Abhishek and I met just as he was opening 28 Kothi, a gorgeous boutique hotel in Jaipur. French architect Georges Floret designed the property as a home for acclaimed jewellery designer Munnu Kasliwal of The Gem Palace. Abhishek in partnership with Munnu’s son, Siddharth, worked with the Jaipur based Lebanese designer Nur Kaoukji to create the chic five-bedroom hotel and the super cute vegetarian Café Kothi. Pre pandemic it was almost impossible to get a reservation as 28 Kothi had become THE choice for designers when in Jaipur working with their artisans.
Abhishek and I have been lucky to cross paths in Jaipur quite frequently, which is no mean feat, given he lives between New York and Mumbai. I have enjoyed getting to know Abhishek and seeing his passion for hospitality, both with his portfolio of restaurants in Mumbai and now for the newer business of boutique hotels. On my last trip to Jaipur Abhishek and his wife, Naina, took me for a sneak peek at their fabulous new project, also in partnership with Siddharth, The Johri. This five-suite boutique hotel, restaurant and cocktail bar is located in the heart of the old city and is set to open before the end of the year.
Our conversation took place leading up to Diwali, in late October during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
I was looking forward to our conversation. It’s always nice to catch up you with you.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I am in Jaipur, staying at 28 Kothi for the next few weeks. We are busy getting The Johri, our new hotel ready to open.
How "real" does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
It has hit us pretty close to home in New York and in India. We know of people who have contracted Covid and sadly some have not recovered. We are being super careful, following all the safety protocols and taking regular tests.
What has been the greatest impact of the pandemic on your work?
At first, we thought it would blow over quickly. We really did not anticipate the severity and the impact of Covid to begin with. The challenge is primarily about the financial capacity to weather the storm. We are trying our best to employ all the team members who have worked so hard over the last years. Our challenge is to retain hopefully everyone, support them, motivate them and provide them with a safe working environment. All of our restaurants in Bombay complied with the lockdown starting on March 22nd as did 28 Kothi. The restaurants pivoted to delivery by the end of April/early May and were able to open a few months later. We opened 28 Kothi in June and will open The Johri in the next few weeks.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
On a personal level, I am looking forward to seeing more friends and finding a sense of normalcy. On a business level, I look forward to when we go back to being part of people’s daily lives, where they are able to drop in for a coffee, enjoy a delicious meal with a loved one, find normalcy again.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
I am an optimist. I always look for solutions in the problems and look for opportunities. The pandemic has given me the opportunity to realign my priorities and realign future investments. It has given me time to think about my own personal growth and also what I want to focus the business on going forward. It has also given me more time with my loved ones. This is the longest Naina and I have been together in the once place in ten years. That has been great, as has spending more time with my family.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with? Have you made any changes or thought of any that you will implement going forward?
Interestingly I have always worked remotely with my teams, so that was not a new thing to us during the pandemic. I realised early in starting the business that I could not personally meet every guest at one of our restaurants or hotels, so I needed to create a culture of trust and responsibility for our teams. However, our pivot to delivery and adding this as a new channel to the restaurants is interesting, not only for some on-going revenue but also the deeper engagement with our guests and I want to continue that.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
Naina and I will continue to travel for work between New York, Mumbai and Jaipur. We are working on creating a luxury lifestyle brand and also looking at developing another hotel in Jaipur, and potentially in Mumbai in the future. Personally, I would love to learn to ski, a ski trip to Gstaad would be wonderful. We have friends there.
What are you finding inspiring now?
For work, I am reading a lot and am focused on learning and staying motivated. I also have found the meditation app, Headspace, amazing.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
Schitts’s Creek on Netflix.
Given we are about to celebrate the festival of lights, what has brought light into your life in the last 12 months?
The commitment and motivation of our team to keep the business going in these very challenging times. I am incredibly grateful for their loyalty.
28 Kothi and The Johri are now open and ready to welcome guests. Bookings can be done directly via their websites or I am happy to help you choose the best room and include a Jaipur stay in your overall India itinerary through my Love Travel Journey Service.