Serving Fine Taste

Kochi: Listening to Rafeek Abdulla, Managing Director of Crocurry.com, one would think his story is the stuff that dreams are made of. The founder of the multi-brand online and offline store offering crockery, cutlery, glassware, metalware, bamboo ware, thermal glassware and other kitchen-dining accessories, is living proof that success needn’t be elusive if one’s heart and effort are in the right place.

Crocurry.com opened its first offline store at LuLu Mall in Kochi in September this year. Bharat Joshi, the British Deputy High Commissioner, performed the honours. The outlet was started with the idea of bringing in international and national, luxury and mid-range brands under one roof.

Through the 15 years that Rafeek spent in Dubai, from 1992 to 2007 to be precise, he has been single-mindedly chasing a dream – that of starting his own venture. The former NRI from Thalaserry was working with an Electronics and Household products store based in Dubai during which time he travelled many times to the Far East and Africa, picking up lessons about international trade, and acquiring business management and entrepreneurship skills in the process.

In 2010, Rafeek returned to India and decided that the time was right to start his long-cherished role as entrepreneur. While reflecting on his passions, it is the hospitality industry that stood out. As part of his research, Rafeek visited international B2B exhibitions and trade shows where he finally chanced upon Wilmax England.

A fast-growing, fine porcelain tableware brand, Wilmax is based out of London and Hong Kong. “Premium tableware should be made with the best of materials, crafted with the finest expertise as well as technology, and finished with unrelenting attention to details. Wilmax ticks all those boxes,” Rafeek notes. “Today it’s recognised as a top innovative and fusion tableware supplier internationally.” Rafeek bagged the status of exclusive importer for the whole of India and started Wilmax India as the brand’s counterpart in the country.

This was also a time of transition in India with more jobs and disposable incomes. The overall change in lifestyle significantly contributed to the growth of the tableware market too. Add to that, the hospitality industry has been growing at a considerable pace. “Choosing neat, stylish and quality crockery is of key importance when it comes to serving food,” he says.

Wilmax India’s national head office is in Kochi. The office manages and controls the pan-India supply chain consisting of established stockists and suppliers in all the major cities of India.

“Wilmax England offers a varied range from heritage to classic and contemporary to fusion. They come in an array of designs, shapes and patterns. Wilmax’s research & development team, designers and preproduction staff are based in our London and Hong Kong offices. They use three key thought streams in creating products. In the first stream, the company makes crockery inspired by traditional shapes from different countries to match and complement cuisines from those parts of the world,” Rafeek said.

“In stream two, the designers are free to experiment as they create several unconventional and creative shapes. Within this category they have fusion crockery too where we mix the old with the new. Wilmax’s usability experts look after the ergonomics in this stream. The third segment is industry driven. Wilmax’s team constantly interacts with hospitality experts the world over to know what the industry wants and produce creations accordingly,” he adds.

The very motto of Wilmax England, he says, is to identify and create what the industry wants. “Our R&D and design teams in London, Hong Kong and USA work with chefs, F&B managers, general managers, hoteliers and restaurant managers on a regular basis and gather feedback and suggestions. So far we have added 70 plus items to the line-up specifically catering to Indian cuisine needs. Chefs today are artists and everyone from F&B to the GM chips in with their valuable concepts in food presentation. This R&D and solution-based approach has helped us win hearts across the world and the Indian market is no different.” Wilmax also offers barware, cutlery and hollowware made of stainless steel, crystalline glassware, thermo glass and bamboo products.

Wilmax supplies crockery and other products to many leading luxury and business hotels, resorts, fine dining restaurants and more. Wilmax India has entered into central purchasing contracts with many luxury hotel groups. In the last four years, the brand saw expansion in Delhi-NCR, Punjab, Rajastan and made remarkable headway in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. “Our target is to make Wilmax England one of the top 3 tableware brands in Indian hospitality industry in the next three years,” Rafeek says.

“It’s really happening times now,” he admits. “More people are eating out thanks to rampant urbanization, the influence of lifestyles and cuisines from the West and the Far East. So the restaurant revolution suits us perfectly and we are getting exponential demand for our products across India.”

He observes the general trend in the food industry the world over. “Globally, restaurants are bringing in cuisines from everywhere. Indian food is hot in the UK while Italian is a favourite in the US and a lot of Chinese love American fare. To go with it, international shapes and designs in tableware are being introduced. So a Thai cuisine kitchen will have its own traditional and contemporary shapes in tableware while a Mexican place will have another variety. The idea is to present food in its authentic settings. But at the same time, there’s another segment of the market that goes wacky with their tableware and these rules don’t apply to them.”

“There are a lot of boutique restaurants that choose their entire crockery based on a theme, pattern or story. Mood setting is the key here. The feel can be rustic, elegant or quirky, and the crockery is chosen to reflect it. The moment you take your seat, the table top gives you a feel of things to come.”

Rafeek reveals the market favourites as far as designs in crockery go. “Rim lines have been a favourite for long. A gold, silver or blue rim adds elegance to the plate without being obtrusive. As the line is on the outer rim, it’s still a white plate so chefs don’t complain. Self-embossed patterns like soft spikes or waves on the outer rim too are variants of the same trend. Our Julia Collection is a self-pattern liked by hospitality and homeware buyers.”

