Ranjeet Pandey is currently heading the operations of “The Fisherman’s Wharf” Chain across India and is also instrumental in setting up the Pan Asian restaurant brand, The Red Ginger, in Goa, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Ranjeet hails from Kolkata but has been in Goa for nearly three decades. He is a graduate of Chemistry from St Xavier’s College in Kolkata but without scope in this field, he decided to move from Kolkata. However, before doing that, he sat the IIT and Hotel Management entrance exams simultaneously, and without any intention of entering the hospitality industry, he landed here.
“I wanted only to leave Kolkata to broaden my horizons and see new places and when I had the opportunity of doing a course in Chennai, I took it immediately I come from a vegetarian family but when I entered into the food & hospitality industry, I had no option but to handle all sorts of meats and a major challenge for me was handling raw meats, which I had never done in my life before.”
The beginning of the journey into the hotel industry was not easy for Ranjeet. “I picked up the phone and called my father telling him that challenges in Hotel Industry is very different and difficult to survive but he advised me that life is full of challenges and I have to make my choices since he will not be always there to make these decisions for me so he said think deeply and then decide but you can always come back,” said Ranjeet Pandey.
Hotel management has many sub-categories but when it comes to food production, one needs to handle different varieties of food which makes it difficult at times for vegetarians. “The turning point came when one of my professors told me that there is no food in the world that is bad, but that you’ve simply not yet developed a taste for it. That changed everything for me with regard to the food production industry, and I realized so long as I take my profession seriously, everything will fall into place. I could have opted for the other Departments but I wanted to go for the toughest challenge and I went for food production,” he added.
After completing his studies in Hotel Management, Mr. Pandey joined the Taj Group of Hotels in Taj Bengal, Kolkata. “I worked for a short time at Taj Group before shifting to Sterling Resorts where I worked for nearly four years and from there, I was transferred to the Sterling Resorts in Goa. The current W Hotel was formerly known as Sterling Hotels. I held the position of Executive Chef at the Sterling Hotels and that was the time I got an opportunity at the Holiday Inn Resort, Goa,” said Mr. Ranjeet, and when I asked him about how that opportunity came his way Mr. Pandey said, “The former Executive Chef of Holiday Inn was my college senior and he invited me to join as Sous Chef and since I had already worked with him earlier I was very comfortable and when he invited me, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to work with him. After around 6 months though, he had the opportunity to work abroad and he left so then I was on my own. I worked for around 3 years as Sous chef before becoming the executive chef at Holiday Inn.”
Things at the Holiday Inn had completely changed when Chef Mohan left and went abroad. Many of the junior chefs also left the Holiday Inn and Mr Ranjeet was the only senior person left in the kitchen with a lot of responsibilities. “I remember that I used to handle the kitchen from morning till evening, doing both shifts and closing the kitchen and this practice continued for almost a year. I didn’t have a day off nor did I take any leave during that time. When things become tough, I also become tougher. I enjoy and love doing that and I became the Executive Chef at the Holiday Inn in a very short span of time. Another advantage that I had was the owners of the property are from the hospitality industry and they understand the ups and downs of this industry and it was a good learning process with them.”
Mr Ranjeet had received many offers from various properties abroad but he did not leave the Holiday Inn because he saw that there were enough opportunities to grow here. “I spoke to my GM, Mr Mathew when I got an opportunity to go abroad and he told me that there are many opportunities to grow here and I should stick to this place. I also believe in staying in one place and growing so I did not fall for all those opportunities that came my way many times. For me, every day is a new day with new beginnings and challenges and I prepare myself to give my best shot. I have never taken a single day in my life for granted and work hard every day to make sure that everything is running smoothly. When I am at work, I give my 100% and when I am with the family my entire time is for them,” he said.
The Fisherman’s Wharf
The story of the Fisherman’s Wharf is very interesting and Ranjeet told me how the whole concept came into existence. “It was in 2005 when the idea of Fisherman’s Wharf came into the existence. Our chairman & MD Mr Xavier had a piece of land opposite the Holiday Inn which was touching the river. He had acquired it long back with the vision to start something in this place and finally one day he decided to open a restaurant with a Goan touch, luckily I was part of the core team of this project. I worked very closely with the entire team to create this property. I was taking care of the Food Production department of Fisherman’s Wharf along with the Holiday Inn. After the success of the Fisherman’s Wharf property in South Goa, we decided to expand so we started the second property in Bangalore. It was only after 2012 that we decided to grow rapidly and started second property in Bangalore, another in Dubai and finally we opened up in Panjim then in Hyderabad.”
The Red Ginger
Mr Ranjeet told me that as Food Production was their major strength, they wanted to open up a Pan Asian Cuisine restaurant and that is how the Red Ginger came into existence. “Mr Xavier travels a lot and keeps sharing with us new and innovative ideas. He wanted to open up an exclusive Pan-Asian restaurant and a different concept from The Fisherman’s Wharf which had its own brand and name. Red Ginger is a stand-alone restaurant and is dedicated only to Pan-Asian cuisine.”
