home." And that's absolutely a proud moment to say, "You know what? We've got it covered."

Simon:
That’s brilliant. And that certainly comes across to me as a customer coming here. But it's all about how they want to make sure that customers are happy, the quality of the food, and just those general questions, it's just so important. Even if they're busy. When you're busy and you still feel that you're the most important person in the restaurant, it's a strange feeling and it's golden.

Pradip:
And I think it's almost like a family culture.

We have a bit of a banter. Bente just went out for delivery, she's from Denmark. So we call her Bentley, Daphne, all sorts of nick-names. And I always tease her every time she goes out for delivery, and she enjoys the fun.

Simon:
People love that.

Pradip:
"I see you in two years' time." And always say we love the banter, and everyone goes on having fun, laugh, and we finish our work regardless of how long the shift has been; 12 o'clock, and we'll go home happily. And I think that family atmosphere has helped. And, again, that runs through how we look after our customers, because we are very keen to look after the team and supporting them.

Simon:
Pradip, I can tell you're a proud man, quite rightly so. What does it mean to you to win this award; 'Best Nepalese restaurant in the country'?

Pradip:
I think, as I mentioned, the experiment. When you start with an experiment, there's always a risk. And especially opening the restaurant during the pandemic, a concept, you're not sure whether it's going to work or not. And you put in all that effort and you think you're doing the right thing. I think what this has done is substantiated, say, "You know what, if you believe it, if you work hard, it will be rewarding." It's the right thing. If you think what's right for the business, for the customer and keep doing it, you get rewarded. And it has, I think, substantiated that idea, concept, if you believe it, make it work. And I think that's what it is for me is rewarding. It's not that I work for this award, but knowing that customers are recognising it, and being nominated by customers and finally going on to win, it just validates what you thought, what you believed in.
And I think I take some pride in that.

Simon:
Absolutely right.

Pradip:
Looking at the 18 month journey, of course it's been a difficult time. There was a point in time we thought that the experiment probably wasn't going to work, and now looking back, it has worked and it's been validated and that's where it is.

Simon:
And long may it continue. Pradip, thank you so much for talking with me. It's been fascinating to learn of your journey. I know that with your business mind, the future of Everest Lounge is safe while in your hands.

Pradip:
Thank you.

Pradip Karangit of Everest Lounge Restaurant was talking with Simon Perry of The Bestof Market Harborough.


 
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Everest Lounge Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan Restaurant
46 St Mary's Road
Market Harborough
Leicestershire.
LE16 7DU

Tel: 01858 433336
Web: www.everestlounge.co.uk

 

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