Sanjeev Sanghera Podcast Transcript

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Sanjeev Sanghera: [00:00:00] I owed a quarter of a million pound to friends and family. Eventually the car and the, the house went. I was actually homeless for a little while. I struggled with my mental health a lot. You know, just looking for a place to shower and brush my teeth. Attitude I go to work with every day is that I've got nothing to lose now.

Sanjeev Sanghera: That I've achieved everything I think would have been expected of me. And now everything is a bonus to my family, the people around me. And now... We're at just about 150 stores in development over the next five years. So just about anywhere that anybody's watching this in the UK, you'll see a döner shack popping up pretty soon.

Amardeep Parmar: Welcome to the BAE HQ podcast, where we aim to inspire, connect and guide the next generation of British Asians. If you're watching this on YouTube, make sure you hit that subscribe button. And if you're watching on Apple or Spotify, make sure you give us a five star review. Today we have with us Sanjeev Sangera, who's the founder of

Amardeep Parmar: Döner Shack and Haus Hospitality. They recently won the top fast casual restaurant in the UK, awarded by the likes of H3C and the British Franchise [00:01:00] Association. How are you doing today, Sanj? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: I'm good, thank you for having me on. 

Amardeep Parmar: So you've recently moved to London and you're obviously based in Scotland beforehand, so people might pick up on your accent there.

Amardeep Parmar: Yes, I think they might. So we had lunch before this, obviously not at Döner shack, unfortunately. It's great to get to know you and your story, but can you share for the audience, like, When you were growing up, did you ever believe you'd be doing what you're doing today?

Sanjeev Sanghera: Um, I always had a lot of ambition growing up.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I originally wanted to be a professional basketball player. And for a young Asian 5 foot 11 guy, that's usually not top career choice, but I got very good at it. And I went over to America and I was trying out for different colleges, but that level of ambition was part of my, my makeup from, from day one.

Amardeep Parmar: And where did that ambition come from? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: I'm not sure. I think it had a lot to do with family. My granddad's story who came to London back in the 60s. He was 12 years old when he left the village and went to Lahore trying to seek a better life for his family. And his first job was cleaning people's shoes.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And one of the people's shoes that he [00:02:00] used to clean was one of the, the higher ranking officers of the British army who eventually gave him a job in, in the bar. And he went on to control alcohol supply in Lahore. So yeah, that level of ambition has been with us for quite a while. 

Amardeep Parmar: And you mentioned as well, because you had the furniture store part of the family as well.

Amardeep Parmar: So your dad and your granddad both have that ambition and drive in the UK too. 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Yeah. My dad came to the UK back in 1967, worked in foundries in the Midlands where we were born in Coventry. And he realized that there wasn't much of a future there for him. And he came up with this idea that we were going to...

Sanjeev Sanghera: serving Indian food to Scottish people. And that was a, that was a great formula because curry and pints go down pretty well, which we found. So yeah, um, I think there was always this attitude of going where the opportunity was and I've kind of followed in their footsteps. 

Amardeep Parmar: So going from trying to become a professional basketball player.

Amardeep Parmar: To now running a franchise restaurant company. How did that happen? Like, did you start a business before that? Where did this interest come from? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: The [00:03:00] mindset was as a young and very ambitious kid, I had started imagining myself making millions of dollars playing basketball. So, I'd already started spending the money , and then I just needed a different vehicle to be able to allow me to have that lifestyle.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So going over to America and, and seeing how, you know, at the time used to say how the other half live, but just seeing the level of ambition and that there was no ceiling for them and, and what they could achieve in their life and, and people telling you that if you believe it, Um, enough and you're willing to work hard for it that you can achieve whatever you like.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So, yeah, I'd never, I never wanted to live a life where I had limits on myself. Always set my own limits and it wasn't what other people would expect of me. So it was probably the biggest driving force to having huge ambition is just taking that ceiling away. 

Amardeep Parmar: I think it's one of the big things that we're trying to get through as well, because I see it because I've done a lot of work with American entrepreneurs and just seen the way they think.

Amardeep Parmar: And it's just, Oh, we're going to go for this. Oh, we're going to try and become a billion dollar company. We're going to do that. You don't hear that from people here as much. And they just put these limits [00:04:00] on themselves. And like I said, it's, it's not that you're different to that person or that person is different.

Amardeep Parmar: You can all do it, it's just some people think they can do it and actually work hard for that. 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Yeah, I mean, British society in general is very reserved and, you know, you have a mix of, especially from my Asian background, within the Punjabi culture, I know that it was, it wasn't something that you do. You don't go out and you show off about what you want to achieve.

Sanjeev Sanghera: You have to, you know, and certain Imams, what my dad used to always say to me, it was just keep your head down. I think in America, it was very, very different. In America, there was You know, you're celebrated for feeling in your first business because now you've learned your way and you've, you've got your, you know, your warm marks and you're ready to actually go out in the world and do something bigger.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Whereas here, failure was always thought of as, you know, well, that's you just you get back in your little box and and behave like you're supposed to going over to America and especially with social media and you see the way that they live and you're much more intertwined with their way of thinking and their life.