The Director Operations
Mr Ranjeet Pandey has been working as Director of Food Productions for a long time and around five years back, having seen his dedication and work responsibilities, Mr Xavier elevated him to the position of Director of Operations. “As Director of Food Production, my duties were to take care of the food production and food outlets but as the responsibilities grew the scope of work became more of operational nature and that is the reason I was promoted to Director of Operations. Here I have the responsibilities to take care of all the properties, appoint the right Manpower across the country, and set up new outlets in Goa and other parts of the country. I also shoulder the responsibilities of handling the profitability besides the overall operations and taking care of day-to-day developments in the supporting departments. In short, as a Director operations, I am overall responsible of the entire brand and it is a very big responsibility. There is always guidance from the owners, and they continuously guide me in executing my responsibilities. The only problem that I faced while fulfilling my responsibilities as Director of Operations is changing dynamics of the business. This position demands a much wider spectrum of the financial workings of the company. Running one department is easy but running the entire company and visualizing, taking it to the next stage, etc., you need a strong knowledge of business and that is when I decided to do my MBA in finance via a correspondence course and after completing my course I gained a better understanding of the business dynamics.”
ISO 22000 Certification
You may be wondering how Mr Ranjeet continued with his studies while shouldering huge responsibilities of the company at the same time and this made me ask him about the same to which he replied saying, “Right from my childhood, I enjoyed studying so it wasn’t a big deal to do an MBA. But whilst doing my MBA for example, my daughter was very young at that time and I had to put her to sleep before starting with my studies at night and then continue to study till about 3 am taking short naps wherever I could, then starting work at 9.30 am. This continued for 3 years when I had completed my MBA.”
“After finishing my MBA, I decided to complete an ISO 22000 Lead Auditor course. This audit is ISO 22000 and is meant for food safety norms and standards. Now I am a certified Lead Auditor for ISO 22000 and it helped me to implement the same in my own company. The Holiday Inn is an ISO 22000 certified brand while all the units of the Fisherman’s Wharf are classified and certified 5-star Hygiene Rating restaurants. This ISO certification has helped us in the long run and I can confidently say that the food prepared by us is the safest and most hygienic, which is not normally followed by many. We also practice an open-kitchen policy wherein anyone can walk into a kitchen or see from outside what we are doing inside and this policy is implemented at all our restaurants.”
When I asked Mr Ranjeet about the concept and design of their kitchens, he said, “Being from a food background, I love to maintain good standards and all the kitchens of Fisherman’s Wharf are designed by me without the involvement of any third party agencies and here my engineering knowledge helped me a lot,” he said.
Mr Ranjeet told me that they have big expansion plans which will start with a setup in Bangalore. “As you know we already have one Fisherman’s Wharf in Bangalore and this will be the second one. As Bangalore is such a large city, business potentials are enormous and we have the scope of having more than 3 to 4 outlets there. The food business is a very dynamic business and trends keep changing if you want to be a successful Restaurateur then you need to be on top of it. Every day is an innovation and every day we face new challenges and the people who love challenges, this is the best industry for them,” he added.
When I asked Mr Ranjeet how he manages the business in so many places while travelling most of the time, he said, “We are a well-managed organization with Unit managers and chefs who are responsible for running the operations on a day-to-day basis and as a corporate and management team we just need to fine-tune them and keep an eye on the profitability, guest satisfaction and keep innovating. My job is to keep an eye on the operations and make sure that the profitability does not dip and that the entire operations are designed on these couple of parameters. We also make use of technology and we have designed software which gives a bird’s eye view of all business profits and expenses. It’s a cloud-based system and can be monitored from anywhere with an internet connection. We also have CCTV monitoring systems, and the cameras are installed across all the units and all the movement can be monitored from my mobile phone. Another thing is, the moment they know you are being watched there is a certain kind of discipline that is maintained. Technology means we don’t have to have a physical presence anymore,” said Mr. Ranjeet.
With so much work and responsibilities, family life normally suffers but that is not the case in Mr Ranjeet’s life. He spends quality time with his family. “I travel so much so to spend time with my family becomes a little hard but once you learn to balance between work and family, life becomes easier. We might be spending little time together but it is quality time that we have.”
The Goa Culinary Forum
Just as he spends time with his family, Mr Ranjeet’s team is no different from him and he makes sure that he spends time with them too to keep them motivated. “I make sure that I keep my team motivated all the time by rewarding their work and taking them out for dinners and outings once in a while. Besides that, I am also the President of the Culinary Forum of Goa and we have chefs from all the major hotels in Goa. We do a lot of activities for chefs, we also work on their development and we are also affiliated with the IFCA (Indian Federation of Culinary Association) which is also an added responsibility. Once a Chef – always a Chef. I can be a Director of the operation but the chef within me will never die, and the thought of what I am giving back always pushes me to do something for the Chef Community.”
The Way Ahead
Mr Ranjeet has a dream of making the Fisherman’s Wharf the number one chain of restaurants in seafood in India. “I am very sure that we will make it happen. I think the toughest thing to handle in the kitchen is seafood and this is mainly due to its limited shelf life and logistics. Seafood needs to be served fresh unlike some meat. It is a highly perishable commodity and we have mastered that. I am focusing all my energy towards making this brand number one in India.”
“The hospitality sector deals with people, whether it’s a guest or our internal staff, and if you want to scale up your company, the human touch is required, and only then will you grow. If you are doing a legit business then there is nothing that will stop your growth. There are people who take shortcuts in business and they may become lucky in some cases but if you seriously want to grow then you need to be grounded, you need to understand the dynamics of it, there is no shortcut.”
Cover Photo Credits – Rajesh Ghadge