ADVERTISEMENT
Go back to
Home » My Kolkata » People » Debaditya Chaudhury is striking the perfect chord between music and the business of food

entrepreneurs

Debaditya Chaudhury is striking the perfect chord between music and the business of food

From rocking stages to rocking restaurants, how Deba’s melodies transformed into culinary success

Karo Christine Kumar | Published 13.07.23, 06:31 PM
Dog lover, musician, foodpreneur and more – Debaditya Chaudhury wears many hats

Dog lover, musician, foodpreneur and more – Debaditya Chaudhury wears many hats

Back in his college days, Debaditya Chaudhury was a music vagabond. One who was always fuelled by the pursuit of his next big adventure! While the rest of us from his batch in St Xavier’s College Kolkata were hanging out at gaachhtala (under the trees) or on the iconic green benches, Deba was out there, forging connections with the outside world, securing gigs for his rock band Lakkhichhara. A mutual friend aptly describes him, saying, “He was always driven and full of energy, always wanting to make things happen.” And he certainly did.

With Kabir Bedi and Jayant Kripalani for an upcoming show on Disney+ Hotstar

With Kabir Bedi and Jayant Kripalani for an upcoming show on Disney+ Hotstar

Little did many of us anticipate that one of the things Deba would make happen was building a mini food empire (despite his occasional binge at Michael’s street-style chowmein opposite Vardaan Market). In 2010, he opened the first Chowman, and today there are 30 outlets across India. While opinions on the food may vary, Chowman’s popularity is undeniable. Subsequently, Debaditya and his brother Shiladitya Chaudhury introduced Oudh 1590 in 2013, one of the finest Awadhi restaurants in the city, and five years later came along Chapter 2, a nod to Park Street’s food and music from the swingin’ Sixties.

ADVERTISEMENT

With rapid expansion plans in place, and an upcoming show on Disney+ Hotstar on his journey, My Kolkata explores some of the milestones achieved by the man who wears many hats.

Debaditya the businessman

As we sit in his first-floor office on Raja Basanta Roy Road, I look around and see on the wall, a white board with the brands’ expansion plans. I smile and ask him the burning question in everyone’s mind – how is his business expanding at such a rapid pace while maintaining profitability?

Deba reveals, “Our turnover is quite substantial, but our profit margin is relatively low.” Chowman’s food costs make up 40 per cent of the expenses and the labour costs hover around 15 per cent. “However, as we expand nationwide, our profit margins will improve, and turnover will continue to rise,” he shares.

Listening to him, I ask where he gets his entrepreneurial spirit from. His grandfather was a government employee, his father used to work with a Japanese company called Sumitomo Corporation Group and his mother is a homemaker. “As the founder-member of Lakkhichhara, I used to manage all the shows, all the negotiations, everything... That experience proved invaluable,” explains the boy who grew up on Garcha Road, Ballygunge.

A young Debaditya and Shiladitya with their father’s Toyota Land Cruiser – which stoked his fascination for cars

A young Debaditya and Shiladitya with their father’s Toyota Land Cruiser – which stoked his fascination for cars

In terms of funding and valuation, Deba is waiting for the right moment. “We have relied on banks and self-funding without seeking external funding. Although we have received attractive valuations from major companies, our current focus is not on selling any stake. I am confident that in the next three years, the valuation will increase significantly. Only then will I consider the possibility of selling.”

It is this strategic approach that has played a vital role in Chowman’s success ever since the first restaurant opened over a decade ago.

Debaditya the restaurateur

A humble beginning in Golf Gardens: the first Chowman in 2010

When Debaditya first told his family that he was starting a business, “it was like the sky fell on their head”.

“I always wanted to open a Chinese restaurant but I never had a lot of money. As a musician, I had meagre savings. In 2010, Golf Gardens was the only location available within my budget,” recalls Debaditya. Securing a 350sq ft space in Golf Gardens turned out to be a smart move, because at the time, there were no restaurants within a 2km radius of Chowman.

