“We’ve simplified how Indian food is done and made it easy to order and things like that,” Kapoor says. “For the cocktails, it’s the complete opposite. We’ve got probably 30 or 40 different spices that we stock, syrups that we make, shrubs that we make.”
Mortar & Pestle has its own selection of signature bar snacks, including an Indian take on nachos and elote, but bar patrons can order off the Curry Up Now menu and vice versa. In light of this, it begs the question why Kapoor and his team chose to distinguish the two in the first place. After all, other premium fast casuals have incorporated specialty libations and even bar space into their operating models without going to the trouble of establishing an entirely new brand. Part of it, Kapoor says, is a matter of semantics—what intuitively sounds like a watering hole and what does not—and how it can affect sales.
“I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh, we’re at Curry Up Now; let’s have a cocktail.’ That’s an afterthought,” Kapoor says. “The only way you can do a good cocktail program is if you have a lot of bartenders and talented people, and for that you need volume. Otherwise you’re stuck with boring cocktails.”
Mortar & Pestle has two Bay Area locations within existing Curry Up Now properties, and a third combo store is opening soon. Last year, the company secured several multiunit franchising deals across the country. A few forthcoming locations in Atlanta and San Diego are slated to include Mortar & Pestle. Kapoor estimates that those cobranded units will account for 30 percent of company growth. The possibility of Mortar & Pestle some day having solo locations of its own is not off the table, but for now it’s the duo’s differences that really set the company apart.
“Think about how different the two concepts are, yet they work together very well without confusing people,” Kapoor says. “I’m super proud of it.”
Night owl operators
This idea of the third place has become a holy grail for some limited-service restaurants—just look at Starbucks and its ongoing mission to become the ultimate hangout spot. Not only are customers more likely to make additional purchases when they linger, but they’re also inclined to have a special affinity for any brand fulfilling that need. One unexpected but perhaps winning approach involves rethinking when people use the third place.
“We want to be that place in the community where people come and hang out,” says Paul Tuennerman, CEO of New Orleans–based hot-dog chain Dat Dog. “Every location really takes on a personality based on the community in which it resides. The restaurant that stays open the latest, sometimes as late as 7 a.m. the next day, is our location on Frenchmen Street. Our philosophy is that there are people out and about and looking for a place to eat and drink. We want to be open.”
Of course, the Big Easy is renowned for its night scene, but Dat Dog’s night-owl hours extend beyond the French Quarter. The Lafayette and College Station, Texas, stores keep the doors open until 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., respectively, on weekends.
In New Orleans, the Freret Street location welcomes a mix of starter families and college students; the former usually arrive earlier in the day and even hold children’s birthday parties on-site during weekends, while the latter are more likely to visit later. Although the official hours of operation only go as late as 10 p.m., Tuennerman says that particular store can stay open as late as 1 a.m. depending on the occasion and general goings-on.