India says 'cheers' to Singapore bar brand Harry's

SINGAPORE - Local bar brand Harry's has gone all showbiz for its latest watering hole with the opening of an outlet in Mumbai's Bollywood film district.

The bar - the gastropub chain's seventh in India - is in the bustling area of Juhu and generated interest even before it opened this month.

"It's got a great atmosphere," said Mr Philip Walters, managing director of Harry's Holdings. "I was there during pre-opening, training with the staff, and a whole lot of locals were saying, 'Are you open? Can I come in?'"

Harry's bars have been a hit since it opened the first Indian outlet a year ago following a $21.85 million takeover by F&B Asia Ventures in January last year.

F&B Asia Ventures is an investment holdings company under India-focused private equity firm Everstone Capital.

Private equity firms have ramped up their presence in the region over the past few years, with big names such as Blackstone and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts opening offices in Singapore to search for investment opportunities across Asia.

F&B Asia Ventures opened its office here in April last year aiming to add more fast-casual dining options - such as gourmet pizza or burger bars - and "wet-led" businesses, where beverages dominate the services.

"We have people in different cities looking for opportunities, and we look at something every week," said Mr Walters, who has been a private equity investor since 1992 and also chairs F&B Asia Ventures.

"I would prefer to partner with the entrepreneur who has a vision to grow his business, but perhaps doesn't have all the enablers to grow it - capital, experience, connections and contacts," he told The Straits Times in an interview last week.

He believes Singapore's vibrant food and beverage scene makes the country a prime ground for striking deals. "I see this as a hotbed of innovation for food and beverage.

"I'm coming here and I'm sending some ideas here back to London, mainly around specialising and making things more niche." Mr Walters, 62, spends most of his time in Singapore, with regular trips to India and more recently Indonesia.

F&B Asia Ventures owns franchise rights for Burger King in India and Indonesia, and Domino's Pizza in Indonesia.

"We're taking very well-established brands and trying to roll them out in the Asian region," said Mr Walters, noting that the time was ripe for Harry's.

"We observed that in India there were no branded bar chains, and also our research showed that females in India felt uncomfortable going to independent bars versus bars that were in five-star hotels."

The firm aimed to fill that gap, marketing Harry's as an international business.

Harry's will open three more outlets in India by the end of the year and at least 10 outlets in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia in the next two years.

The bar brand is also undertaking a rebranding here, with its flagship outlet in Boat Quay completing a $1 million makeover in September.

Less popular outlets at Changi Business Park, Sentosa Cove and International Business Park were closed, while new bars opened at Chijmes and Cuppage, bringing the total number of outlets here to 20, with two more on their way next year.

Harry's pulled in revenue of about $34 million in Singapore last year.

F&B Asia Ventures is also working with famous restaurateur Alan Yau to create a handful of new brands, among them a Chinese pub called Duck and Rice that will open in London in December.

This article was first published on October 28, 2014.
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