There’s a very cool chain of healthy restaurants in Bangkok called Getfresh and they are backed and supported by Stonelotus Ventures, a trio (John Stevens, Derek van Pelt and Dan McKay) who are an integral part of CanCham Thailand.
But before we get there, we must examine the story of Sid Sehgal (photo above), whose vision was to bring a salad chain to Bangkok. After graduating from the International School of Bangkok (ISB), Sid was accepted at prestigious New York University. Back then, NYU offered 90 first-year international students the chance to study at their campus in Florence, Italy. Sid jumped at the chance, and the students he met there are among his best friends today - twenty of them even flew into Bangkok for his wedding.
Sid loved Florence, “The food, the people, the art, the vibe of the city – all of it.”
He also learned about the value of money “Eating out with friends is different than eating out with your parents. You are paying for it, so you need to decide how much you want to spend, and where you want to spend it.”
Sid’s roommate, Sunny, was a DJ, and Sid joined forces with him at bars and nightclubs, where they worked at to promote events on the weekends.
When the two moved to New York City, they started a company together called “The A-List” because they wanted to be on the A-List, as it was very difficult to get into popular bars and clubs. They hired sub-promoters, and printed postcards (no smart phones back then). If you brought the postcard to the club, A-List got a cut, the sub-promoter got a cut and the person presenting the ticket got a discount. They started out just helping clubs get busy. Sid’s knack for promotion would later come in very handy in the food and beverage industry.
Upon graduation from NYU, a family friend visited Sid in the Big Apple; he was an Indian man, Lalit Bakshi, who ran several successful restaurants in Japan. For a week he took Sid out to a different restaurant every night. These were all the restaurants Sid knew of but never had a chance to visit. Sid had become an avid follower of the dining scene, Michelin stars, and the World’s 50 best restaurants. The whole time, Lalit was scoping Sid out to see what kind of restaurateur he would make. Impressed, he eventually became Sid’s partner in Indus, Sid’s Indian restaurant in Bangkok, sending him his first chef from India, and giving him the seed capital and necessary know-how to get the restaurant started. From May-October, the pair made numerous trips to India, traveling around visiting different restaurants. They signed a lease in October, taking over what was then the Whole Earth restaurant.
Bu we need back up a little because when Sid returned from New York, where he studied economics, finance and marketing, he was thrust into the position of editor of the family run publishing business. This included LOOKEAST, which at that time was the longest running English-language magazine in Thailand; it started in 1971 (other publications included the Thailand Airline Timetable and The Secretary) and ceased publication in 2016. His only other experience in journalism was as the editor of the yearbook at ISB, so his learning curve was steep. When the summer ended, he had originally planned to go back to New York City and look for a job in finance.
Sid’s partnership with Lalit led to the purchase of the Whole Earth restaurant, which he ran for a year from the ground up, in order to learn how to run a restaurant the hard way. His maternal grandfather C. Rai Narula had owned a restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 11 called the The Moghul Room and Sid used to visit him often after school - he believes he subconsciously he gained some tips on hospitality from watching his granddad operate.
Sid recalls, “With the help of my family I was running Lookeast during the day, and working at the restaurant at night: I valet parked, worked as a cashier, server, cook, accountant, I wanted to learn it all.
“Whole Earth became Indus in 2005. My mom had big role with their interior design, the cutlery, crockery, tableware, and dad helped with accounting and finance. I was involved in the food, the menu planning, the marketing and the training.
Our family is a little different to other Thai Indian families – we have members of the family from Thailand, Japan, Germany, the US, Venezuela, and Canada.
I had a deep-seeded motivation for starting an Indian restaurant in Thailand. Being a Thai citizen with Indian heritage I have always felt connected to both countries. Thais and Indians have an ok relationship, but it could be better, I thought the restaurant could help bridge that gap.
The Thai Perception of Indian food was also based on what was around them, which was shop-house restaurants serving mostly greasy and ‘aromatic’ food.
I wanted Thai people to experience Indian food the way I had overseas, in restaurants like Tabla and Tamarind in New York City, the Cinnamon Club in London, and Asha’s in Dubai. These are restaurants that have waiting lists for tables, where you would want to take a date to on a Saturday night or celebrate an important occasion. Nothing like that existed in Bangkok at the time. I wanted to change the perception and that’s what I set out to do.”
Indus has been going for fifteen years now. Many staff have been with the restaurant since day one. Indus also has satellite kiosk in the UN ESCAP building in Bangkok, which is temporarily shut because of COVID.