Sanjeev Sanghera: It helps to, to think that, you know, we [00:05:00] shouldn't live within these, um, these confines that we're shown as kids. 

Amardeep Parmar: I think it's even happened to me in the past where, for example, if I've talked about how much money I made for some of the different things, then your family's always like, Oh, you shouldn't brag.

Amardeep Parmar: But then because people like from our communities don't do that. It's that fine line, right? How do you inspire people? Because if people don't know how much money you're making, we don't realize that's possible. We don't realize how big some people are dreaming. They think, like you said, Oh, I've just got to stay in my box.

Amardeep Parmar:And for people going out there like you and doing it and like dreaming big and going hard and seeing what they can do and doing those dreams bigger, it just helps everybody else. 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Yeah, I completely agree. One of the things that You know, through my journey that I realized is that you don't need to play down your success to be humble.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Your journey usually dictates how much humility and humbleness that you carry throughout your life. And for me, my journey started off very tough. I was 16 years old, had all these ambitions of playing [00:06:00] basketball. And I remember at the time thinking, you know, what else am I good at? Because I was rubbish at school.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I wasn't good at school. All my sister and my brother were the great academics, both went on to do degrees at university and, you know, graduated, made the family proud and their photos hang proudly in my mum and dad's living room. I'm now probably at the time where I should get my photo up there actually, but getting to 16 years old and then getting into my dad's restaurant and thinking, well, you know, this is a stepping stone to something that I could grow.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And always having that sort of inner ambition without being vocal about it, about I'm going to take over one day, I'm going to open up more restaurants and I'm going to try and be experimental and give our customers new ideas and new things because they've been doing the same things for the last 20 years.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And that's where the process started for me. And I, I remember my first day in the restaurant and I walked in with my chef's jacket on and my dad looked at me and he kind of sniggered and said, See, you're not going to be doing any cooking, you're washing the dishes. And, um, about six months into it, I asked my dad, I said, Dad, [00:07:00] look, can I get a break now?

Sanjeev Sanghera: Can I go and learn how to cook? And he said, See, just for asking me, you're going to go back and do that for another six months. So that's where I got my grounding. You know, nothing was handed to me on a plate. I had to work really, really hard for it. If I told you my, my salary at the time, you'd probably, probably fall off your chair laughing.

Sanjeev Sanghera: But it was, you know, I had to do it for the, the benefit of the family and, you know, helping my dad out. So all the reasoning was right, but I wasn't really fulfilling what I wanted to do out of my journey. And as I got better at what I'd done, I ended up becoming the executive chef of the family business.

Sanjeev Sanghera: We opened a flagship restaurant in Glasgow. It was a celebrated restaurant. We won a lot of awards there. And I got to do some TV work with the likes of Robbie Coltrane before he was filming Harry Potter. The ambition at that point was that I was going to... Maybe work towards a Michelin star and I just looked at that path and I thought, you know, there's, there's a chance that I might not actually get this Michelin star and I'm going to be back at square one and then I'm going to feel like a failure.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So maybe I should just think about a different career path. Then the ambition came that I wanted to open my own restaurant and I have  done that in 2007, 2008 [00:08:00] and it lasted six months and it was six months. And, you know, I thought at that time after 12 years of experience that just about everything I was going to touch was going to turn to gold.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And I found myself in a position where I was in mountains of debt. I owed a quarter of a million pound to friends and family. The mortgage was in arrears. The car payments were late. Eventually the car and the house went and the bailiffs turned up and took them away. I lost my business and I was actually homeless for a little while.

Sanjeev Sanghera: But I managed in that period to get a lease for a Pizza Hut restaurant out in, uh, Ayr, which is just south of Glasgow. And the idea in my head was like, okay, I can kind of keep the dream alive. This Pizza Hut is already equipped with the cold room, the freezer room, the counters there. I just have to put a new sign up and I could start cooking and making some money.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Plus, I'll just live there at night time and won't tell anybody about it. Like the ideas that when you hit failure, the ideas that come up in your head are just crazy. Like I think back to it now and I think, what was I doing? But it was [00:09:00] also, there was this, this huge blockade where the pride of growing up in a family that had been successful and hadn't taken too many risks and always play the safe card.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And because of that, they'd had a very consistent lifestyle. And I'm going out and I'm just wanting to do everything, you know, and I wanted to do it now and I wanted to do it quickly. And from that, I, uh, I kind of realized, you know, like, um, I'm going to have to be much more careful with the decisions that I make and how I'm going to rebuild this business.

