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From finance to food, Deepti Chawla’s story of entrepreneurship is inspirational, to say the least…

Women like Deepti Chawla create change by being the change, as Krishna Barot discovers

It’s all about your mindset,” Deepti Chawla says simply with immense clarity. “In the face of problems, a negative mindset will result in inevitable failure. Which is why, approach all problems with a positive mindset and aim to find a solution.”

It is this mantra, among several others, that has guided Deepti through the peaks and troughs of her journey in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry for over eight years. She possesses an array of roles and responsibilities – from a passionate entrepreneur and inspiring business leader to a loving mother, wife and most importantly, a highly ambitious woman.

An Inspiring Childhood

The passion and drive Deepti possesses today stems from the ongoings she witnessed as a child. Born and brought up in the Indian city of Nagpur, the young girl did not need to seek inspiration outside her home, for her parents were the biggest source of it.

Her father was a man of the service industry until the age of 40 – when he decided it was time for a new chapter. A young Deepti watched her father begin a venture of his own, at an age people are afraid to experiment at, while also observing how her mother stood relentlessly by her father in this pursuit. “My family is into the business of heavy earth moving machinery. It started from our house, where we lived with heavy spare parts and equipment inside our beds, rooms, and in other corners. Today we’re one of the leading business groups in the heavy earth moving space.”

While the homegrown business venture was the brainchild of Deepti’s father, her mother left no stone unturned in lending a hand and growing the business. She recalls how her mother would rise early, prepare the young girl and her sibling, Vishal, for school and then proceed to begin the day by opening the shutters of their shop. In a male-dominated industry, her mother firmly believed and showcased that nothing is too difficult or out-of-reach for women.

“They were hustlers, both my parents,” Deepti states. Her parents’ discipline and drive were soon instilled in her, as she took up badminton at the age of eight. This was instrumental in helping her develop mentally, physically and emotionally enabling her to follow a rigorous routine of waking at 6 AM and dedicating several hours per day to practice. Her parents’ reinforcement of discipline and dedication, coupled with Deepti’s perseverance led her to represent Maharashtra at a national level on several occasions.

And these accolades were only the beginning.

A Successful Youth

Along with badminton, Deepti also dedicated many an hour to her studies. From clearing a course in CS Foundation to CS Intermediate, she received her first job offer at the age of 21, from IDBI Bank. Young, passionate, and ambitious, she decided to accept the job offer, thus cementing her entrance to the professional world. Swiftly climbing up the corporate ladder of finance and insurance, her career portfolio boasts prominent names such as IDBI Bank, MetLife and Bajaj Allianz. “Insurance is very rewarding, and I was one of the youngest people to get high-value policies at that time. I saw the world pretty quickly, and travelled extensively, all before the age of 24, which gave me exposure and allowed me to build a network.”

At a considerably young age, Deepti was well-travelled, well-read, and had the opportunity to interact with CEOs of companies, entrepreneurs and people at the highest rungs of the corporate ladder. There was much to learn, much to accomplish, and much to take inspiration from.

It was during those years that she met her husband, Manik Chawla through a matrimonial website, and it has been approximately 16 years since they tied the knot. He is in the import and export business and has been an extensive support pillar throughout. The couple also welcomed a daughter, Meher, who is 15 years old now and a highly independent teenager – just like her mother.

It was around the time her daughter was born that Deepti decided to begin her venture in Bombay. Taking the extensive experiences and knowledge she acquired from her jobs, she founded a private equity firm called Infiniti Holdings with her partner, beginning her entrepreneurship journey and a new chapter in her life.

My husband and family said that I tried my best, and maybe it was time to shut shop and return home, but I did not accept that. I couldn’t.”

Mergers, Acquisitions and More

While the partner duo began their venture in Bombay, her tryst with the UAE began in 2016, following an important and rather sweet merger.

Deepti and her partner were approached by Mithaas, a restaurant brand catering to the Indian palate, from scrumptious savoury dishes to heartwarming desserts. During that time, Infiniti Holdings was already dealing with the mergers and acquisitions of several companies. And while the Mithaas takeover would eventually open the doors to the UAE for the company, Deepti also found an emotional connection to the venture.

She described how the owner, whom she fondly refers to as Ashok uncle, talked about passing on the brand legacy of Mithaas entrusting it to her. “Today, brands like Landmark Foods and Dabur are generally buying from us at a corporate level,” Deepti says with obvious pride.

Infiniti Holdings’ takeover of Mithaas was soon followed by a diverse set of ventures in the F&B industry. Deepti, who had now traversed to F&B from insurance, soon added various restaurants and eateries under the Infiniti Holdings banner. From traditional restaurants such as Radhe O Radhe to continental ventures such as Nais Italian Kitchen, her company now boasts 22 brands, with many more projects in store.

In 2017, Deepti joined the wave of online food ordering and began collaborating with online aggregator platforms. In 2019, she began her expansion into the cloud space with One Square Meal Food Hall concept that includes an array of restaurants and other cloud kitchen concepts. During Covid-19, she implemented the idea of cloud kitchens into her brand portfolio and achieved massive success.

