|19 November, 2019

Interview: Legendary Indian singer Asha Bhosle on cooking up a brand and hope in UAE

An evening with Bollywood legend and restaurateur Asha Bhosle and her son Anand Bhosle as they speak at length with Zawya about her food business and her future plans

Legendary Bollywood playback singer and restaurateur at Asha’s restaurant at The Galleria in Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi.

Legendary Bollywood playback singer and restaurateur at Asha’s restaurant at The Galleria in Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi.

Alshaya Group / Handout via Zawya

The ease of doing business in Dubai attracted legendary playback singer, Asha Bhosle to turn into a entrepreneur for the first time in 2002 when she inaugurated Asha's - her flagship Indian restaurant in Dubai's Pyramids at Wafi Mall.

Dressed immaculately in a powder blue saree and an intricately embroidered black Kashmiri shawl to keep the chill from the air conditioner away, this culinary artist who has been gifted with a soprano voice range, has been recognized as the most recorded artiste in global history by the Guinness Book of World Records and who also happens to be the first Indian singer to be nominated for a Grammy Award, spoke to Zawya at length about what inspired her to become an entrepreneur in the UAE and step into the food business.

Her love of cooking got her to venture into the restaurant business. "I loved cooking from my younger days. My children and I even thought of publishing a cookery book, but there were so many recipe books already available in the market that it did not seem interesting. And who reads them anyway? My son, Anand, suggested the idea of a restaurant." Thus, Asha's was born.

Asha Bhosle with her son Anand Bhosle inside Asha's restaurant at Dubai's Wafi Mall. Anand Bhosle manages this flagship outlet. Image courtesy Aasha's

Bhosle was in the emirate to celebrate her 86th birthday and inaugurate her 19th restaurant at Abu Dhabi's The Galleria in Al Maryah Island. "We have kept growing over the last 17 years. This would not have been possible if our guests didn't like what we are offering. There is a demand for Asha's and my fans seem to like my songs and food as well," she said.

Bhosle shares a special relationship with the UAE and has reaffirmed that bond with the opening of a new restaurant in Abu Dhabi.  “Asha Bhosle is an Indian brand but Dubai understood the value and extended her brand into the food business. So, Asha’s as a food brand is a made-in-UAE brand. And today, Dubai is exporting this brand all over the GCC and the United Kingdom (UK)," said Anand Bhosle, Asha Bhosle’s son. 

Over the last 17 years, Asha's has moved beyond the UAE to other Gulf countries such as Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. Birmingham and Manchester in the UK are also home to this made-in-UAE restaurant chain.

But why did Bhosle start her business in Dubai and not in India? "The ease of business is there, of course. Dubai was the ideal location because of its cosmopolitan nature as this city has a lot of Indians as well as people from other nationalities… It was the best testing ground for the brand,” Anand Bhosle explained.

He manages the flagship restaurant at Dubai’s Wafi Mall, while the other restaurants across the GCC are operated by Kuwait-based Alshaya Group. The three outlets in the UK are managed and operated by experienced local hoteliers.

"We are not business people. So, when Mohammed Alshaya visited Asha’s and liked the concept and wanted to invest, we went ahead," said Anand Bhosle.

Asha’s and Alshaya Group’s relationship goes way back to 2004 when they opened the first restaurant in Kuwait’s Marina Crescent. “We loved the brand’s characteristics – the flavours, the environment and of course, the unique association with renowned singer Asha Bhosle and we felt that Asha’s would work really well across the region,” said Jim Dunn, Vice President, Casual Dining of Alshaya Group.

Asha Bhosle with the chef of Asha’s restaurant at Asha's, The Galleria in Abu Dhabi. Image courtesy Alshaya Group

Today, Alshaya operates 15 restaurants in locations across the GCC and “we see [an] opportunity for more in the future,” he added.

Although the restaurants are managed by professionals, the lady behind the brand keeps a close eye on the restaurant’s kitchens and the menu, which has undergone many changes to meet the changing demands. But Asha Bhosle's signature dishes such as baingan ka bharta and Muscat ghost (green eggplant and mutton dishes) have remained hot favourites with her fans.

“Asha Bhosle’s tireless energy is incredible and her level of involvement in the brand is special, not least her contribution of family recipes and secret spice mixes,” said Dunn. 

“Whenever she visits one of our restaurants it is an occasion to remember; both for our customers and for our store teams. Everyone loves her energy and her passion for food, which matches her passion for singing,” added Dunn.

Bhosle, an indefatigable artiste who had been on the move since early morning, also managed to pack in a day trip to Abu Dhabi to meet the chefs of the newly opened outlet. She was back at her Wafi outlet in the evening for a food-tasting session with her special guests.

Asha says she feels at home in the Wafi outlet since the decor has been done to her personal taste. The bright glass bead curtains that hang in the restaurant make her nostalgic. "When Anand was working on the decor, he added those glass bead curtains as I used to love them and had them hanging at home when my kids were young."

Her immense passion for music and food keeps her going, she admitted. She has plans to take the brand to India after the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently promised to help her in setting up her restaurant in India.

She is also planning to expand her brand to Oman. Bhosle clearly defies her age.

Asha Bhosle poses with the chef and her team outside the recently inaugurated Asha's at The Galleria in Abu Dhabi. Image courtesy Alshaya Group
 
Asha, the artiste

Bhosle belongs to the famous musical pedigree of Mangeshkar. She and her elder sister, Lata Mangeshkar, are two of Indian cinema’s finest and most successful playback singers. For someone who started her singing career at the age of 10 in 1943, Bhosle knows how to keep up with the changing demand and time.

For the uninitiated, in a career spanning over seven decades, Bhosle has lent her versatile voice to thousands of songs in more than 1,000 Bollywood films as well as more than 20 regional and foreign languages. In 2013, she made her debut as an actress in the film ‘Mai’ and received critical acclaim for her performance.

In March 2019, an untiring Bhosle whipped her “fans into a frenzy” as she belted out evergreen film numbers in Wembley, London, as part of her global farewell tour, The Guardian reported.

(Reporting by Mily Chakrabarty; Editing by Seban Scaria)

(mily.chakrabarty@refinitiv.com)

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© ZAWYA 2019

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