Sanjeev Sanghera: But it was a place for me to keep my head down. It was a place to get away from all the pressure of all the money that I owed at the time. And it was a place where I could keep my dream of life. And I started working at that restaurant and about six months in, we had Really bad water damage. A main water pipe had burst on the main road.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Um, we put in a claim to the insurance company for almost 80, 000 with the loss assessors. They came back and said that you're getting paid out 14, 000 because we were underinsured. [00:10:00] So, for a second time, I had an opportunity to quit and say, right, I'm just, forget this. It's too difficult. I'm going to go back and start working with my family.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And, you know, every time I came to that crossroads, there was just this huge desire to continue with the dream because I just knew that I believed in myself. And you had made mistakes, but I believed in myself so much that I thought, no, I'm going to try and get this restaurant back up and running. So I actually started watching YouTube videos on how to build walls, how to plaster, how to lay bricks, how to raise floors and build toilets and tile and all sorts of stuff and learning that off YouTube.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And before that, I'd probably think back in the eighties, I'd built a name if I wardrobe once with my mom and dad. And that was about it. That was the height of my Construction experience, but I rebuilt this restaurant and it took me three months and I've done it with that 14, 000 pound. It almost showed me a different path to I can grow my business without having to rely on huge loans and without having to borrow money and without having to, you know, [00:11:00] go to contractors who are going to make hundreds of thousands of pounds out of my project that I'm going to be paying back for the next 10 years.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So there was a spark of inspiration that, hey, I can build this myself. I'm just going to go and build bigger restaurants every time I get an opportunity. And I built that one up, got a review a few weeks later, which poised it as the best small Indian restaurant in Scotland. We got a 27 out of 30 in the local tabloid, but it was a very well respected tabloid and a well read column and it beat my dad's restaurant, which was really, really, and at that moment, I remember

Sanjeev Sanghera: taking the snippets from the magazine, I went to the local news agents and I picked up snippets of the magazine and I sent it to everybody I owed money to and it was almost like just a, you know, I really appreciate that you're not chasing me every day, but this is what I'm working on and it's actually worked because the people that cooked his food that day weren't from an Asian background.

Sanjeev Sanghera: They weren't skilled Asian chefs and the reason that my first business failed was because I had a very experimental idea of creating a scalable Indian food concept. And the idea was that we removed the chef, but we put in systems in [00:12:00] place that would allow us to cook fresh food. And being an executive chef, the food had to be better or as good as what I could create when I was standing there being creative with a pan, but it needed to be systemized.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And that system was patented and registered and all sorts of stuff. And, you know, it worked really, really well. But by the time my street food concepts were actually being proven, and I'd been through this journey of failure and repaying debts and, you know, getting this business up and running and rebuilding the restaurant,

Sanjeev Sanghera: I got to a stage where I'm looking at the market and thinking the same opportunity that I bought into in 2006 2007, no longer exists in 2011 because Dishum were coming up, Mowgli were out there doing stuff, Mughli were doing stuff, and I'm thinking I'm now going to be the fourth best Indian restaurant if I scale it.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I'm not going to be number one. And I remember at that point I started thinking about what else could we do. And this journey at this point had taken me to the northeast of England because there was an opportunity to get a lease [00:13:00] for another restaurant. You know, trying to get into main cities when you're a small restaurant and air is not that easy.

Sanjeev Sanghera: You have to prove a covenant. You have to give large deposits. You don't have as much, um, financing ability as maybe some of the bigger players. So we were always looking, how can we just take another small step, another small step. And the next step was to create a restaurant that was alongside other mainstream brands.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And we ended up in the Northeast for about three years. And, um, again, it was with the same concept, which was Papa Dom's at the time. And I remember coming home one day and I said, you know, I spend 14 hours a day in the restaurant. I've not had a day off in three years. The restaurant is... You know, just getting by and I need to do, do something else and I said, should we do pizza or burgers to my partner?

Sanjeev Sanghera: And she said, there's no opportunity left there. What are you thinking about? And I said, well, what about kebabs? No one's done anything with kebabs. And she started laughing and said, you can forget your Michelin star if you want to do kebabs. And I said, all right. And it was [00:14:00]

Amardeep Parmar: a challenge. Yeah. Challenge accepted.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Challenge accepted. And it was a few hours later that we discovered Berlin kebabs. And the next day we actually closed the restaurant for the first time in three years. And we flew to Berlin and done nothing but drink beer and eat kebabs for three days and came back with this fixated idea that we were going to create really high quality kebab. 

Amardeep Parmar: Before we go on to like the kebab side, I just need to unpack some of the stuff you just said.

Amardeep Parmar: You've said so much great stuff there. I want to make sure I remember before you go on. So I think one of the interesting things as well is. kind of society wise about how your brother and sister in the mantle  piece of their university degrees, but you're not there yet, but at the same time, look at what you've achieved having not done a degree.

Amardeep Parmar: And I think what that shows a lot of people, and even what you said at the beginning too about how your salary at the beginning was basically negligible, right? And you worked as a dishwasher and it's people listening right now, nobody's been to a fancy university. Nobody gets opportunity. And it's not even.

Amardeep Parmar: Some people might have the opportunity, but it's just not aligned with them. And then sometimes they think, Oh, like I can't be successful because they're comparing themselves to other people in their family or other people in the [00:15:00] community. When there's people like you have that same background, had to do those hard jobs that aren't sexy, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Nobody wants to tell everybody, Oh yeah, I was a dishwasher, right? People like to hide that kind of thing. But itt's all getting somewhere, right? And by you doing those jobs, those jobs have to be done, and that helps the entire restaurant run, right? If there wasn't somebody doing that, the restaurant would collapse.

