We had a little chat with Namratha William, who started a popular American diner in the city of Chennai known as Cuckoo Club Diner. Namratha, who is fondly known as ‘Cuckoo’ by friends and family, is a restaurateur amongst many things like being a passionate cook, enthusiastic baker, and a wonderful, happy person. Always smiling, Namratha takes great delight in dishing out some great food and feeding people until they’ve stuffed their faces silly. And that’s something we love about her. Cuckoo Club Diner, having begun in August last year, boasts of an extravagant range of American cuisine, offering authentic American Chilli, Cajun dishes, Country Fried dishes, gigantic burgers, and more. We got to have a little talk and find out what the restaurant scene is all about, as well as share our mutual love for food.
How did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant business?
“I am such a foodie! If you’ve seen my pictures you would KNOW that I’m a foooodie! Though I started my work life in the legal industry and then moved to HR and Employment Law, my dad’s constant encouragement pushed me to focus my effort into exploring what I was passionate about. That’s how Cuckoo Club Diner was born!”
What makes Cuckoo Club Diner different from other restaurants?
“Cuckoo Club Diner is a family run restaurant inspired by our love for American fusion food and our treasured 60 year old family recipes. My family loves to travel and experience different cultures through the unique flavours of that culture. So every recipe in our menu has its origins in a city that we fell in love with and over 6 decades, these recipes been perfected by my mom, grandma, dad, sisters, husband, brother-in-laws, sister-in-law, great-aunt or me. For example, the Danish Pudding was a small stroke of genius by my mom nearly 30 years ago, the Betty’s Egg Mania Sandwich was mastered by my grandma 60 years ago, the Victoria Sponge Cake was perfected by my great-aunt more than 60 years ago! All the sizzler recipes were inspired by my dad’s love for BBQs and grills from mouth watering recipes that are almost 40 years old. Apart from all this love and history in our food, 50% of our ingredients are organic, free range or farm fresh, most of which comes from our sister company William Orchards.”
Tell us a little bit about the menu and what goes behind it?
“Our menu at Cuckoo Club Diner is a mix of 5 main types of cuisines: American Contemporary, Cajun, Hawaiian, Mexican and Home-style Continental. 60% of our menu is designed for vegetarians and 40% caters to hardcore meat lovers. We also customize food for special diets, especially for people with allergies. We have something special for everyone, so our guests are equally diverse! We get large families with 3 generations seated around the table, we have young couples coming in for a quiet romantic date, professionals from all the offices in the area, college students who love our subsidized student rates, tea enthusiasts who come for our unique tea menu, animal lovers who bring their pets for our exclusive pet menu designed with healthy ingredients, school kids that come in huge groups for our ice creams and burgers, expats craving a piece of their home … We have so much fun when people come for our crazy food challenges!
We have a lovely theme called FOOD ADVENTURES FOR CHARITY, where people can come and try to conquer the MONSTER BURGER, the PANCAKE TOWER, the HOTTEST CHICKEN WINGS IN INDIA, the HOTDOG PYRAMID and so many for fun challenges! All the money that we get from this goes directly to charitable causes around the city!”
As a restaurateur, what setbacks have you faced?
“I guess, every problem in life has its solution in hard work and perseverance. Whether the setbacks are finding the right talent for your team, or deciding what to keep in your menu or managing genuine mistakes, we have to push through the problem and carry on!”
What have been some of your most successful promotions?
“MONSTERRRR BURGERRRRRRR!!!”, she says with a big smile!
Did you always want to be a restaurateur right from the start?
“I always wanted to do something related to food. When I first started to walk my dream, I didn’t have sufficient faith in myself to do something as awesome and big as a stand alone restaurant. But God does have a way of putting you in uncomfortable spots where you stretch your skills and learn new skills as you go along… I am doing what I love!!”
What’s the one thing about food that you absolutely enjoy?
“I love how food brings people together and creates memories!”
Where do you see Cuckoo Club Diner going in the next five years?
“My hope for Cuckoo Club Diner’s future is that it becomes a landmark in our beautiful city. A place where people can escape to for a few hours and enjoy gorgeous food in a space filled with a lot of love!”
What do you think makes an ideal restaurant team?
“A good team is made of imperfect people who are willing to learn and have fun together. The Cuckoo Club Diner team is definitely a team that is constantly training on something new! We have so much fun together everyday, testing new recipes, learning new techniques and coming up with ideas that our guests love! Our guests are also an extension of our team because their feedback and encouragement keeps us focused and evolving!”
What do you think defines great professional success?
“Throughout my life, my grandparents and parents have taught me that success is measured by the difference you make in people’s lives. I believe that there are 12 specific elements to success: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, generosity, decorum, gentleness, faithfulness and humility. Whether you help an employee through a crisis, or give a meal to the beggar walking past your gate, or raise funds for a charity, or make time to listen to someone’s story, focusing on someone else’s needs is the first step towards success. I have a loooong way to go in this journey, but I hope that I’m moving forward one small step at a time.”
What’s the one advice you would give to anyone in the restaurant business?
“Don’t give up, no matter what obstacle is thrown at you. Persevere and push through!”