While conversing, she revealed an important and exciting new venture, a tie-up with Franchise India Holdings Limited. One of Asia’s largest franchise solutions companies, Franchise India Holdings Limited boasts a network of 5,000-6,000 brands in India itself.

Deepti is very excited about this journey and the collaboration with the President of the brand, Gaurav Marya. With this upcoming collaboration, their vision holds onboarding over 200 brands in the GCC. The duo aims to bring an array of brands, both iconic and homegrown, under their wing and help them scale up. But that is not all. This venture will also expand to the retail sector, inviting a new demographic for Deepti to conquer. As they plan to expand their portfolio to countries such as Malaysia, she looks back on pivotal moments in her journey, and how Covid-19 changed the game for the F&B industry.

Insurance is very rewarding, and I was one of the youngest people to get high-value policies at that time”

Covid-19, Problems and Solutions

It is no secret that Covid-19 brought a wave of uncertainty to all the global sectors – including the F&B industry. With worldwide lockdowns, restrictions on movement and the grapple with an unknown disease, tensions were rife throughout the sector.

Deepti, who was in Dubai with her daughter when lockdown was enforced, was in a real fix. Empty restaurants, staggering rents, pending salaries of employees and seemingly no way forward. “My husband and family said that I tried my best, and maybe it was time to shut shop and return home, but I did not accept that. I couldn’t.”

Intent on scoping around for a solution, which she soon found in the form of delivery aggregators and cloud kitchens. As the solution presented itself in front of her, she grabbed the opportunity and fashioned a new vertical for her company. From the vertical emerged brands such as Punjab Bistro, Chaat Bistro, Dosa King, Biryani Bistro and more.

“Brands on brands,” Deepti recalls, while explaining how she personally began developing new recipes, creating presentations and packaging, overseeing photoshoots and building brands from scratch. Her aim was simple; create brands that catered to the varying likes and tastes of people, be it Italian, Chinese or Indian cuisine.

Her cloud kitchens were first formulated in the restaurants owned by Infiniti Holdings. As business progressed and there was greater understanding of the nuances of the system, she curated newer brands that could exist in different locations and cater to the taste of different people. “By God’s grace, all the brands began resonating with the people.” Eight months from the time Deepti founded the brands, each brand was reporting approximately 10,000 deliveries – an impressive figure during Covid-19.

The intrepid entrepreneur was then approached by the iconic brand, Ravi Restaurant, which had a legacy in the UAE market. One thing led to another, and she dealt in a strategic partnership with the expansion of Ravi restaurants so that it flourished in different regions of the UAE.

Shortly, the company will soon be welcoming KashKan, bringing customers the best of Indian cuisine from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The 7,000 sq ft restaurant will be opened at DFC in Dubai soon. In addition to new restaurants, Infiniti Holdings will be unveiling numerous cloud kitchens in 2023, totaling 100 kitchens across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

She understood the vision of chefs who wanted to set up a business but did not have the means to. Deepti breathes life into the vision of such people

The Significance of Passion and Support

Deepti’s philosophy, in the beginning, was ‘buy, develop and sell’. But at the heart of her experiences and years in the industry lies passion, perseverance, and hard work. Passion to create, passion to succeed, passion to uplift creatives and provide them with a platform. And from that passion arise innumerable memories and experiences. She expressed how the bonds she formed with different people transcended professional niceties to emotional connections. Festivals were celebrated together, highs were celebrated, low points were dealt with collectively, and these witnessed the forming of a tight-knit community.

“There’s so much more to the industry than simply finance,” she explains. Her love for cooking influenced her avid participation during tasting sessions, blogging sessions, and instances of recipe development. She understood the vision of chefs who wanted to set up a business but did not have the means to. Deepti breathes life into the vision of such people. Her company provides them with the infrastructure, the licenses and papers, along with intensive training and mentoring, until the chefs and entrepreneurs are ready to take over. In a highly cutthroat sector, she extends vital support and guidance to aspiring chefs, businesspeople and entrepreneurs.

Along with providing support, Deepti has also received continual support from her family. “My husband is very proud of me and extremely supportive, and so are my parents and in-laws. Meher has also been an integral part of my journey and has seen me through different facets and understands even more about the workplace now that she has actively been participating in contributing her young and dynamic inputs. ”

Since Deepti has lived in Dubai since Covid-19 struck, she is deeply appreciative of how her husband shuttles between both countries, as he understands the magnitude of her work. Her support system extends to friends and co-workers as well, who have uplifted her throughout her journey. “I believe Manav Mehra deserves a mention. He is the Head of Operations at Infiniti Holdings and my rock-solid pillar. During Covid-19, he was very supportive and didn’t blink an eye through the dark storms.”  Deepti clearly enjoys surrounding herself with hardworking and dynamic people, and firmly believes that good people make everything better.

The Future

It has been a long and rewarding journey for this dynamic, hard-working lady, who says that the Deepti Chawla of ten years ago is the same as she is today, though earlier there was a more cautious approach to business. Today, she is an unabashed risk-taker and enjoys experimenting with new ventures. Ten years down the line, there is the goal to diversify her business, explore new avenues, and continue serving up a storm in the F&B sector.

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