Eyeballs roll when you opt for his line of work. But a driven and determined Lakshey Bhatia chose to hush the naysayers and chase his dream of creating the ultimate bar experience for all occasions. With his roots in Karnal, this civil engineer shares his journey from a working middle class family to running a club, taking over house parties and how one spicy guava drink changed his life.

I’ve been fascinated with pubs, clubs, the vibe and life around it. Trust me, it was not about partying – it was the experience, the detail in the design, eye-catching bar counters with handpicked spirits and mocktails, the clink of fine cut glasses, the mind-boggling variety of beverages, the magic of mixology. . I would watch the bartender work wonders behind that counter, the lights and music bringing it all together. I knew I wanted to be part of this world. So, I took the risk of giving up a well paying banking job in 2018. My friends and I, the three of us, pooled in our resources and opened our first club, Grapho 07 in Chandigarh, in 2019. Unfortunately, Covid struck, and we suffered a setback during the lockdown. Now, the need to survive drives one to innovate. I parted ways with Grapho 07, and started setting up theme based bars in house parties. It was 2020. Being the first mover in this segment here, work started pouring in, and weddings were next. Today, Sassy Bar customizes premium bar space for more than 130 weddings across India in one season.

How did you translate the idea into the brand that it is today?

For an idea to translate into a brand takes time, patience and consistency. One has to also have the clarity of what they are presenting, and who their target audience is. Now ‘bars’ carry a certain reputation of being only about spirits, hard drinks and masculine energy. They are caught in a cliche. I wanted to reinvent and reintroduce this space, raise the bar per se, turn them into conversation starters. This required intense research, travel across India to check out different set ups and the competition, hiring professional bartenders, training the staff, curating inventory, building a reliable vendor network, educating people on how a bar can be a thematic and personalized space by introducing an element of storytelling through our products. From weddings, birthdays, baby showers, house parties, receptions, anniversaries to corporate events, celebrations, even a chowki, Sassy Bars has conceptualised, customized and delivered experiential spaces by going beyond alcohol. It required thinking out of the box – for instance, we set up a beautiful bar counter with all traditional non alcoholic beverages for a vegetarian client. What sets us apart is the details too – handmade keepsakes, made to order cutlery and crockery, handwritten menus, art on coasters, customized candles, napkins… Sassy Bar today is known for its premium bar catering.

What were the challenges and milestones – how far have you built on this idea?

Festive offer

The first challenge was to leave the safety of a well paying government job. It took me more than a year to find my feet in this business, to convince people how different Sassy Bar was as a concept. Then there are the constant checks and balances one has to keep a hawk eye on – for instance taking stock of the inventory, cost and pilferage control, keeping up with the trends, licensing, insurance. During my struggling years, I’ve loaded bar inventory myself, ferried bartenders and servers and rushed from one venue to another all night. Hotels were a roadblock, so were banquet owners because they already had vendors in place. The black market was another beast to tackle. Being a standalone bar business it was tough getting a foot in the door. Last minute cancellations, non-stop travel, delayed payments are all part of the business. But there are upsides, always. Like, when I pushed a local vendor to create life size acrylic graphic boards for the background. He was hesitant, but today has built a massive business around it. I shall never forget my first client, Saurabh Sachdeva in Karnal who gave me a break. I’ve never let go of repeat clients or referrals. My marriage in 2022 changed my perspective when my wife Kakshma brought in more optimism, structure and creativity to the business. Sassy Bar has been built as an artistically inclined, theme based premium bar services brand, one that is also breaking myths about bars.

Now that you’re a successful entrepreneur, how much do you think your academic background helped?

General education helps better communication and fine liaison. But specifically my degree in civil engineering has carved a new business opportunity for me. It has helped me understand structural design, which further helps me in constructing bars for events. In fact, it’s even earned me several queries about designing bars for homes in recent times. Working in the banking sector made me financially literate and I have been able to bootstrap and fund my venture.

What can Chandigarh do to retain its talent?

Chandigarh as a city has blossomed into a mini metropolis. It has grown phenomenally, and seen a boost in more events, clubs, house parties etc. This offers an opportunity for more employment in the hospitality sector and that’s where we need to focus to retain the talent by offering them more schools of hospitality, training and internship at the five stars and clubs here, increasing their salary to match the cost of living. in the city. Bartending is not a very high paying job. Girls as bartenders and servers often end up being harassed at events. There is a need to bring a cultural and attitudinal change, which is where we step in. Our endeavor has always been to ensure income stability, security, a healthy work environment and opportunities for growth. We ensure girl staff members are treated with dignity, and not subject to undue harassment, and reach home safely after work. Our vision is also to build a school of mixology with the aim to provide the budding talent with a platform to learn and earn.

What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs?

Be patient, be persistent and have faith in yourself and your idea because if you believe in it, people will too. Do not short sell yourself for it compromises quality. Have a quiet confidence about your work. Learn to take the tough decisions, to be open to change and ideas, and a bit of Indian jugaad. Be prepared for crazy working hours, for rejections and disappointments. I still remember how we reached the venue during farmer’s protest and blocked roads, and catering to events in Kasauli, Karnal and Mussoorie in one day! Research about your client and always meet in person for it helps to know who the decision maker among the client’s family is. Always have a Plan B. For instance, in our line of work, bar props usually end up getting damaged. People, when they party, tend to forget the value of things around them. I learned to insure my inventory, invest in godown space, factor in the weather conditions and always have an electrician on call. There are long gestational periods in this line, it’s mostly seasonal work, so one has to constantly network in the right circles throughout the year. Being an entrepreneur means sleepless and stressful days and nights, but it’s immensely rewarding.

One thing you like and dislike about Chandigarh?

Chandigarh is home for people from diverse backgrounds, traditions and cultures thus making it an ideal place for big fat weddings and grand celebrations. Also, its proximity to neighboring states, especially the hills serves as a vantage point for destination weddings. But I feel the clientele is brand specific and stereotypical. It’s a tough place to start a new business house or idea to bloom smoothly.