Amardeep Parmar: So I think it's really important to kind of emphasize that point of you came from that position where you didn't go to university, you didn't start off with a high flying job, but you worked your way up anyway. And it's really interesting too about how you said that you're working with a family business for a long time, but then you want to step out and do your own thing still.

Amardeep Parmar: And I think a lot of people, it's one of those different struggles a lot of Asians have in some ways, is that if you come from a family that does have their business that's doing well, then the natural thing is, oh, you're going to take over, but then you're continuing on that legacy of somebody else's ideas.

Amardeep Parmar: And you don't get the chance to do something for yourself. And I can imagine, like what would happen once you had that first restaurant that [00:16:00] failed and was out of business. The amount of pressure would have got from people around you to just, Oh, why don't you just go back to the family business? Why don't you, like, why are you trying to do your own thing for like, you tried and you failed.

Amardeep Parmar: Okay, you had your go and stop now. How did you deal with that kind of feedback you were getting then?

Sanjeev Sanghera: I didn't deal with it well. Mentally, I struggled with my mental health a lot to the point where I actually needed to get some help and direction from, from experts. And, you know, I was at the time I was very, very embarrassed about it, you know, having to go and see a psychologist to try and overcome the depression of being a failure, you know, sticking out like a sore thumb, especially in a small community like Glasgow, that when someone does have a failure, it's broadcast through the community very, very quickly.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And I was, I wish that I had the strength of mind that I have now. Because going back, we've dealt with a lot of things very differently. A lot of the pressure came from my brother. My brother's a real, sort of, perfectionist. One, he's very, very clever. He's my big brother, so he always feels like he's got a right to say something to me.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And [00:17:00] he was always giving me direction, good and bad. Sometimes his advice was, right, enough's enough. Just leave it. Go back to working in the restaurant. Other times it was, your systems are too experimental. Go back to hire a chef, go back to having a tandoor and having a normal cooking system. And once you establish your name, then you can start start trying to systemize it.

Sanjeev Sanghera: But for me, the mindset was it's all or nothing. I don't have this, you know, this middle safe ground because the safe ground for me represented something I didn't want in my life. It was like, you know, You play it safe, you're very risk averse, you don't want to really step outside the mark. And I thought, you know, nobody that's ever at that stage in their life where they're playing everything safe is ever rewarded for it.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And I think to be rewarded for it on a big scale. I had to take risks. I was just willing to take much higher risk than I think at the time a lot of people in my family would accept. And that's one of the reasons why I had to distance myself from them. And now [00:18:00] in hindsight, you know, everything is completely different.

Sanjeev Sanghera: My relationship with my brother is absolutely fantastic. And I think finally, I think he's got over that, that point where he actually respects me as as s a business person. So yeah, I think the long term thinking is what helped me get through it. It was always about the long term goal, and I always knew the relationships would repair themselves in the long term.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And if you're thinking short term, then it's very difficult to get overcome them kind of challenges.

Amardeep Parmar: So it's  interesting because I think a lot of us sometimes have that relationship with our siblings as well, where especially if our siblings are doing something different, or like they're doing something very academic, and then sometimes you feel like you need to go down the same path as them.

Amardeep Parmar: And a lot of the time it's, it is sad in some communities, right, in some families where, There is this rival between the siblings, but all the time, at least for me, at least it's, we might be doing different things, but we're all, we have each other's backs. We're trying to look out for each other. And it might just be that how they think they're looking out for you might be different to what you want.

Amardeep Parmar: And it's just that different mentality and working out and mentioned as well, when [00:19:00] you were homeless and trying to deal with that. Did people know about that? Did your family know about that? Did you  hide that from people? 

Sanjeev Sanghera:I completely had, I had everything about my mental health. I had everything about the financial struggles as much as I could.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I don't think any of them realized the extent of the debt that I had accumulated. And to them it was like, well, he owes me 10, 000 and someone else would say, well, he owes me 10, 000. And it wasn't until much later that I started actually paying everyone back. And they all realized that there's quite a lot of people in this pool that need paid back.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So yeah, there was, there was a lot of shame. A huge amount of shame and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to get out of Glasgow and move to another town. It's just I needed to escape, one, get my energy back and be in the right mental frame of mind. But also to keep that dream alive I knew how much hard work it was going to take.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And to be able to do that hard work efficiently, I had to have peace of mind that someone wasn't going to turn up asking for money. So yeah, that's a big challenge. 

Amardeep Parmar: It does help when you know that's not gonna happen, right? And even looking at that, you said how the way you dealt [00:20:00] with it wasn't always necessarily healthy, but you did get help in the end.

Amardeep Parmar: And I imagine there's some people listening right now who may be going through the same thing with their businesses failing, they're in a dark place. What would you maybe do differently? If you had to go back there now, or what, what have you learned by becoming more resilient today that you could potentially  help those people with?

Sanjeev Sanghera: The one thing that I was always scared to do was reach out and talk to somebody about, you know, what I was going through and getting advice from people. I also thought at the time, you know, you have to take into context that my mentors were first generation. Punjabis, mostly. They'd all came from India, worked really hard.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And generally the reason they came over here was because there wasn't enough land or enough opportunities for them in India. So they came over here and they've worked very hard and the level of success that they had attained and especially within Glasgow was really high. And they thought that they had conquered the world, and that's quite right because they were very, very successful in their own right for where they had came from their level of success.

