Business News/ Home Page / Why the restaurant biz just isn’t cricket

New Delhi: He may be God in cricket-crazy India, but devotees certainly aren’t lining up at his restaurant.

The Mumbai restaurant named after the man many Indians consider to be the best cricketer to have ever set foot on a cricket pitch, Sachin Tendulkar, has closed for business and may well make way for a night club.

Stumped: This lunchtime scene on a weekday at Sourav Ganguly’s restaurant, Sourav’s, in Kolkata reflects its waning popularity. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint

Tendulkar did not respond to phone calls and text messages and neither he nor Sanjay Narang, president of Mars Hotels and Restaurants, which is a partner in Tendulkar’s, responded to an email seeking comment. A person familiar with the situation who did not want to be identified said Tendulkar’s could relocate or make way for a night club or a banquet hall.

Clearly, the popularity of cricketers, while making them preferred product endorsers, doesn’t guarantee the success of restaurants that seek to leverage their names. Tendulkar’s closure comes two years after Sachin’s, a café named after the cricket star in Mumbai, was closed following poor response from consumers. “It didn’t end up the way we had expected," said the same person who told Mint that Tendulkar’s will be relocated. “Commercially it was not a success." Apart from food—Tendulkar’s favourite recipes—the restaurant named after him sold Tendulkar merchandise, from T-shirts to crockery. Other restaurants named after cricketers followed pretty much the same model. And diners were also expected to flock to these outlets for the possible privilege of catching a glimpse of, chatting up, even breaking bread with their favourite cricketer.

Sehwag too failed with his restaurant and filed a case against his partner and his firm Creative Strides Taste Buds Pvt. Ltd.

“It’s a case of pure cheating. I cannot discuss this any further as the matter is in court," said Latika Khaneja, director of Collage Sports Management which handles Sehwag’s account.

Taking a cue from these, Franchise India Holdings Ltd, a franchisee management firm, is planning to play down off-spinner Harbhajan Singh’s name when it starts a chain of restaurants called Bhajji Da Dhaba. The Bhajji in the name comes from Singh’s nickname—he has licensed it out to the company—but Gaurav Marya, president of Franchise India, sought to downplay the name.

“We don’t want to limit it to Harbhajan. The name we are using is Bhajji and Bhajji is a generic name for any Sikh. Bhajji is not synonymous with any one person," said Marya, adding that this would prevent brand fatigue.

Marya said that a direct association with a cricketer creates the sort of hype that may be very difficult to match in terms of service.

“There were far bigger expectations from Sachin’s and Sourav’s (outlets) and they have not lived up to the expectations… People expect a larger-than-life delivery and it doesn’t happen as a restaurant is a restaurant," he added.

Sports agent Khaneja agreed and said that while celebrity cricketers can provide the initial start a business needs, running a successful restaurant needs more than a name.

“Things wont run on the basis of a name alone—the business model needs to be strong," she said.

Marya said that Ganguly’s and Tendulkar’s restaurant businesses were not scalable. “A Barista, Costa, or McDonald’s would have a far better management and marketing bandwidth versus a single store," he said.

Not all culinary ventures of cricketers have failed.

Indian fast bowler Zaheer Khan, who operates ZK’s in Pune, is bullish on the business and plans to add another restaurant in Pune by the middle of next year. Sudhir Mani, his manager, said Khan’s Manna Resorts and Hotels Pvt. Ltd also plans to open outlets in Mumbai, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

And Ganguly is planning a relaunch.

The restaurant will try to showcase Sourav Ganguly more and add “new dimensions such as a Sourav privilege card", said Deepak Bahl, an adviser to the business.

The poor showing of restaurants promoted by cricketers sharply contrasts with their continuing popularity as product endorsers—ahead of Bollywood A-listers. The captain of the Indian cricket team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, topped CelebTrack 2009, a recent study by Percept Talent Management and Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd that sought to rank endorsers.

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Updated: 29 Oct 2009, 10:29 AM IST
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