As Kolkata already had numerous Chinese restaurants, Debaditya also needed a compelling reason for people to choose Chowman over the competition. His vision was clear: to democratise ‘fine dining’ and offer it at an affordable price. “My thought process was about providing an upscale experience at a reasonable cost,” explains Debaditya.

The first Chowman in Golf Green (2010); one of the newest outlets in Indirapuram, Delhi NCR (2023) from among the 30 in India

The first Chowman in Golf Green (2010); one of the newest outlets in Indirapuram, Delhi NCR (2023) from among the 30 in India

The location also played a part, as Golf Gardens was home to several Tollywood celebrities he knew, thanks to his music connections. As they say, there is no better publicity than word of mouth. “From the first week itself, I had a queue in my small restaurant. We couldn’t accept more orders, and we had to close early because we were running out of the raw materials.” In the initial month, he’d hop into his Tavera van, drop his colleagues home, go veggie-shopping the next morning to New Market, and yes, even do home deliveries himself.

The combination of an attractive menu, good food and affordable pricing proved to be a winning formula. In its first year, Chowman generated a turnover of Rs 20 lakh

Realising the potential, Debaditya launched a cloud kitchen to meet the soaring demand. “Of course, in those days, the terminology ‘cloud kitchen’ didn’t exist or wasn’t popular but the separate kitchen space essentially functioned as a cloud kitchen,” he says. It was a moment that marked the realisation that Chowman had struck a chord with the people of Kolkata.

The combination of an attractive menu, good food and affordable pricing proved to be a winning formula. In its first year, Chowman generated a turnover of Rs 20 lakh. Today, Chowman has spread its (chicken) wings to Bengaluru, Delhi and Noida, with Hyderabad (opening next week), Mumbai, Pune, Chandigarh, and five more outlets in Delhi in the pipeline.

A dazzling decade of Oudh 1590

Kebabs from the land of nawabs and (in picture) Handi Biryani from Oudh 1590

Kebabs from the land of nawabs and (in picture) Handi Biryani from Oudh 1590

Teaming up with his foodie brother and PR professional, Shiladitya, they opened Oudh 1590, a period-dining restaurant in Deshapriya Park. The duo’s shared passion for travelling led them to create a restaurant that pays homage to the illustrious era of Awadhi cuisine. “Dada is around 10 years older than me but we’re more like friends than brothers. We share everything. We go on holidays and do all kinds of crazy things together. Our basic areas of operation are well-defined and there’s no clash of interest, no ego,” he says.

Brothers, foodies and travel companions: Debaditya and Shiladitya Chaudhury. ‘I started my career with my brother in his PR agency, which laid the foundation for my future business ventures,’ says Deba

Brothers, foodies and travel companions: Debaditya and Shiladitya Chaudhury. ‘I started my career with my brother in his PR agency, which laid the foundation for my future business ventures,’ says Deba

With its 10 outlets spread across Southern Avenue, Naktala, Salt Lake, New Town, Jessore Road, Sodepur, Madhyamgram, Behala, and even Noida, Oudh 1590 has become synonymous with a wholesome Awadhi dining experience. It is reminiscent of the illustrious times of Nawabs like Asaf-ud-daulah and Wajid Ali Shah who had royal bawarchis creating Kakori Kebabs, Galawati Kebabs, and dishes incorporating the dum pukht style of cooking.

Chapter 2, a new chapter in 2017

For Debaditya, merging his two greatest passions—music and food—was a dream come true. Chapter 2 is a nostalgic tribute to the Park Street food of the 1960s, with live music setting the mood. The initial outlet at Mani Square may have bid farewell, but the essence of retro dining continues to resonate in the Southern Avenue address.

Debaditya on the keyboard at retro-diner Chapter 2, which bridges his two passions, music and food

Debaditya on the keyboard at retro-diner Chapter 2, which bridges his two passions, music and food

“As musicians, we wanted to open a restaurant with a stage for performances. We remember going to Park Street with our parents and amongst our eternal favourites was Sky Room food and, of course, the music at Trincas. Those were the days. Simple, yet opulent. So we infused these elements into Chapter 2,” says Deba the pianist.