Sanjeev Sanghera: [00:21:00] They had lived all their dreams. I always felt like that wasn't the right audience for me to speak to because I was like, I'm already trying to achieve what they've achieved in their life, but I want to go beyond that. So when I'm asking them for advice, what I'm constantly hearing is Stop, slow down.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Don't think too big. You know, you're, you're trying to reach for the stars. Why can't you just be happy with a little bit? I think now for anyone who was going through that and would would realize that there is people that have been through that journey. There are people that you can reach out to.

Sanjeev Sanghera: There's people that you can talk to for advice. The people that maybe help you understand your situation better and give you an opportunity to make the best of that situation rather than it just being something that you're having to deal with on your own. And you make a lot of mistakes. And I think that was, that is the difference

Sanjeev Sanghera: now, if anybody was going through it now to what it was back then. back then I was expected to make mistakes again and again and again until I got it right. Now, you know, you make one mistake, you can go to people, you can get [00:22:00] help and you can get direction. So I hope people would, would reach out because it's a, it's a dark place to be in when you, when you've got so much writing on it.

Amardeep Parmar: It's what was good as well with the difference between the mentality here, especially within our community versus say America, I said in America, you fail. Okay. Cool. Like you've got lesson, you carry on. And it was interesting thing about your journey compared to some other people I've talked to is that when you had that failure, it went all the way down to homelessness, right?

Amardeep Parmar: So I say to people like, make sure you have a safety net so you can, you have that ability to go hard at something, but then if you fail, you've at least got that security blanket. 

Sanjeev Sanghera: At the time I'm putting myself into the frame of mind that I was in when I was. You know, just looking for a place to shower and brush my teeth.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And it was only a few days before I managed to get into the restaurant and start rebuilding it. But that's a pretty harrowing experience and it's crazy to think about it. But I was thinking at the time that this will make a great story one day. And that's actually the mentality that I had, that even when I was in that position, that I was still looking at the, what's to come.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I still believed [00:23:00] in myself, and the one thing that I've never, ever, ever let go of is how much I believed in my own ability to do something. If someone says to me, you can't do this, I will absolutely prove them wrong. And I've been challenged with some pretty crazy things in the past and I've proven people wrong.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Yeah, it was for me, the safety net was just my, my own mentality. 

Amardeep Parmar: And how do you think that strength of mind's now helped with, so you had, I guess everything when you're with the kebab business, you had the strength of the mind, the experience in the restaurant business, the failure to learn from as well.

Amardeep Parmar: And do you think all of those different factors then allowed you to like scale the kebab side much quicker and like what happened there? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: I think  the attitude I go to work with every day is that I've got nothing to lose now, that I've achieved everything I think would have been expected of me and now everything is a bonus to my family, the people around me and now I go back to Glasgow and I feel like there's almost a little bit of celebration around what I'm doing and that feels really, really good.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So for me, it's, uh, you know, like that, that, that whole [00:24:00] situation of, of the, the pressures of the family, et cetera, it doesn't exist anymore. So I'm, I'm really, really comfortable with, with how I go about my, my career and how I get up every day and that, that attitude to, to just maybe exceed more and create more.

Amardeep Parmar: And so we started the story earlier where you went to Berlin, you had your kebab and beer binge, and then you came back, what happened after that? Where did the actual business start? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: There was a period of, of assessment. We looked at, you know, how we could launch this business. And we looked at. What risks and what sort of market factors existed that would maybe make it difficult for us to do so.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And I think the first thing was is that my concept was to open it as a takeaway and delivery restaurant, much in line with the sort of domino's business model. And I thought, you know, we could do deliveries and we could do X, Y and Z. And then I thought, well, it doesn't matter how good the quality of my meat or how many [00:25:00] artisan bakers create our bread every day.

Sanjeev Sanghera: If you're doing it from a takeaway format, people are just going to think of it as another takeaway kebab shop. And then I started thinking that we've got to do this on a much bigger scale. We're going to go to the lens of importing meat and bread from Germany, from some of the best manufacturers and butchers and bakers and in that country, and then we're going to bring it over here and put it together in a format that nobody's ever seen before.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So, let's do it on a bigger scale and we came up with the idea for a restaurant called Donner House in Glasgow, which was a full service restaurant, um, 5, 000 square feet, almost 130 covers and the bar became a focal point of that. So we done, um, six different German lagers and, uh, pilsners. We done lots of cocktails.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And we really made the whole idea of eating a kebab in a restaurant, and we brought that to the forefront of how people might perceive this product. And we changed people's perceptions by doing it that way. People would come [00:26:00] in and they'd say, well, what kind of food do you serve? And we'd say, like, you know, you just walked into a restaurant that's called Doner House, and they're still asking, like, what kind of food do you serve?

