Shahrukh Harjee is pioneering new concepts in the F&B space of Goa
By Anna Fernandes
Goa, today, arguably has one of the best food scenes in India. Lots of new, experimental venues have cropped up in the last few years, providing stiff competition to the few long-standing restaurants that have survived the test. Among them is Panjim-based Gastronut, conceptualised in 2016. Its owner, Shahrukh Harjee, started it at the age of 20 with no experience in the industry – just an inherent passion for food and shrewd business acumen.
“It actually started out on a light-hearted note. My father had this empty space where the Panjim outlet is presently located. It was a prime location. And I just thought, maybe a restaurant would do well there.” And thus, a journey began, culminating with the setting up of Gastronut on July 16, 2016. “One thing led to another. And here we are.” The restaurant started on the back of some initial capital put down by Shahrukh’s father. The running of the business, “Cosmic Foods” and its take-off, is handled solely by Shahrukh. Today, he has, in the span of two and a half years, cooked up a success story that shows no signs of slowing down.
A great foodie, Shahrukh always knew he wanted to venture into the F&B space. He has completed a course in food-production and several courses related to the industry. “Just starting out, Gastronut was often mistaken for just another ice-cream parlour. I used to personally take our customers upstairs, show them around, and introduce them to our concept,” he says. Gastronut pioneers the concept of ‘fine-fast’ dining. Simply put, fine-fast offers a dining experience where higher-quality ingredients, enhanced hospitality, and cosier dining rooms merge with lower prices and faster service. With its rustic-vintage feel, warm service and above all great food, what Gastronut offers is a contemporary dining experience albeit at an affordable rate.
“Slowly, Gastronut started picking up. Being situated in a prime location, was a huge plus. We were frequented by both students as well as adults. Each of whom acted as our brand ambassadors spreading the word about the restaurant on social media,” he says.
Gastronut’s popularity led to the opening of a new outlet in Porvorim in July 2018. Shahrukh’s expertise comes from being able to think like a customer. At Gastronut, service and attentiveness to customer satisfaction is unparalleled. “It’s all about seeing our customers happy. There’s a trend among restaurants these days – they serve you these small quantities, but they charge you a bomb. We strive to provide a great experience at an affordable rate.
And our customers love it. They love the food, the ambience, the service, the rates – it’s the whole package,” he says, adding, “We have an ever-evolving menu. We are constantly adding new items as per our customers’ requests using the best quality ingredients.” Gastronut prides itself on serving a range of delectable fresh bites, fresh cold-pressed juices, milkshakes, mouth-watering pizzas, rolls, sandwiches and more. As the brand name suggests, dining at Gastronut truly is a gastronomic affair. In a bid to continually introduce new concepts in the F&B space, Shahrukh recently launched a gelato place in Porvorim called “O’mio Gelateria” under the banner of Cosmic Foods, serving artisanal authentic gelato. For this he travelled to Italy, to study the art of gelato-making.
The Gelato industry in the state is relatively new and developing to find its footholds among the consumers. The premium gourmet product that originated in Italy is slowly carving its share in the frozen-dessert market in Goa.
Sourcing the ingredients from Italy through direct importers, Shahrukh worked towards perfecting the production process of authentic gelato according to the climatic conditions in Goa. Through continuous practice and experimentation, and lots of trial and error, Shahrukh was able to craft the perfect technique. The menu at O’mio Gelateria offers a range of innovative gelato flavours, ranging from serradura, tiramisu, pista, hazelnut, Ferrero Rocher, and more. The gelateria also serves a great selection of sorbets and coffees.
O’Mio has received numerous footfalls over the extremely short span of time since its launch and is slowly garnering popularity. According to Shahrukh, “Goans love ice-cream. So, a healthier and tastier alternative to ice-cream will always be preferred.” However, Shahrukh believes that gelato still has to carve its identity as a product different from ice cream.
While processing ice-cream, the amount of air pumped into the product is at 60-100%, which gives it a hard texture, whereas gelato has a smoother texture since it contains only 20-30% of air. In addition, the temperature at which ice-cream is served at (-18 to -20 degrees) warrants it too cold for a consumer to actually enjoy its taste. Gelato is served at a warmer -15 degrees and is prepared using natural ingredients (milk and fruits), is mostly fat-free (only 5 to 9 per cent of fat) and is more creamy, rich and tasty and therefore nutritious.
In line with his philosophy of offering the customer the whole package when it comes to their culinary experience, Shahrukh goes the extra mile in ensuring that the servings, the service and ambience are par excellence. The chic interiors of the space embody cool hues of turquoise and white. As Shahrukh relates, the turquoise represents water and white represents milk – the two main ingredients in sorbets and gelatos. Speaking about the idea behind the brand name, Shahrukh says, “O’mio translates to ‘O my!’ in Italian. And indeed, what the O’Mio Gelateria offers is a true taste of Italy in Goa.
Turning a dream into a full-fledged business was no easy feat – one peppered with challenges in the form of staff issues to food hurdles. Acknowledging the tremendous appreciation and support that he received from friends and family, Shahrukh says, “My father, my business partner – has been my support through it all. I wouldn’t be here without his constant motivation. My brother, my biggest critic, has pushed me towards making constant improvements on a personal as well as business level.” Looking ahead, Shahrukh continues to redefine the dining scene in Goa. “One thing I’ve noticed – people are never satisfied. You give them the best and they still want more. It’s a good thing. It gives us the motivation to constantly work towards improving ourselves – and exceeding their expectations,” he says with a big smile