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HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Riyaaz Amlani

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As told to Shraddha Chowdhury

Why he matters: This hospitality honcho added new flavours to ‘mocha,’ transformed restaurants into more ‘social’ spaces and had us all embrace ‘saltwater’ in its new avatars. A dear friend and longtime colleague, Harmeet Bajaj, shares rare insights into the man who’s truly been a harbinger of change for India’s rapidly evolving F&B industry.

Riyaaz Amlani is one of the greatest visionaries in the F&B industry. I truly believe so. Over the past two-and-a-half decades, he’s defined, redefined, created and envisaged a number of concepts in the fine-dining and F&B space, which today have taken form in thousands of restaurants across India.

To me, Riyaaz brought concepts, creativity and conversations into restaurants. With Mocha, he redefined coffee shops. With Saltwater Café, Saltwater Grill and Smokehouse Deli, he defined fine dining. When the whole world was abuzz with the internet, he came up with the most creative concept of co-working spaces in restaurants — and Social was born. Today, there are 45 branches of Social across India, but not many could replicate the concept.

Riyaaz has always been ahead of the game and coming up with fresh ideas. His sensitivity to each market, to each customer in a diverse country like ours, has given him deep insights into people’s eating habits. And through his brands, he’s been able to touch each one of them. So if anyone in the industry deserves this label of being a visionary and a leader, it has to be Riyaaz Amlani.

‘He’ll Always Have Your Back’

Riyaaz is exceedingly passionate about food. But what’s really interesting - something I learned as I went along and worked with him — is that he’s such a perfect blend of the right brain and the left. He’s creative, he’s sensitive, he understands music, design and interiors, and he has a tremendous eye for detail in each of these areas. That’s how he’s been able to create these many brands, all distinctly different and difficult to emulate.

As a person, he’s extremely endearing, a friend you’d like to have for the rest of your life because you know he’ll have your back. And he has an amazing sense of humour. He could leave you in splits! Not to mention how bright he really is. He’s a sharp guy. Intelligent, funny, entertaining and a great friend to be with.

Professionally, though, he’s tough. But he’s also motivating and inspirational to all his employees. Everybody looks up to him, trusts him, is loyal to him, and has faith in him that he will stand by them when required... That’s the reason people who’ve been with him since day one, and supported him with everything he ever wanted, still work with him. Business had its highs and lows, and even those who left during the lows eventually returned because they had faith in Riyaaz.

A Class Apart

Today, restauranting is about creating experiences. You walk into a place not just for the food but a host of other sensory elements that make you want to visit repeatedly — and this is something Riyaaz mastered over the years.

From the name and the branding, to the logo, the minute you enter the restaurant and look at the menu, the creative presentation of the food, the music, atmosphere, crowd, weekend lineups... He handled it all himself. A culture team looks into it, but Riyaaz guides it all. These are the factors that make him the visionary he is, deserving of recognition because he’s been a harbinger of change and quietly, subtly steered that change at various levels.

A Pillar of Support

Riyaaz always stood for what was right for the growth of the industry, even if it meant taking on a lot of the big guys in the industry. But he stuck to his guns and put down the industry’s concerns in front of various government agencies to explain that this was not an easy business. Besides being the head of the National Restaurant Association of India, he continues to speak at various forums and highlight necessary changes before policyholders. The pandemic was brutal on F&B, but I think somewhere, Riyaaz had faith that we’d come out of it with a vengeance and things would turn around eventually.

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!