Firangi Superstar Founders on Opening a New Restaurant in the Middle of a Pandemic
Firangi Superstar, the modern Indian restaurant under F&B group The Dandy Collection (which also owns Neon Pigeon and Fat Prince) opened in June of this year, just when many assumed that the Covid-19 situation in Singapore was stabilising and we’d get on with our lives in the new normal. Then, new clusters from the KTV and the Jurong Fishery port clusters emerged in July, which led to another Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) and dine-in restrictions that lasted from July 20 to August 10.
The restaurant was barely a month old when it was forced to temporarily shutter its doors during this period. It has since returned to normal operations, but with the alarming spike in recent cases and the latest dine-in measures that reduced the number of diners from five to two, it will be another challenging time for the new restaurant and the whole F&B scene.
This begs the question: why do chefs and restaurateurs risk opening new dining concepts in this climate where dining establishments just come and go?
Rohit Roopchand, the co-founder of Firangi Superstar, shared that he and co-founder Michael Goodman had always wanted to open an Indian restaurant due to “my background and Michael’s connection to India”. Roopchand elaborated that the stars just aligned for them, and they were able to find the “right space, right location and right people” to make this dream a reality.
As Roopchand and Goodman continue to navigate the F&B scene with their team in the time of Covid-19, they chat with Tatler Dining on their new restaurant concept and how diners can continue supporting the struggling industry.
Given these tough times, what made you decide to open Firangi Superstar during this period?
Michael Goodman (MG) We’re all “stuck” here and haven’t been able to feed our wanderlust with travel, discovery, and exploration. We thought that the market was crying out for a place of pure fantasy and escape—there aren’t many places that encourage you to express your imagination that way. In your mind, you can leave Singapore for a few hours, no passports and no quarantine required. We really felt that people would appreciate that.
Did the pandemic have any impact on the conceptualisation of the restaurant and the menu?
Rohit Roopchand (RR) Yes, but I think its effects are indirect. When working on the menu with head chef Thiru Gunasakaran and Michael, memories played an important role. I recall trying dishes Thiru prepared and feeling like I’ve been transported back to another time and place. Being unable to travel to India to see my family probably made these moments extra special, and this could have influenced how we went about conceptualising the menu. Dishes like Tikka Takeaway and This Is Not Aloo Gobi brought back some great memories.
MG Absolutely. We all spent the last 18 months living on Netflix and movie downloads. We used that as a means to escape, so we decided to view this restaurant as a collection of film sets. It was directly born from society’s collective experiences during this time. We wanted to build something that was born out of that, lived that spirit, but did so in a way that felt entirely different once a guest is in it. As a creative, I found this really exciting to work on. As a hospitality person, I felt like it was my obligation to help people feel positivity again. It was a very powerful driver for me personally.
What lessons have you learned from last year that you adapted to Firangi Superstar?
RR Our restaurants are built for experience, to transport people to a different place in a social environment, so we definitely needed to learn to pivot quickly. We launched our virtual delivery brand, Coop, which does fun modern Japanese sandos, salads, rice bowls and ramen. During the most recent Phase 2(Heightened Alert) when dining in was not allowed, Firangi Superstar did not offer delivery, but we put our tandoors to work with delivery-friendly offerings from Super Firangi rolls and bowls.
MG We learned how to build venues with social distancing in mind but without making all the compromises that social distancing asks of us. When we worked on the space planning for Firangi Superstar, we marked up how the space would be used with the one-metre distance without moving or removing any tables. Perhaps we sacrificed a few available seats here or there, but ultimately the guest gets a better experience because the space doesn’t feel vapid and instead feels the way it was always intended. We’re always OK to make a little less if the guest experience is better.
How best do you think consumers/diners can support you and the F&B industry in the short term, and the longer term?
RR As restaurateurs and operators work to respond to constant changes to safe management measures, we hope diners can remain patient and understanding, continue to treat staff with extra respect, and remain positive despite the restrictions that we’re required to impose. In the longer term, diners can cultivate their sense of curiosity by embracing new ideas about food, drinks, and hospitality, new experiences, and participating in bigger conversations about these topics.
MG I hope we can maintain this new level of mutual respect that has developed. I really love that our guests are being so thoughtful about our staff and their relationship together. In our industry that hasn’t always been the case as the human aspect was often viewed as disposable, or hospitality was viewed as one-sided with someone giving and someone receiving. I love seeing it go both ways.