From Family Restaurant to Premier Catering Service: Managing Director Hitesh Sharma’s Journey with Taste Studio Catering

From Family Restaurant to Premier Catering Service: Managing Director Hitesh Sharma’s Journey with Taste Studio Catering

Hitesh Sharma, the Managing Director of Taste Studio Catering, has carved a niche for his company in the competitive landscape of the UAE's hospitality industry. With a background in marketing and entrepreneurial experience, Hitesh founded Taste Studio in 2015. His journey, marked by resilience and determination, has led to remarkable growth and success.

In this interview, Hitesh shares his story, the inspiration behind Taste Studio, and the strategies that have driven his business forward.

Can you tell us about your journey from your family's restaurant business to founding Taste Studio Catering in 2015?

My journey from my family's restaurant business to founding Taste Studio Catering in 2015 has many episodes. It began in Bombay, where our family business focused on a restaurant and bar. After leaving Bombay to pursue my master's in the UK, I worked part-time in Marks and Spencer's Food Division. When I returned to Bombay, I spent about four years helping my dad grow the food side of our restaurant business, which was initially more focused on the bar.

I introduced catering and home delivery services, but eventually, my dad took over the business, and I decided to move to Dubai. In Dubai, I took on a marketing job, thinking I had moved away from the food industry. However, fate had other plans. I soon found myself back in the food industry, starting a foodstuff trading company that supplied raw materials to restaurants and catering companies.

One day, a catering company I was supplying to was closing down, and I saw an opportunity. I had always wanted to open my own restaurant, and this seemed like the perfect chance. So, I seized the opportunity, and that's how Taste Studio was born.


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What inspired starting Taste Studio, and how has your vision evolved?

I've always been passionate about food, even though I don't know how to cook. I've been surrounded by food my entire life, from when my dad opened our family restaurant. While I pursued a career in marketing, my love for food never faded. I've traveled extensively and tried all kinds of cuisines, fueling my passion for diverse culinary experiences.

When the opportunity to start Taste Studio came along, I approached it as a businessman, not a chef. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of the cuisines my team could produce. This allowed me to experiment and introduce innovative dishes inspired by my travels.

Over the years, my vision for Taste Studio has evolved. Initially, it was about creating a business around my love for food. Now, it's about fostering a space where we can continuously innovate and deliver diverse, high-quality culinary experiences. I still love being around food, and after 38 years, that passion remains as strong as ever.

You’ve faced significant setbacks, including financial scams and hardships. How did you overcome these challenges, and what kept you motivated? Can you share a specific incident that tested your resilience and how you navigated through it?

Throughout these challenges, I've always maintained a positive attitude and a strong work ethic. I'm mentally resilient, and a small scam isn't enough to deter me from my goals.

One significant incident occurred during my trading days before I started Taste Studio. I encountered a financial scam that could have severely impacted my business. However, I learned valuable lessons from that experience, which helped me build a more secure and robust business model for Taste Studio. Since its inception, we've managed to avoid bad debts for eight years, which is a testament to the precautions we put in place.

What kept me motivated was my passion for the food industry and my commitment to growing Taste Studio. The effort and resources I invested in starting and growing the business made me even more determined to succeed despite any obstacles.

Taste Studio has grown threefold since its inception. What key strategies did you implement to achieve this remarkable growth?

Our growth can be attributed to various factors, but the most significant one is our dedicated team. Their consistent effort to deliver high-quality food and exceptional service has been crucial. The kitchen team, chefs, operations team, and logistics team all play vital roles in ensuring everything runs smoothly. They make sure the food is excellent, the service is timely, and the customers have a great experience. This collective effort elevates our service to another level.

One key strategy is our commitment to quality and service.

We stick to our policy of providing quality and great service within the client's budget. If we can't meet the client's expectations within their budget, we prefer to turn down the order rather than compromise on quality. This approach has helped us build a loyal client base that has been with us for eight years.

Additionally, we focus on creating a comfortable and enjoyable atmosphere for our clients, with thoughtful decorations and setups for each occasion. Our logistics team also plays a crucial role in ensuring timely deliveries, even in challenging conditions. By adhering to these principles and maintaining a strong team effort, we've been able to achieve remarkable growth and continue to satisfy our clients' needs consistently.

Your business strategy emphasizes an "Attention to outcome" approach. Can you elaborate on how this strategy works and its impact on your team and operations?

Our "Attention to outcome" approach ensures that we provide a complete package of excellent food, service, and overall experience. We focus on all aspects of catering, from food quality to decor and service, ensuring clients have a memorable experience. This strategy has fostered a culture of excellence within our team and has been key to our success.

Taste Studio now caters to over 1500 people daily in a state-of-the-art kitchen. How do you ensure consistent quality and service at such a large scale?

We've implemented robust processes that ensure consistent quality and service, regardless of the event size. Whether it's a small catering event for 20 people or a large one for 700, our team follows the same meticulous processes. The largest event we've handled was serving 2,500 people per meal, five meals a day, totaling 10,400 people over 12 buffets. With the right processes in place and a dedicated team, we can deliver consistent quality and service every time.

Our 12,000 sq. ft. central kitchen plays a crucial role in maintaining high standards. Each division is separated according to HACCP and municipal city rules, providing a clean and spacious environment for our chefs. This setup allows them to work efficiently without feeling cramped, ensuring they can maintain the highest quality standards. By providing ample space and a well-organized kitchen, we empower our chefs to deliver excellent food consistently.


