Sri Lankan people have always been friendly, supportive and welcoming: Indian restauranter Viraj Panchal
After arriving in Sri Lanka, Indian businessman Viraj Panchal fell in love with the Island Nation and expanded his business here. He is also running one of the most popular restaurants in Colombo city- Mango Tree. IBNS correspondent Supriyo Hazra catches up to know his journey in Sri Lanka so far. Excerpts:
Tell us about your journey from India to Sri Lanka?
I arrived in Sri Lanka in 1992 and was involved in a buying office business of Readymade Garments Exports from Sri Lanka to the USA. In 1998 I invested to start up a Readymade Garment Manufacturing factory under the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka for exports from the USA to the UK. In 2004 I invested to start up The Mango Tree – North Indian Restaurant and in 2008 invested to open up Jack Tree Thai Restaurant. Journey has been quite good and sailing has been always smooth.
How has Sri Lanka accepted a Mumbaikar like you and made him a part of the country?
Sri Lankan people have always been friendly, supportive and welcoming , which made things very easy for me to settle down in Sri Lanka.
What are the challenges faced by you initially in establishing your firm in this foreign land after arriving from India?
Any foreigner who decides to invest in Sri Lanka has to go through the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) which is a One Stop Shop. All the BOI officials had been extremely helpful right throughout the process, making it very easy to start up the new projects.
Why did you decide to open an Indian restaurant in Sri Lanka?
From the time I had been in Sri Lanka, I noticed there were very few Indian Restaurants in Colombo and eating out for me as a vegetarian was very difficult. I always had it at the back of my mind for opening up an Indian Restaurant whenever I get the right opportunity. In 2004 eventually I opened up The Mango Tree – North Indian Restaurant when I came across a very prominent location in Colombo.
What has been the response of Sri Lankan citizens towards Indian cuisine?
Response has been overwhelming. Sri Lankan people really enjoy the Indian food, also in Sri Lanka we get a lot of international tourists patronizing our restaurant and enjoying the Indian cuisine as well.
How are you trying to manage the challenges of running the restaurant both during COVID-19 times as well as in the later days when the country witnessed protests?
Business had been affected very badly and it was quite challenging to stay afloat. To counter this situation, we had no choice but to downsize our operations to survive.
How do you see Sri Lanka as a destination for doing business?
Sri Lanka is ranked as the most liberalized economy in South Asia and has several open market free economic and trade policies. Sri Lanka is centrally located in the Indian Ocean making it a very strategic location. Sri Lanka has a Free Trade Agreement with India and India is among the top investors in Sri Lanka. There are many opportunities for Indian investors in Sri Lanka in the sectors like IT, Infrastructure, Tourism and Leisure, Agriculture and food processing etc. It is quite easy to do business in Sri Lanka.
Tell us something about your future plans about expanding further your restaurant business?
As of now we need to wait and watch for the economy to improve. Once things get better and tourism also picks up, then in future we can plan to expand. I would really request all our Indian friends to plan their upcoming holiday trip to this beautiful Paradise Island Sri Lanka.