How Valerie built an award-winning restaurant, Rendezvous and converted the heritage home, Manoir Mathias into a homestay
#homestay - 30, Rue Suffren- Pondicherry
YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional? Would also love to hear about your family?
Valerie - Early Days:
I vividly remember my days growing up in Kodaikanal waking up to the smell of coffee and croissants wafting through the house while my dad whipped up his magic in the kitchen.
He was an accomplished chef and the driving force behind Rendezvous, our award-winning restaurant. He was a visionary, ahead of his times. My parents always encouraged & inspired my sister & me to follow our passion. From those early days, I always dreamt of someday being a part of the culinary and hospitality space.
My foray into hospitality:
Having completed my schooling at Kodaikanal, I went on to get a degree in Hospitality Management from the Cezar Ritz College in Switzerland.
Armed with a formal degree, I started my career with the Hilton Group as a sales & marketing executive. I continued to work with corporates for a few years, gaining some much-needed experience before I returned to Pondicherry in 2015 to start my entrepreneurial journey. My first priority was to renovate & re-start our family restaurant Rendezvous.
YC - What motivated you to start? Was there any turning point or incident in your life which led to your journey as an entrepreneur?
Valerie - Our family home, Manoir Mathias is located in the heart of the French quarters of Pondicherry. It is a heritage building, which was originally established in 1886 by an early French settler. My father bought it from the original owners, and he dedicated a section of the home to create his dream project Rendezvous. He had plans to eventually renovate the property and open it for guests. I am not sure if the concept of homestays existed then, but as I mentioned earlier he was always ahead of his times.
When I returned in early 2015 and started work on renovating the restaurant; that is when I chanced upon the old plans for the proposed homestay. This got me excited and it seeded the idea for Manoir Mathia – the homestay.
Rendezvous 2.0 opened its door in its chic and contemporary avatar in October 2015. We were thrilled to see our old patrons travel all the way from Chennai and Mumbai for the opening.
As per my original plans, I had thought of starting the works for the homestay just as the restaurant reopened & got rolling. However, I had little idea then, of the time and effort required to set the ball in motion. Hence, the plans for Manoir Mathias had to be paused for a while.
I started work on Manoir Mathias around the second half of 2018. I was personally involved in every aspect of the work. Finally, we were ready to open our doors by Christmas of 2019. Just as we were to have a more formal launch, our country went under lockdown dashing our plans.
So if you see there have been quite a few defining moments and turning points in my entrepreneurial journey thus far.
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging, what challenges did you face in your early days?
Valerie - The early day challenges were a bit different for Manoir Mathias & Rendezvous since their commencement timelines were a few years apart.
As mentioned earlier, we started Manoir Mathias just at the cusp of the pandemic which meant that we had to be resilient and quickly adapt to the evolving situation. We had to re-look our original plan & the initial business road map and restructure our entire strategy.
If we take Rendezvous 2.0 as a business unit, we have to be mindful of its history and the sentiments at play when planning the renovation & restructuring. A large segment of our patrons had visited Rendezvous as far back as 1994 & had a lot of fond memories of their hey-days here. The walls of Rendezvous have witnessed quite a few amazing stories from people who met their better half here, & to those who went on to celebrate their milestone anniversary here!
There is a lot of emotion attached to such a place. So while redesigning on the one hand we had to keep these finer aspects in mind and on the other we had to consider revamping our operations to cater to the tastes of the next generation. This was a very fine line we have to tread when re-launching Rendezvous.
Today we are delighted to have maintained this critical balance and I am proud to say that along the way we have added more members to the growing Rendezvous family.
I do believe working with passion while keeping in mind these finer nuances eventually pays off, and since its opening, Rendezvous has won several awards such as “Most Distinguished Restaurant by Rocheston”, “Best contemporary Restaurant” awarded by South India Business Awards guild (two years in a row).
Speaking of recognitions, I think one of our proudest moments was being featured in the Harpers Collins publication, ‘Secret Sauce’ which is a compilation of inspiring stories of some of the finest Indian restaurants.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?
Valerie - My day starts very early, even before my team arrives. I personally check on the guestlist for the day, the arrangements that have to be made and a quick glance at the inventory.
