Quinlan alumnus seeks restaurant success
By Travis Cornejo | Student reporter
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
It was that line of thinking that led Quinlan alumnus Kaushik Guha (MBA '07) to open Hakka Bakka, a restaurant offering his take on fresh Indian street food.
While working at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), he always avoided the nearby Indian restaurants. The available options were always “too heavy” and not something he could eat on the go. He wanted an option similar to Chipotle or Panda Express, but for Indian food.
And that’s when his entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear. He decided to leave his job as an economic consultant, earn a certificate in culinary arts, and enter the restaurant business.
What inspired you to open a restaurant after getting your MBA?
Throughout my career as an economic consultant, a lot of my clients were food clients. And it seemed like when dealing with multimillion-dollar projects, restaurants could do no wrong. So I thought, “Why do small restaurants not do well? Why do 95 percent of them fail?”
So in addition to wanting a better Indian food option, I was inspired by professional curiosity about the restaurant business. I kept doing more research and kept getting more intrigued and excited about opening my own restaurant. Soon everything was pointing in the right direction. I saved enough money and raised enough capital and then I took the plunge. I quit my job, earned a Certificate in Culinary Arts from Kendall College and concentrated on my restaurant full time.
And why do 95 percent of restaurants fail? I still don’t have an answer. We’re only two months old. I’ll let you know in five years.
How did Loyola prepare you for your career in the food industry?
In my MBA program, there was a focus on entrepreneurship. And I remember Professor Michael Welch would get speakers—people who were extremely successful in their industries—to talk about the importance of entrepreneurialism and small business. That really influenced me. It really instilled the whole idea of being an entrepreneur.
More directly, Quinlan helped me get my first job at a firm that normally only hires Ivy League graduates, and I was able to save up enough money to start my restaurant. Without my MBA, I wouldn’t have landed my first job, so if it weren’t for Loyola, I wouldn’t be here. Moreover my program at Loyola gave me enough credits to become a CPA. I run the books. I don’t need an accountant to do that for me. I don’t need to hire someone. That’s cost savings right off the bat.
What’s your favorite part of owning your own business?
My favorite part is every time I worked for someone else, I thought things were overly bureaucratic. There were so many layers to decision making. Now my wife and I call most of the shots. We’re more nimble in decision-making, and it’s a lot less bureaucratic. Also, I can see an immediate impact of my decisions whether they are good or bad. Working for large corporations, that’s hard to see.
What’s the biggest challenge in the small business industry?
Capital is a challenge. For small businesses, money is always tight. Maybe I’m just too numbers oriented, with my background, but that’s the biggest stress factor. How many people are coming in and out? Day to day? Hour to hour?
Another challenge of having your own business is working 18 hours a day. It’s a change in lifestyle when you are a business owner. There are no vacations and evenings off. Even when you’re not at the restaurant, you are doing things—entering invoices, thinking about marketing strategies, or paying credit cards. Time is a big issue. But as the business grows, it will even out.
Any advice you would give to someone looking to get into the same field?
I think my biggest advice is you really have to jump into it—there’s never really a right time, so you have to jump in and do it.
Obviously have a plan, but know things will never pan out the way you expect. I think I had a wonderful business plan, but there were still issues. So it’s important to always have contingency plans and contingency funds.