There's a gap in the market for healthy South Asian street food: Roti Rollers CEO

A British-Pakistani opening an Indian fusion restaurant? With home-grown South Asian sandwich concept Roti-Rollers, this former advertising executive is doing just that
There's a gap in the market for healthy South Asian street food: Roti Rollers CEO
Former advertising executive Ahsan Kahlon spent 18 years across New York, London, Sydney and Abu Dhabi before deciding to try his hand at bringing global gastronomy to South Asian street food
By Shayan Shakeel
Wed 16 Jan 2019 12:24 PM

Tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to Roti Rollers?

I was born in Pakistan, schooled in England and Saudi Arabia, went to university in America and worked in advertising in New York, London, Dubai, Sydney and Abu Dhabi. My 18 year long journey in advertising gave me a great appreciation for different cultures, travel, and especially food!  I have always wanted to start a restaurant, and noticed a gap in the market for healthier alternatives in South Asian street food. So when the opportunity arose, I immediately seized it.

What makes you get out of bed each day?

Gratitude for being able to live out my dream, and the passion to constantly improve our food and service, and continue to innovate. I’m a student of life, and am constantly learning and adapting. That is always interesting and makes each day different.

What makes for satisfied customers?

A satisfied stomach makes for a satisfied customer. We go to great creative lengths to ensure we make our food not only as delicious as possible, but also as healthy as possible with South Asian street food, which is a challenging yet rewarding feat. Customers want good value for money, and food that looks and tastes good. Sometimes restaurants focus too much on the food and forget about personality. We’re quirky and fun at Roti Rollers, so the ambiance is built for a good time. A full packaged experience of ambiance, food and service is key.

What inspires you to be a good leader?

Improving the people around me. I subscribe to the philosophy of leaving the world a better place than I found it – and that applies to the staff at the restaurant or the agencies I have worked in.  You need to find their goals and help them achieve them through training and leadership.

Is there a practice you try to instill in your team that helps deliver quality experiences?

A morning team briefing so everyone knows their role and has a chance to ask questions before the day starts. This way they have a clear mind and objectives going into the day. We keep the culture very respectful and friendly, with open communication. I also visit the two branches frequently during the day to see how operations are going, listen to the team, and offer support where possible. Teamwork makes the dream work!

What is a productivity tip everyone should know?

Having worked in advertising and now F&B, everyone is different. Some people work better at different times of the day, or need different levels of encouragement. Personally, making lists and ticking them off gives me a sense of accomplishment and leads to better productivity.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in a leadership role?

Listen to everyone and think before you speak. Lots of leaders think they can do it alone or they know everything, and through personal experience I can say that a strong, reliable team helps make the dream a reality. So always value those you work with. And always be open to learning new things and adapting to changing times.

What advice would you give to your own 18-year old self?

Keep dreaming and don’t take no for an answer.  If you don’t take a risk sometimes, you might regret it. And if you fail, shake it off and try again.

How to you relax and switch off from work?

Relaxation for me is very simple and low key. I love spending time with my family, be it at home watching TV or travelling. Trying different cuisines and eating out at new places is always fun, and I enjoy playing golf for some me-time.

What is your most prized possession? And biggest luxury?

My most prized possession is my watch collection, which I have been working on for 20 years. As for my biggest luxury, it would be having the flexibility and time to spend with my family and not missing the important moments.

Roti Rollers is in Dubai at La Mer and Dar al Wasl mall.

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