Sanjeev Sanghera: And we used to get that all the time. And it was because they just couldn't understand that they're having Döner kebab like this. And then you would go through the process of educating them and telling them that, look, it's not your regular doner kebab. These are really high, high quality meats, essentially like eating slices of steak.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Um, that's in an artisan baked bread that's made by fifth generation Turkish bakers. And it comes over from Germany. And in fact, we started importing so much bread that actually made financial sense for us to buy the recipe from them and open our own bakery in Glasgow, which was part of that process. So then it was all our bread is baked locally in our, our, our own bakery.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And yeah, that, that process started really making people think about that product in a totally different light. 

Amardeep Parmar: My stomach is now rumbling. As you were talking, it's like, Oh no, I'm getting hungry now. We just had lunch before this as well, but I'm hungry again. And so the first restaurant was in Glasgow, right?

Amardeep Parmar: And then where was the idea to then expand this further? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: The ambition was still [00:27:00] there from this, this entire journey that I wanted to scale something. And I wanted to do it on, on, on a level that could take me international. I started looking at that business model and I thought, well, look, franchisees, good franchisees in the market won't spend anywhere up to one and a half million pound to fit out a 5, 000 square foot restaurant.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And then there's all challenges and in terms of the operating system itself and that you have alcohol and cocktails and, and skill. That's required and good franchise operations only work when there's a level of de scaling involved in it. So I thought, well, how can we systemize again? Going back to the idea of systemizing kitchens where my background is, how can we systemize this kitchen to make it something that's scalable?

Sanjeev Sanghera: So we took all the inner workings of döner house and on the back of that, we created döner shack and that was our franchise model. So it was stripped back, but it was a little bit more flexible. There was robotics introduced for the first time. We have robotic kebab cutting machines. You press a button and they come down and cut the meat [00:28:00] by themselves, which is a great bit of theater for our customers as well.

Sanjeev Sanghera: But we systemize that. To the point where we thought right now we've got a scalable model. But that was our first one at arm's length. It opened in Leeds and Trinity kitchen, and it was very, very successful from, from day one. So that then set up the foundations for a brand that we could, we could start to scale up.

Amardeep Parmar: And then like, give the audience context here. How much have you scaled up now? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Significant. During the pandemic we set about, there was two paths again that we could have taken. One was right. We're going to go really heavy on delivery and try and keep our business life. And the other one was, let's be patient.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Let's take a step at a time. And let's use this opportunity of all this downtime that to catch up with our competitors in the market, let's put all the groundwork in place so that when we come out of this, we are in a position where we've got really, really strong foundations to grow quickly. And that's one of the mistakes that a lot of franchise brands make.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Franchise brands come up with a good concept and then they just go to market straight away without thinking about the [00:29:00] consequences. And the consequences are, is that you have some people that are remortgaging their home. You know, the second generation remortgaged their home buying into a concept because you've told them it's all singing, all dancing and the best thing that's ever came into the market.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And then they get involved and then they realize, you know, there's operational systems. I'm not hitting my labor targets. There's a lot of wastage, so I'm not hitting my my food cost targets now I'm only making 6 percent EBITDA and I should be making 20%. So this business isn't all it's supposed to be.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And what we said is let's create a financial model for this business. Let's create an operating system that would reduce wastage, reduce labor, etc, etc. Put all of that in place. And then when we go to market and sell this, we're selling something that is completely turnkey and is really ready to go to scale.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And when our franchisees seen it. It wasn't a selling process. There was no selling involved. It was, we're going to tell you about the system and we're going to tell you about the financial plan. And as soon as we went through that process, we actually now have franchisees that are fighting over territories and we're at just about [00:30:00] 150 stores in development over the next five years.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So just about anywhere that anybody's watching this in the UK, you'll see a donor shot popping up pretty soon. 

Amardeep Parmar: And one thing we talked about is that for a franchisee model, how important is that the actual person who's taking on the business is going to make money? And there's a lot of different franchisees where they're trying to, or franchises, where they're looking at how they can make the most money they can.

Amardeep Parmar: But then if the businesses don't last, then you're not getting any money from that.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I love this question. I really do, because it's something that I speak about a lot. I think when you look back at franchising in terms of when it had its most success, and it's probably in the early days of quick service restaurants like McDonald's, I remember at the time, even as a young kid, that people would talk about McDonald's, that it was almost a license to print money.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And the reason it was so successful is because people were making money. The franchisees that were buying into the concept were making a lot of money. And it was almost like people just had this underlying belief that if you get a McDonald's franchise, you will be a millionaire the next amount of years.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So, Over the years, other businesses have tried to franchise, but they come at it with the [00:31:00] perspective of how can we squeeze as much money out of this franchisee as possible. And what we've done is we've just completely reset it. We went back to say, right, we're not going to make any money on the supply chain.

Sanjeev Sanghera: We're not going to mark up the meat by a pound. We're not going to mark up the bread by 20 %. So that means that the franchisee is making really good gross profit. Second thing is, is spend the money and invest in the operating system so that it's really, really efficient. So they're not overpaying on labor and they don't have skill that's going to hold them back from growth.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And then you look at the overall. Markup and we say we take a small percentage of that, but if a franchisee still walking away with between 15 and 20 percent EBITDA, they've got a great business. And that's the way that we we approach that. So when the franchisees in the market found out about, you know how we were approaching it, there was this almost like a huge collective sigh of relief.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Finally, a brand that not only has a great Reputation. They are in the [00:32:00] early stages of growth. So there's lots of opportunity out there. They are doing all the right things so that in terms of the way that we're looked at transparent and working for the franchisees benefit. Because we have a value, which is we win when the franchisees win.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So you put all of these things together and that's why there was no sales process. They just couldn't wait to actually sign up for the territories. 

