What motivated P’Nut Street Noodles’ founder to further invest in virtual brands

Hear Ankur Sehgal speak at the QSR Media Conference & Awards.

P’Nut Street Noodles’ founder Ankur Sehgal joins the QSR Media Conference & Awards — happening in less than a week — as part of the event's first-ever panel on virtual brands, joining Jarrod Appleby (Chief Growth Officer, Minor DKL Food Group), Grant Lee (CEO, Concept Eight) and Charlie Hachem (Co-Founder, Piccolo Me).

In this brief Q&A, Sekgal revealed further plans to grow their new portfolio of virtual concepts, part of a plan to further utilise their existing brick-and-mortar network. Register here to join the event.

QSR Media: What’s your assessment of how the QSR/fast casual restaurant industry handled the challenges dealt by COVID-19?
Sehgal: The QSR industry has handled the challenges quite well. However, it has clearly separated the brands/ chains from individual restaurants. Those who invested or were able to invest into marketing, technology and systems have reaped huge rewards. For others, COVID has simply brought forward the changes that were already happening in our industry due to disruption by 3rd party aggregators.

Our industry is at a pivotal turning point and COVID and these further lockdowns will be a reminder to all those who have not innovated to keep up.  Everyone knows that the restaurant of 2019 is not coming back so we all must innovate or sadly disappear.

From your perspective, what are some key lessons/insights/trends that brands have learned/further understood/need to know as we approach a post-pandemic industry?

As mentioned, Innovation. Innovation and [a] flexible mindset will be key as we navigate a paradigm shift where we see customers' living rooms are taking over from the classical restaurant dining room and how we as a business can deliver on this successfully in a profitable way.

I am sure most of my colleagues would agree that one should never let a crisis go to waste. We, for sure, used it. First of all, we looked into the future and realized that we need better talent to innovate and become the dominant fast casual Asian chain.

Right now, everyone is complaining that there are no staff. However, we were hiring in April 2020 and I can tell you that there was never a better time to get top-class talent. We invested in lots of different technical platforms, such as our own delivery, for better margins and owing our customer data, and built out our own CRM to ensure a single view of customers that is customized to their tastes, behaviours etc. 

We looked into dark kitchens but realized that creating cloud brands is much more profitable as opposed to investing in further real estate when we can further sweat our existing restaurant locations (i.e. staff and equipment) and hence have launched one cloud brand with more to come over the next couple of months.

Finally, we invested back in our team with more incentive programs, training and support.  We even launched our Covid Relief Grant Program for team members doing it tough and wanting to support their family at home- our extended family. 

What are you excited to do at this year's virtual QSR Media Conference & Awards?

Honestly, I am a bit sad that it is now virtual as I was really looking forward to a real life conference, saying so, I am looking forward to seeing what other innovations have been happening across the industry.

(Editor’s Note: The Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.)

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