We have a team huddle post breakfast, where we discuss the day’s schedule.
I prefer to personally meet and interact with all my guests and I work closely with my team. A typical day gets done post 11 pm once the guests have all retired for the night and my team has left for the day.
YC -How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day to day operations and property renovations and enhancements?
Valerie - I personally take care of most of my marketing initiatives which include promotions on social media, blitzes in the local media and at times networking at events. Hence it is difficult to put a figure to these marketing initiatives.
To answer your questions on renovation and enhancement initiatives, Manoir Mathias is relatively new; as for Rendezvous we usually carry out our renovation & refurbishments in the summer months, usually May. This is also when we take our business break.
YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit your homestay and why?
Valerie - Pondicherry, as you are aware, is a pristine and picturesque colonial town, situated by the Bay of Bengal. The best time to visit us (weather-wise) is from October to April.
YC - A memorable trip is a combination of a great stay + lip-smacking food and unique experiences - what are the unique experiences around your area which travellers must explore?
Valerie - We are fortunate to be quite centrally located in the heart of the French quarters of Pondicherry, which allows our guests to walk around and explore the neighbourhood.
The Rock Beach is just a couple of lanes away or about 10 - min walk
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a 7 min walk from our home.
Our guests can also choose to cycle around the picturesque neighbourhood, explore local eateries, pottery shops, or the tiny stores vending Pondicherry’s incense & scented candles among others.
Auroville which is yet another landmark is located at a distance of just 7 km from our home.
So our guests have a wide array of experiences and avenues to explore in our vicinity.
YC -What according to you is the USP of your boutique homestay, for which your customers come back to you?
Valerie - For starters our location. We are strategically located in the picturesque French Quarters of Pondicherry. Ours is a heritage building and our neighbourhood exudes this old-world charm. (making for a good location to take those pretty pictures for your Insta-posts 😊)
We are within walking distance from The Rock Beach & Promenade. In fact, the ocean is visible from our roof-top restaurant. Our rooms have wide-open windows which allow the fresh ocean breeze.
How can I forget our biggest USP - our food, served at our award-winning restaurant.
YC - Do you use social media platforms (like Instagram, Facebook etc) to promote your boutique homestay? Which channels have been very effective for your business?
Valerie - Since our homestay is fairly new, currently, it is word of mouth and recommendations from our friends.
We do have our presence on Facebook & Instagram & I believe these are effective mediums of connecting with our target audience.
YC - Do you work with travel partners, which ones? What are your views on OTA’s like Airbnb, Makemytrip.com, Booking.com etc?
Valerie - We have just 5 rooms and due to our limited inventory, we have been a bit wary of listing our property online on OTA’s. We have recently listed on Airbnb.
YC - Industry experts these days are talking a lot about sustainable and regenerative travel, what are your views on it and how are you contributing to the same?
Valerie - Yes, sustainability is a buzzword these days, & honestly, I have just about taken baby steps. For starters, we segregate our waste and as far as possible we refrain from using plastic items in our kitchen.
My staff comprises of local boys and girls and most of them have been trained on the job. As far as we can we get 90% of our fresh produce locally such as seasonal greens, fresh sea-food & other items.
YC - COVID 19 has immensely affected the tourism sector, how are you coping with it and what would you suggest to your fellow boutique homestay owners?
Valerie - We started Manoir Mathias post-lock-down, and in all honesty, I can’t say it has been smooth sailing. Like all others in the industry, we have had to adapt to the new and changing scenario. I think one needs to be resilient, flexible & adapt quickly & transition without compromising on the quality and the standards.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
When you have a dream and you want it bad, prepare a plan and & work towards it diligently. Things may not always be smooth-sailing. So if you are faced with a situation that threatens to derail you from your set path; take a pause, re-evaluate your plan and keep moving. Just don’t give up without a fair fight. 😊
- Name of the founders – (Late) Vincent Mathias & Jessica Mathias
Instagram handle for the rooftop restaurant- https://www.instagram.com/rendezvous_cafe_restaurant
Instagram handle for the jazz café: https://www.instagram.com/rendezvousjazzcafe
Instagram handle for the homestay: https://www.instagram.com/manoirmathias
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