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One of the most impressive stories of airport food & beverage and travel retail in recent years has been the rise and rise of Mumbai-based Travel Food Services.
I attended (and spoke at) the company’s launch in Mumbai in May 2009, when founder Sunil Kapur told me that he planned to open 60,000sq ft of F&B space across Indian travel locations in the ensuing two years.
Nearly eleven years on, Travel Food Services has opened a whole lot more than that.
By 2016, when SSP acquired a 49% stake (which has flourished since), Sunil’s company was running approximately 170 travel-related units in India (today it’s over 300) in domestic and international air terminals and in railway stations. It also runs airport lounges, including (in joint venture with gategroup’s Performa) the superb GVK Lounge at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. The company has also proved a fine partner in India for Lagardère Travel Retail, helping the French retail giant to roll out Relay concept stores across the country.
Sunil’s sons Varun and Karan, both Executive Directors, have each played key roles in the company’s sustained expansion, which found its latest expression in two major openings in the UK local market over recent weeks. Firstly, the Kapur family opened a branch of its acclaimed Copper Chimney restaurant in the Westfield shopping centre in West London. And this month, it followed up with the first of several planned openings for a new fast food concept called Tamarind Tiger.
Fast but good. Very, very good. When I visited the outlet in London’s busy Baker Street on the day after it opened, the queue was already snaking out into the street. Word of good food travels fast in the foodie capital of the world.
I also had the chance to dine last week at Copper Chimney in Sunil’s always hospitable company. ‘Indian food made unforgettable’ is the Copper Chimney mantra and I can promise you that it lives up to that billing. This is top-class North Indian food born of a heritage that dates back to the first Copper Chimney opening in Bombay in November 1972 by Sunil’s father JK Kapur (1927-2004), who also became a renowned filmmaker, producer and social activist.
During the partition of India in 1947, Mr Kapur senior had migrated to Bombay from modern-day Pakistan, vowing to share with his new city the culinary experience reminiscent of his years growing up near the North West Frontier Province.
25 years later, that vow was realised as he opened the first Copper Chimney in the heart of Bombay. I have eaten there and been entranced by the decor, the custom clay ovens, the eclectic spice blends, and the wonderful skills of Copper Chimney’s ‘Ustads’ – trained master chefs.
Copper Chimney now has three restaurants in Mumbai (Bombay), others in Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, Belgaum and Kolkata, plus overseas locations in Kuwait, Dubai and now the UK. It’s a winning formula based on doing the simple – and not so simple – things well. ‘Indian food made unforgettable’ indeed. JK Kapur would be a very proud man.