In what was a moment of pride for Rafeeq, Wilmax India was the Official Tableware Partner of the UNESCO® event ‘Spice Route’ in 2016. It was an international event that rediscovered and celebrated the historic spice route. It was jointly organised by UNESCO®, Kerala Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Government of India.

Wilmax England won the India Hospitality Award for the Best Tableware Brand in 2016. “In 2017, we won the Best Crockery Supplier title at the Globe Luxurie Decode Awards at Dubai. We won the BW Hotelier Award for Best Crockery Brand in India in 2018,” Rafeeq adds.

CROCURRY.COM

Crocurry.com is Rafeek’s venture into the booming tableware, accessories and lifestyle products market.

Apart from Wilmax India, many other international brands are available at Crocurry.com. Rosenthal, Versace, Noritake, Bormioli Rocco, Nachtmann, Marc Aurel, Bergner, Liviano, Duralex, Bohemia Crystal, Borgonovo, Borosil, Larah, Vidivi, Qualitier, Sanjeev Kapoor Range, Seeba, Roxx, Silvetta, Devnow, Iveo, Soogo, AART and Awkenox are just some of the brands available at Crocurry.com.

Rafeek’s parameters are design, wow factor, usability and quality. Most products have a story to tell, making them cherished possessions. Aart and Durrelle are Crocurry’s in-house brands. Aart is made at Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh and Durrell is made in Thailand.

“In retail, 80 per cent of our buyers are women. A section of them are regular viewers of cookery shows on television. Many chefs in these shows use high-end crockery and cutlery. So women are more aware of the latest in the crockery world. They are happy to find such trendsetting products in our outlet. We often get to hear our customers say in excitement ‘This was the one I was looking for,'” Rafeek says, beaming with pride.

“Crocurry.com is your perfect partner working with you to select individualistic tableware, cutlery and accessories. Whatever is the new recipe and cuisine you are trying today, you have perfectly matching plates and bowls to present it upon,” Rafeek asserts.

LEADERSHIP STYLE

Rafeek believes in a democratic system. “I encourage innovation wherever possible. Decisions are made on consensus. Once the decision is made everybody including me has to do their job with perfection, precision and in targeted time,” Rafeek reveals his leadership style.

ON THE HORIZON

Rafeek plans to open more Crocurry.com outlets in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi in the next two years. The idea is to become the complete lifestyle destination for crockery, cutlery and home and kitchen accessories.
The online store is looking for venture investment in order to become a full-fledged e-commerce store in the near future.
“Plans are afoot to open world-class outlets of 2000 sq.ft. each in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi in the next two years. We are also planning to open at Mall of Travancore in Thiruvananthapuram. We are working towards setting up one more manufacturing unit in Gujarat in 2019,” he informs.
In the meanwhile, Rafeek continues to dream, not only for himself, but for a world of togetherness where everyone achieves their full potential.

SEEKING VENTURE CAPITAL

The retail industry in India is expected to grow very fast over the next few years and crocurry.com is poised to make the best of the boom. According to Rafeek Abdulla, Crocurry.com plans to have outlets in all tier 1 and tier 2 cities over the coming five years. “Crocurry.com is a startup. Our aim is to be the ultimate lifestyle destination for tableware, cutlery, glassware, metalware, kitchen accessories and home accessories. We are looking for venture funding which will help us grow exponentially over the next few years,” says Rafeek. The target is to become a listed company by 2023.

BACKING FROM THE UK GOVT.

Rafeek credits the British High Commission and UK Trade & Investment for their unhindered support and regular invites to several events as part of the ‘Business is Great Britain’ campaign. “It was a very innovative concept to promote British brands and companies. We were invited to be part of many of their events and it helped us make great connections in hospitality, retail and many other segments,” says Rafeek.

KNOW YOUR BONE CHINA & PORCELAIN

The difference is in the raw materials and the firing process. Bone china is made from a combination of kaolin clay and feldspar which is then mixed with bone ash to make slim shapes. It goes through two firing processes – Biscuit and Glost where temperatures are at 1300 degree celsius and 1000 degree celsius respectively. Porcelain is made from kaolin clay and pegmatite rock. Porcelain does not contain bone ash. It too goes through two firing processes where the second one is at 1455 degree celsius. Porcelain is more durable and has better impact resistance. Wilmax England tableware is made from fine porcelain. The difference is that other than kaolin, it contains metallic oxides which give the porcelain easy moldability, finesse, translucence and the ability to make it thin while retaining the attribute of impact resistance.

RAFEEK ABDULLA
Born at: Kadirur, Thalassery
Based in: Kochi
Family: Sajida (Spouse), Thamanna Jebin, Fathima and Layya Mariam (Daughters)
Loves to do (when not working): Watching movies, reading and traveling. An avid photography enthusiast and student of movie making, he is a regular at international film festivals
Favourite Holiday Destination: Europe
Favourite Cuisine: Seafood of all varieties particularly Indian, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese and Mediterranean
Music: Ghazals. Jagjit Singh is his favourite musician
Favourite Book: M T Vasudevan Nair’s ‘Manju’
Favourite Movie: Apocalypto
Social Work and Charity: An active blood donor for 15 years and a member of multiple blood donor groups. Deeply involved in pain and palliative care activities