Now back to the origins of Getfresh: in 2003, eating crappy junk food, putting on weight, and feeling terrible, tired, and lazy, Sid realized he had to make some lifestyle changes. NYU had a deli called Campus Eatery, where you could get a filling, tasty, and cheap salad for US$4. Sid started eating a healthy lunch every day, immediately lost eight kilos, started working out more and felt much better. He knew then that he wanted to open a chain of salad bars in Bangkok but the city wasn’t ready for that yet.
Then the fitness craze hit.
Sid had a long-time friend named Anchit Sachdev, who went to ISB with him and then went onto UCLA. In 2006 the two opened a chain of 13 bakeries called the Bun Factory in Bangalore with India’s Starbucks, Cafe Coffee Day. They ran the company for two years, and then sold it. Anchit went on to open and operate a number of restaurants in Mumbai. He eventually decided to move back to Bangkok, remaining a shareholder in his Mumbai eateries.
Over time, Sid had become more and more determined to open a salad chain; he had observed Just Salad in New York City, Tossed in Los Angeles, and Prêt a Manger in London. He had also traveled to Dubai, Japan, and Singapore studying how salad chains were run, sitting in their shops for days on end having franchise discussions. But he still needed a partner; Anchit’s return to Bangkok gave him just that. By now, both had close to a decade of experience running restaurants.
The pair decided to bring a Dressed franchise to Bangkok and opened the first restaurant at The Mercury Ville in September of 2013 (it’s still open today). The chain was founded in Atlanta but regionally based in Hong Kong. As a good franchisee, Sid and Anchit followed the company guidelines to the tee but soon realized the business model wasn’t sustainable in Bangkok, especially in terms of customer preference.
“We went back to them a couple months later and told them the concept wasn’t working,” recalls Sid. “We were running 60 percent food cost, the layout out of the store wasn’t right; there wasn’t any table service, there were no menu boards, the text-based menu didn’t have photos, and the portions were far too large for Thailand (American-size portions) and the prices were just too high.
“We told them we needed to make adjustments based on our experience and that if we didn’t make these changes, we wouldn’t survive and we urged them to make changes as well. They said we could go ahead and make changes, but they didn’t and they ended up going out of business a year later and all their franchises went out of business as well. When that happened they told us we were on our own.
“We continued on our own for awhile until we met the guys from Stonelotus Ventures, who said that they thought with some help, funding and support we could be all over Asia and go from five restaurants to 50, one day. They would buy out our existing investors, and put in additional money as long as Anchit and I re-invested as well.
“They didn’t have restaurant experience, but they were passionate and all came from different professional backgrounds. Derek is a creative and optimistic person – he supports the business primarily by introducing technology to increase efficiency. John has a strong background in entrepreneurship, marketing and brand management. And Dan McKay has a very solid background in financial management.”
One of the first things the new team did was some research to see what people thought about the name Dressed. Many associated it with clothing and even those who did know Dressed was in the F&B industry thought it was all about salad dressings.
But Dressed was more than that; so they decided take the plunge and take it to the next level, by giving the restaurant chain a new name and a new logo, (John Stevens came up with both).
On 6 Jan 2020, Getfresh was officially launched. The company had five stores before it joined forces with Stonelotus 2 & ½ years ago and now it has 12.
Dressed had a very fluorescent fast-food look whereas Getfresh has a more earth-tone café appearance with the outlet in the Mall Ngamwongwan being the latest masterpiece, which is set in a glass house and built from the ground up.
Sid and Anchit are co-MDs of the company with Sid’s focus being on F&B, marketing, ingredient sourcing, and business development. Anchit is focused on operations, accounting, human resources, and purchasing.
Sid has also served as a judge on Iron Chef Thailand and as a panelist on Asia’s 50 Best and the World’s 50 Best restaurant competitions. To relax, Sid plays tennis, works out, plays horse polo, and he still eats a healthy lunch five days a week.
What really sets Getfresh apart is the transparency when it comes to knowing where its ingredients come from. Sid and his wife, Narisa, travel domestically throughout the year and visit farms to source ingredients for both Getfresh and Indus. Both brands also have purchasing managers who are constantly on the lookout for suppliers of great ingredients.
His uncle has an organic farm in Chiang Rai raising free range organic eggs, rice, and chia seeds – under the brands Hilltribe Organic, Perfect Earth, and Urmatt.
Oh yes, the cost of ordering at Getfresh, very reasonable, a soup and a main course for Bt200. Guess we just have to wait for them to get some organic donuts, eh?