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By 2019-12-11 10:55:05

Sohail Kalia, owner of Mexican restaurant 'Barrio', talks about his journey into the world of F&B

When did you first arrive in China?

I first came to Shanghai around about 2005, when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old; a long time ago now. After finishing school, I then moved to the UK to complete my degree in Urban Planning at the University of Sheffield.

What brought you back to Shanghai?

It was one of those situations where, after doing some work experience in the industry, I pretty much realised that I didn’t have any interest in what I was doing; which was pretty tough to swallow. By this point I was almost at the end of my studies, so I thought, you know what, I’m going to finish my degree and go back to where my family are and figure out what I’m going to do and what is going on in my life. And funnily enough, at that point, my dad decided to open up a restaurant.

How did the business begin?

After I got back to Shanghai, I started to help out at my father’s restaurant ‘Bombay Bistro’, thinking I would give it try and see if it was something I was into. For the first six months, I helped out a little bit here and there and with time I realised that this is an industry I am really interested in. It wasn’t until three years later that I made the decision to start opening my own place.

Why Mexican cuisine?

I just really love Mexican food. In the beginning, I contacted my friend Sidd, who used to be the chef at the old Mexican restaurant above my dad’s place, to help me create Barrio’s menu and he stayed on for a few months after we opened up in May this year.

What has been the most challenging aspect of opening a restaurant in Shanghai?

Definitely construction. It’s very difficult to make decisions on construction-related issues when you have no experience with this whatsoever. The contractor will come to you for advice on how things need to be done and often you really overthink things, but you know that they really need an answer. Even the smallest things like where to put the plug outlets!

Do you have any funny stories?

I have an Austrian partner in the restaurant who had family visiting from Austria; their first time ever out of the country. And on one of the nights that they were here, I remember being behind the bar at the restaurant until I hear music coming from outside. So, I start making my way outside to see what’s going on and there’s my partner’s cousin wearing a full on lederhosen playing his accordion to this crowd of like fifty Chinese people just cheering and clapping away. It was pretty ridiculous.

Favourite memory?

I would say the day we opened the restaurant. I remember being so stressed that I didn’t even tell anyone about our soft-opening. I was like, okay, I’m just going to open the doors and see if, you know, 10 or 15 people come in to eat. It wasn’t until after a few hours of watching people walk in that I realised we were getting pretty packed. By 7:30pm the restaurant was completely full! If I could go back and tell the 17-year-old version of myself that I was going to end up owning a Mexican restaurant in the same neighbourhood that I grew up in a mere seven, eight years down the line, I would have been shocked. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.

Do you have any advice for others who may want to open their own restaurant?

First of all, the most important thing to know is that it’s a very, very demanding job. You have to be constantly ready to tackle situations and be hands on when things are not working out. The other aspect is the hours. It’s almost impossible to have a normal social life working in the F&B industry. If you do want to open a restaurant, be ready to embrace it as at least 95% of your life.