Interview with Mr. Manjunath: Managing Director, Lumiere Organic Restaurant, Bangalore
Lumiere is a unique lifestyle store… it encompasses everything from a farm to a restaurant, and now even an online store selling organic produce – vegetables, fruits, honey, spices, nuts & poultry. Priyanka Grover met up with Mr. Manjunath, and here’s a conversation with him.
How did you come to set up such a unique concept revolving around organic food?
When I returned from USA (of my 12 years of work experience, I was in the USA for about 7 years) to Cochin, I used to frequently eat at a restaurant. This was owned by my present business partner. He convinced me to buy land and invest my resources in organic farming, and so we bought 10 acres of land in Kanthalloore, Munnar in 2003. When we started harvesting, we always had surplus yield, and hence came the idea to utilize it for a restaurant setup. So we started Lumiere, in 2008 in Cochin and we were the first in India to serve organic food. Today we are the largest restaurant serving organic food. With time, we have developed it into a complete lifestyle store with fresh produce, provisions and even a bakery that serves only organic baked products.
How do you ensure that apart from what you grow, what you buy is actually organic?
To ensure the success of a restaurant, you need Dairy products, Poultry, Sea Food and vegetables, apart from the dry provisions. Being a Keralite, I consider sea-food (specifically fish) as a staple food. We have a variety of certified vendors across India, and we plug the gap of organic perishables. Thus we ensure that we get the right raw material and we can be confident of what we serve our customers. In Bangalore, daily transportation from Munnar is a challenge, so we setup our own free-range poultry farm as well as vegetable farm for self-sufficiency.
We also have tie-ups with various farms around Bangalore for items that we do not grow/produce, like for Milk we have tie-up with Akshayakalpa farm, for exotic vegetables we have Maruthi farms. Our process of tie-up is through personal contact with the farmers and subsequent visits to their farms. We verify that apart from certifications, the person’s or company’s background is trustworthy.
Many times we get information from government agencies like ICCOA, IMO, Sahaj Samrudha etc. And then over time, we come to know these farmers personally and build a relationship.
Are most of your guest first timers or repeat diners?
The majority is repeat customers and promotion is generally by word of mouth. But people do come here for casual dining; from office parties to birthday celebrations. A lot of our repeat guests come for authentic Kerala food.
Do your guests really want the organic experience, or does the majority that comes to Lumiere do so because it is considered chic, or politically correct?
Usually people who visit us are hardcore organic food lovers who are aware of our concept and curious to know details on where we procure our raw material & where can they buy it. That is where our lifestyle store comes in - here they can buy fresh produce as well as provisions.
Today, the food industry is terribly corrupt and our taste buds have become accustomed to adulterated & additive rich foods. We are here to bring back the original food taste, and sometimes it takes time & persuasion to convince first timers of the ‘original’ taste and the harms that additives cause. Most of the times, we succeed in building that trust, hence our guests return.
For a new guest at your cafe, what can he expect from the food... apart from restaurant quality tasty food, is there anything he can 'see' or observe' that can distinguish his regular home or even regular restaurant food from the Lumiere food?
We want to ensure that the food experience is as close to a fine-dining restaurant. At the same time, we are ready to explain the source of each food item served to them. We also ensure that oils and spices are used in the right proportions so that the food is not bad for health because we believe that the food you eat directly affects your interactions with other people, plants and animals. If you consume food which is balanced, and not overloaded with additives or chemicals, and if you believe in the concept of organic living, then you will have love and passion towards your people, your plants and animals around you.
How far have you come, and where you do see organic food cafes like Lumiere in the next 5 years?
We are very satisfied with our operations so far. We never planned to come so far, but we do see ourselves opening a couple of more outlets in and around Bangalore. However, we do not want to scale up so much that we jeopardize the quality and standards of our products & services. We have also started our online store and we plan to sell organic milk as well. (Please click here to get the list of online stores in India)
I cannot say much about the organic food industry in the coming years, but I believe it has to grow. Supporting organic implies maintaining the bio-diversity, controlling water contamination, soil pollution. And I feel that when all this happens, it will also improve our standard of living, our temperaments and our love for each other.