Amardeep Parmar: I  really love that. And it's just, obviously I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, right? And I hear all these different stories and sometimes you hear stories where people are pretending to be good, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Whereas you can just tell it, the way you're saying it, it's like, you really care about it. And like, I love that. And everybody listening, like, make sure you go to Doner House, Doner Shack, and all the different things, because like, I'm like, sitting here, and I can, I'm, I can, I judge, like, you hear, I can hear, I hear some of your entrepreneurial stories, and I can judge them, like, you're really believing in what you're saying, and it really comes across.

Amardeep Parmar: And part of that, you said about the 150 stores coming in the UK, right? And you've got ambitions to go global, right? So can you tell us  about that too? 

Sanjeev Sanghera:Yeah, we've been working on a project to get into the USA for about 18 [00:33:00] months. If anyone knows what that process is like, it's very, you have to To franchise in the US you have to produce almost a thousand page document that has to go to the head of every state.

Sanjeev Sanghera: So it's uh, it's not an easy process. There's also things to consider about trademarks etc that we have to go through. So that process has been ongoing for about 18 months and we've just got to the stage now where we're going over to the International Franchise Convention in Las Vegas, um, later on in the year to launch the brand there.

Sanjeev Sanghera: We've already had quite a considerable amount of interest. through the network of people that we've, we've got to know over there. I think it's just, uh, you know, coming up with the right strategy and the right marketing techniques and, and being very focused on what the Americans would expect from, from us, from a brand like us, because going over there and being the, the, the big dog with the doner kebab, I just don't think they'll buy into that.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I think you have to, you know, really understand what they're looking for. And McDonald's are probably the best at it. If you think about McDonald's in India, they do a Maharaja burger and all sorts of other stuff. So they they make their menu selective to the local audience, and [00:34:00] I think we'll have to go through a little bit of that process as well.

Sanjeev Sanghera: But we're very, very excited about it. The Americans are talking in numbers that sometimes make my mind boggle a little bit, but that's okay, because as long as they are comfortable with their numbers and I'm comfortable with them as well. But certainly we've had inquiries from all over the world. We're talking to people in the Middle East.

Sanjeev Sanghera: We are talking to people in Asia. Um, and really we're looking at it as a, as a, you know, global concept. And I think if you look at all the food types that have existed over the, over the years that have scaled up on a large scale, the main ones being burger and pizza. Now you've got this, um, sort of chicken renaissance and you've got guys like Wingstop and, um, falling on from Nando success and some chickens.

Sanjeev Sanghera: I think Doner kebab is going to be probably. Uh, competing with chicken as being the third biggest food type in the world and, and we're at the very forefront of that. 

Amardeep Parmar: When we were talking earlier you mentioned about the three different stages of what you're going to try and do in America, right? And my memory escapes me now, but can you remind us, like, so first of all, you need people to first know about you, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Yes. And then... 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Yeah, we've got a simple philosophy. It's, [00:35:00] uh, like, um, trust, and then when you get them to things, then they'll do business with you. And going through that process means, you know, to get them to like you, they need to understand you. So there's a simple process behind that about how are we going to talk to our consumers and our customers about what we do and what we represent.

Sanjeev Sanghera: The second phase is that, you know, they try you and then they see it's a good quality product and the service was good. They start to trust you. And sometimes that takes one outing to your venue. Sometimes it can take six or seven, but eventually once you get to trust you. That's when you create one and that ladder of loyalty.

Sanjeev Sanghera: If you like, you create raving fans and in the UK or customers that we have, I would say a lot of them are raving fans. They actually promoting our business for us. So to do that in America is a really, really important step to being successful over there

Amardeep Parmar: And coming up to a quick fire question soon. But if somebody else is looking at this model and thinking they never really thought about franchising before, mm.

Amardeep Parmar: What advice would you give [00:36:00] somebody starting out who wants to even become a franchisee or a franchisor? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Don't  do it. Um, no, um, I think the main thing is, is get to as many conferences as possible. Seek as much advice as possible. Don't be shy to pay for professional advice from consultants within the industry and really make sure you understand how to benefit franchisees.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And not just benefit yourself because everybody starts every business journey with how am I going to benefit from this? That's the underlying question. Um, and usually it's very financially driven. So in franchising, you have to be very conscious that the franchisee needs to make money. Um, if you're a franchise or that is, and you're thinking about

Sanjeev Sanghera: you know, franchising your own brand. Um, but as a franchisee is do your due diligence. Don't go out there and just look at who's big or who's in the ascendancy. Actually look at the business model and look at the financial model and speak to everyone in the industry. Don't just come and speak to us. Go and speak to our competitors.[00:37:00] 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Go and understand what they're saying to you. And then you'll get a better picture of, of the benefits of one brand over another. Um, and I think that's the main thing is, is go out and do your due diligence, be patient enough to go out and, and get all the information you need to make good decisions. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: So I've loved this interview so far. We're going to move on to quick fire questions now. Sure. So the first one is, who are three British Asians that you think people listening now should be following or paying attention to? In the business space. 