They managed to connect with Susanta Halder, the grandson of the renowned Sky Room chef, ensuring the legacy lives on.

Debaditya the trailblazer

Food delivery: From two bikes to a fleet!

Chowman’s innovative spirit extended to their delivery services as well. Debaditya shares, “We were among the first few restaurants in Kolkata to introduce branded biking delivery. At that time, only a few pizza joints offered this service." They started with two bikes and today, Chowman has bikers spanning across Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi, and Noida. The brand claims that no Indian standalone chain matches the scale of Chowman’s fleet.

Catering in Kolkata’s social clubs

Around a decade ago, catering in the ‘elite’ social clubs of Kolkata that were set up in the British era was a “big thing”. It meant access and visibility to a niche crowd. In 2012, Debaditya established a food-print in Calcutta Club with his brands, and in between, also the Calcutta Rowing Club and Dalhousie Institute. “Today, we are present in two of the best clubs in Kolkata - Tollygunge Club and Calcutta Club,” he shares.

Tap into the app game

Chowman took a bold step forward by launching its own app in 2018. But why, when there are established food aggregator platforms? “We realised that during rush hours on days like January 26 or during Durga Puja, there were so many orders on Swiggy and Zomato that the system was crashing. On the back-end dashboard, we saw that in south Kolkata, people were only ordering from us. We were very sure that we had a loyal customer base. So why not open our own app and pass on the commission as discounts to the customers?” reasons Deba.

With over 2 lakh active users, around 25 per cent of the deliveries happen through the Chowman app, 40 per cent through Swiggy, and 35 per cent via Zomato.

Debaditya the musician

Ask him what the biggest milestone of his music journey has been and pat comes the reply: “The release of our album Jibon Chaiche Aro Beshi when we were in college. It was released by former principal Father PC Mathew and it became a superhit.” In June, Lakkhichhara released its sixth album Ak Doshok Por after a 10-year hiatus.

On June 21, 2023, Bangla rock band Lakkhichhara released its sixth studio album, aptly titled 'Ak Doshok Por' (Cozmik Harmony), after a 10-year hiatus

On June 21, 2023, Bangla rock band Lakkhichhara released its sixth studio album, aptly titled 'Ak Doshok Por' (Cozmik Harmony), after a 10-year hiatus

Music got Debaditya to travel and he could channelise that fame to his food ventures. In 2009-2010, he visited China, Hong Kong and Thailand at least five times, just to do research about Chowman. “I made these trips using money from my savings, just to see what was happening. I used to get all the crockery and cutlery from there and even now all our sauces like Hoisin Sauce or Chinese Plum Sauce are sourced from there,” he says.

Debaditya the dad

In Debaditya’s life, music and entrepreneurship intertwine with love and family. But it was not always smooth sailing.

“First of all, I was a musician. In a Bengali family, pursuing music full time already put me on the backfoot. So, when I proposed the idea of opening a restaurant, my family was initially hesitant.” However, as they saw the popularity of his ventures, they knew his heart was in the right place.

With wife Sanjana, daughter Shanaya and pet labrador Sushi

With wife Sanjana, daughter Shanaya and pet labrador Sushi

In 2009, Deba entered a new chapter of his life as he tied the knot with Sanjana. “During my college days, I was a musician with no clear direction. Marriage provided me with a sense of purpose. It pushed me to pursue something more tangible. I had always aspired for a lifestyle, for which a conventional job wouldn’t suffice.” Marriage also instilled in him patience and discipline. He shares, “My daily routine involves waking up at 5 am, going for a morning walk, dropping my daughter off at school, and then heading to the office. I try my best to be back home around 7.30 pm, and by 9.30 pm, I’m usually off to bed.”

When daughter Shanaya was born, it brought immeasurable joy to Deba's life. Even today, that joy resonates when she tells him, “Papa, today I saw my friend getting tiffin in a Chowman carry bag!”

Last updated on 13.07.23, 06:57 PM
Share:
ADVERTISEMENT

More from My Kolkata