What role does innovation play in your business, and can you share some examples of innovative practices or technologies you’ve implemented?

We use WhatsApp for communication across multiple internal groups, allowing us to coordinate on everything from minor details to major issues, even when we're not physically together. For menu management and client interactions, we rely on Google Drive and our own server to keep detailed records of past services. This enables our team to reference and replicate successful client experiences. These two key technologies have streamlined our operations and made it easier to manage client relationships.

With prestigious clients like Boston Consulting Group, DP World, and Hyundai Mobis, how do you maintain and nurture these relationships?

For our long-term clients, we customize our catering services and menus to meet their specific needs, adjusting our policies as necessary. This personalized approach makes us more than just a vendor; we become a partner who adapts to their requirements, whether it's changing menus, service standards, or timings. This level of customization and personal service is a key reason why clients continue to work with us, as they likely won't receive the same attention from other vendors.

How do you empower your team to take ownership and drive the business forward? Can you discuss your approach to delegation and how it contributes to the efficiency and scalability of Taste Studio?

I treat my team like family, fostering a positive and supportive work environment. I believe in delegation and empowering my team to take ownership of their roles. This approach has created a motivated and efficient team that drives the business forward.


How has Taste Studio managed to achieve significant revenue growth despite the competitive landscape of the UAE’s hospitality industry?

In the UAE, many companies struggle because they focus solely on numbers, often leading to premature closure. At Taste Studio, our primary focus is on quality and consistency, not just in the food we provide but also in our service. This approach has been crucial in our growth.

We avoid taking orders that we can't fulfill within the client's budget or that would compromise our standards. This strategy prevents us from making the same mistakes as other companies, such as taking on orders just to appear busy or to boost numbers, which often leads to financial losses, unpaid bills, bad service, and negative reviews.

By consistently doing things right and maintaining our reputation, we've been able to sustain and grow our business. We prioritize delivering quality and ensuring customer satisfaction over simply chasing revenue. This commitment has helped us remain competitive and achieve significant revenue growth in the challenging hospitality industry of the UAE.

What personal qualities do you believe have been crucial to your success as an entrepreneur in the competitive catering industry?

My success in the catering industry has been greatly influenced by several personal qualities. Firstly, my people skills are essential. I work with my team as a colleague rather than a boss, treating them like family. This approach creates a reciprocal relationship where they feel valued and give their best because they don't feel like they are just working for a boss.

I'm also a visionary. When thinking about business strategy, I focus on the future rather than just the present. This forward-thinking mindset helps me make decisions that ensure long-term success.

Another crucial factor is my emphasis on convenience. I ensure that my team has all the necessary equipment, space, and resources to do their work properly without restrictions. By investing in the tools and environment they need, I enable them to deliver the best outcomes. This principle of investing today for a better tomorrow has been a guiding philosophy that has significantly contributed to our growth and success.

I make it a point to go out every day and observe what others are doing in the industry. I look for new, innovative ideas and bring them back to share with my team. Additionally, I watch a lot of television, particularly cooking shows and food-related content, which gives me visual inspiration. Whenever I come across something interesting that we can implement, I immediately share it on our team's WhatsApp group. The next day, we discuss it, try it out, and see how we can incorporate it into our menu.

Traveling also plays a significant role in staying updated. By experiencing different cuisines and hospitality practices firsthand, I bring back fresh ideas and insights that we can adapt to Taste Studio.

Beyond food, I pay attention to various strategies and people skills that I encounter in my daily interactions, meetings, and observations. Implementing these small but impactful points has helped me keep the business innovative and aligned with current trends. All these efforts combined ensure that Taste Studio remains at the forefront of the catering and hospitality industry.

How has the catering industry evolved since you started Taste Studio, and how have you adapted to these changes?

The catering segment has become much more competitive over time. Initially, we enjoyed a niche space with few competitors, but as people realized the profitability of catering, many restaurants and hotels have shifted into this segment. Post-Covid, the competition has intensified, with new entrants from both above and below us in the industry, making the market extremely competitive.

How do you gather and incorporate customer feedback to continuously improve your services? Can you share an instance where customer feedback led to a significant change or improvement in your offerings?

We have a robust feedback policy in place for every service, whether it's for new customers or long-term clients. After each service, our on-site staff request reviews and interact with customers to gather their feedback. If needed, our business development or client servicing team follows up with a phone call to ensure we understand their needs and maintain good relationships.

For long-term clients, we meet regularly, either weekly or monthly, to ask for feedback. In corporate settings where we serve daily, we distribute monthly feedback forms to capture any additional comments or suggestions that might not have been communicated orally.

This continuous feedback loop helps us identify areas for improvement and incorporate new ideas into our business. For example, a corporate client once requested a specific cuisine that we didn't offer at the time. We took note of their request, developed the capability to provide that cuisine within a month, and informed them once it was available. This proactive approach not only met their needs but also expanded our menu and enhanced our service offerings.

What are your future goals for Taste Studio, both in terms of business expansion and service enhancement? Are there any new markets or industries you plan to venture into with Taste Studio Catering?

Our goal is to continue growing steadily and organically, making the most of our current time and space. Ultimately, I don't want to work my whole life, especially since I'm managing this alone without family support. My team, who I consider my family, are mostly expats and may eventually leave or return home, making it challenging to find replacements. Therefore, the long-term plan is for a young, new entrepreneur to take over the business, potentially buying me out.

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