Sanjeev Sanghera: Wow. Okay. That's, that's a tough one. Someone I've got to know really recently comes from a very academic background, Nilesh Parmar, who's a dentist.

Sanjeev Sanghera: He's probably not as well known as maybe some of the bigger names that are like on Dragon's End and so on and so on. But I found Nilesh to be a breath of fresh air to be around and, uh, his way of thinking is, um, 

Amardeep Parmar: Was a breath of fresh air because he's a dentist? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: No  pun intended. Um, yeah, I love that. Um, just because he, I think he's, I've lost count of the amount of degrees that he's got.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And it's that, you know, when I [00:38:00] look at him, I see someone who is really reliable. And, um, really smart and goes through everything in a really methodical sort of fashion and doesn't make mistakes. And there's, there's a lot of trust in what he does. And I think, uh, no, this is a great role model for, for anyone who's aspiring to do do well.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And, and, and especially within the medical profession or, uh, in dentistry, but certainly as a, as someone who I would, um. I would, I would back. Another good mentor that I've got is Sheraz Ramzan, who I've only got to know over the last maybe four or five months. Um, Sheraz's family, um, own Quiz Clothing and the story that he told me about how his gran would actually knit the stuff in the house and his gran would go door to door selling them to now having, um, I think they've got 80 shops in the UK, 80 concessions and they've got, International businesses and in New York and in the Middle East.

Sanjeev Sanghera: He's been a great source of inspiration [00:39:00] for me because that story exists all the way from startup, like basic startup and the house living room startup to all the way to an international PLC. And he's been a great source of inspiration for me. And probably number three is he's someone that's never doing it for their own benefit as Ravi Singh from Khalsa Aid and I'm just watching his,

Sanjeev Sanghera: you know, stories on online and, you know, he's just willing to give up everything to help other people. It's so inspiring. And that's the level of inspiration that, you know, business doesn't get you to, um, that's a really deep lying sort of inspiration about someone who's just gonna go out to the most dangerous places in the world and just help refugees.

Sanjeev Sanghera: And I think I probably relate to Ravi a little bit more because my granddad told me a story that when he escaped Pakistan from during the partition, um, that all the money that he'd saved over there was supposed to be for his family, he actually ended up using a lot of it to help, um, the Muslims that were stuck in a camp next to his village.

Sanjeev Sanghera: [00:40:00] Um, so there was that idea of that sort of humanitarian, you know, aid, and helping people and... the humility and humbleness to be able to do that. So yeah, Ravi Singh is definitely up there for me. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah, I love that. And we interviewed Ravi Singh recently as well, and it's just incredible in person. You just, in some ways you put him on this pedestal, but then in person he's just so normal.

Amardeep Parmar: It's like, how can you be so normal after all this stuff you've done? So that's why we loved him as well. He didn't, he wasn't standoffish. He was just so friendly and joking and busting jokes. Yeah, it was great. Next quickfire question. Is what can people listen right now? What can they contact you about if they're looking for help or guidance in some way?

Sanjeev Sanghera: If anyone  wants guidance about restaurants in general or about franchising, certainly my two areas of expertise. Um, I've been in the industry for more than 25 years now and I've been through just about every position within the restaurant industry that you can think of. So yeah, and I know how challenging it is and I know how many people have that dream about opening their own restaurant one day.

Sanjeev Sanghera: Yeah, certainly. Anyone who needs some advice on that, I'm more than  happy to help. 

Amardeep Parmar:And then on the flip [00:41:00] side, is there anything that you need help with right now? 

Sanjeev Sanghera: If anyone's out there who's ambitious in the restaurant business and they're looking for a career with really good growth prospects, potentially all the way up to owning their own franchise, then, you know, get in touch with us because we're looking for talented people to help us, help us grow so we can help them grow together.

Sanjeev Sanghera: We can all win. Uh, I'm a big believer in, you know, winning together and that's why we set it as part of our values. So yeah, if anyone's out there looking for a career in the restaurant, franchising industry, then get in touch. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah,  that's great. And make sure you reach out to Sanjeev, everybody. And then finally, have you got any final words for the audience before we wrap up?

Sanjeev Sanghera: I think the, the, the way that the story is being told today, I think, um, you know, just if there's people out there that are in a position where they're not quite sure about their next step or people around about them are telling them that you're too ambitious or don't go for it and play the safe card.

Sanjeev Sanghera: If you believe in yourself, you know, go out there and do what you need to do. You don't get two opportunities at life and you last thing that you want to [00:42:00] do is grow old with regrets. So if you're ambitious and you've got dreams and go and chase them, don't be scared of the consequences. Just find, overcome, uh, find ways to overcome the challenges and make a win in life. 

Amardeep Parmar: Thank  you for listening to the BHQ podcast today. In our mission to inspire, connect and guide the next generation of British Asian entrepreneurs. It would mean so much to us if you could subscribe to our channel, leave a review and share this with your friends.