Suresh Kilam, CEO of Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Ltd, the fifth-largest paper company in the world, carried fond memories of Srinagar's Dal when he left the country in 1981.
Naav Narain, the great-grandfather of the 50-year-old Indonesian passport holder, was responsible for setting up the first commercial houseboat business in 1864.
But as the Indonesian economy rocked after President Suharto's downfall in 1998, coupled with terrorism, political instability and the rupiah's fall by 75 per cent in six years, Kilam, who also holds a stake in the Indonesian paper company, decided to channel investments to India.
When he set up his Indian company, Akasia Magnum Hospitality Ltd, to enter into the domestic hospitality and retail business early this year, he wanted to retain something of his beloved houseboats while pampering India's new luxury-seeking high spenders.
So, he betted a hefty $2.5 million (Rs 11.4 crore) in his first restaurant venture -- Odyssey -- a two-floor restaurant modelled after an interior of a cruise liner. The restaurant at Gurgaon's Sahara Mall, will open with a magnum of champagne in the best sea tradition on December 20 in time to meet the Christmas and New Year's rush.
One of the largest investment in a standalone restaurant so far, the place will have an exclusive membership-driven night club (Upper Deck), a bar (Rumline) and a 230-seater fine dining restaurant that will serve Iranian, Chinese, Thai and Continental cuisines.
With his first project, Kilam, who spends half the year in Jakarta, hopes will create waves among the denizens of corporate Gurgaon and high spending individuals of Delhi. "My dream was to do something in a big scale in India. If this project is successful, we certainly want to do similar projects in future," he says.
And Kilam is not leaving any stones unturned -- from redesigning the roof of the mall to make it look like a hull of the ship to crystal and furniture shopping to hunting for ship parts in the dockyard of Bandung to deck up his restaurant. Even the toothpicks, he claims, have been imported from Bali.
What's more Kilam has also flown in chefs from Iran, Thailand and has hired food consultant Manu Mohindra. Two marketing managers have also been appointed to look into corporate sales. And in the 17,000 sq ft, you have everything to resemble a sea-faring ship -- from a short promenade, rippling water pools, and of course, the sea of Gurgaon's rising skyscrapers for view.
In addition, the company has also tied up with cruise liner Star Princess, where two lucky diners from Delhi will get to attend a party aboard cruise liner Star Princess when it docks in Mumbai port for the first time in March next year.
"Since Delhi is a landlocked area and no restaurant has a theme based on ship, we've entered into a partnership with Odyssey to fly out two lucky winners for a real experience of what it's all about," says Nishith Saxena, India country head, Princess Cruises.
Kilam, a chemical engineer with a specialisation in coated paper, started his career with Ballarpur Industries in 1976 and had visited Indonesia on deputation to assist the Indian company's joint venture partner Saraswati Bhakti Coated Paper in paper management. There he met a businessman TG Wijaya, who was looking at opportunities to enter into the paper business.
Kilam was hired as manager in 1982 at Asia Pulp & Paper, who would for the next two decades play an instrumental role in major acquisitions for the company that currently produces six million tonnes of paper a year and invests a total of $13 billion in operations in China and Indonesia annually.
Kilam is also investing another Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) in a furniture mall, Chintak, to be set up by next September. The store will stock rattan, sea-grass and mahogany furniture imported from Indonesia. Similar stores will be set up in Kolkata, Chennai and Jaipur.But it's homecoming and newer projects that he looks forward to. "I want to give my best shot here," he says.