She was told by her grandfather to always stand for something or else one runs the risk of falling for and failing at everything—and that has been the guiding light for Samyukta Nair. Her entrepreneurial spirit has been brewing inside her from a very young age, and in no way has she taken any shortcuts to her pinnacles of success and fame. She says, “I’ve learnt to have unwavering faith in myself, read as much as I can, and listen to everything said to me, but at the end of it, come to my own decisions. The most important realisation has been I have to be accountable, successful or not, failing is always an option. Albeit tough, finding the courage to begin is the most important. We are surrounded by a world that will tell us how tough the odds are, but in that moment, all one must learn to do is to look inward, believe and make a beginning, because that is a force very few can contend with.” And so she began, her journey on an entrepreneurial rollercoaster that has had its twists and turns, peaks and slopes.
Her legacy may be a sparkling one, but Samyukta always finds her own spotlight to shine. The one she casts upon herself. Her family founded The Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts, but she knew from an early age that it wasn’t mandatory for her to follow suit. After she pursued an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Psychology, and a Masters in International Business from the UK, she returned home bright-eyed and raring to go. She started as an apprentice to her mother, Madhu, who at the time was Director of Design and Operations for The Leela. Working on the pre-opening of The Leela Palace Udaipur and The Leela Palace Chennai was something she thoroughly enjoyed, and it even paved her path to attending Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne for an Executive MBA in Hospitality Management.
While Samyukta had an almost natural affinity for the world of hospitality, her inner desire to do something on her own when she returned from Switzerland took precedence and propelled her to create great, fearlessly diverse things. She came back and noticed a distinct lack of sleepwear for Indian women that was aesthetically pleasing and that emphasised comfort. This is what led her to start Dandelion at the end of 2014. Her father’s prior experience in garment export made his expertise remarkably helpful to Samyukta in making this springboard possible, “Dandelion was born on a prayer and with a bit of sweat and polish,” she says.
In 2016 an opportunity presented itself for the father-daughter duo to work together, over an investment in London which resulted in the opening of Jamavar London. “Given that he [my dad] was so instrumental in creating Jamavar as a concept at The Leela in 2000, we wanted to create a stand-alone experience for the brand beyond the confines of the hotels or the country. And with Indian food being so widely accepted in the UK, Mount Street in Mayfair proved to be the ideal location. Complementing us further, the market was ready for something new but also rooted in tradition. Shortly after Jamavar, we opened Bombay Bustle, our second restaurant on Maddox Street, which offers a more home-style regional approach to Indian cuisine,” explains Samyukta. Finally, her inherent enjoyment towards fashion and design, fuelled by her childhood influences, seeded within her a dream to create an intimate retail experience. It was between the time of the opening of Jamavar and Bombay Bustle in London, that she stumbled upon the perfect site in Colaba, Mumbai that lent itself to this dream, and that was the beginning of her next venture, Clove. She emphasises, “All my ventures are facets of my personality and seem to have serendipitously found me, for which I am incredibly grateful.” And we couldn’t agree more.
All of Samyukta’s enterprises have planted within them the seeds of hope, success, creativity, passion, perseverance, uniqueness and soul, with the intention of sprouting inspiration each time anyone enters either of her establishments—all of which are a testament of the hard work Samyukta put into them. For instance, Jamavar London takes a holistic approach to Indian cuisine. Its kitchen, led by Executive Chef Surender Mohan, brings to life dishes that showcase various flavours of the Royal Kitchens of the North along with succulent options from the rivers and shores of the South. It reflects the essence of its Indian siblings, but at the same time the concept is evolved and adapted to suit the sophisticated palate of London diners. Sharing small plates is an exclusive addition to Jamavar London along with signature classics such as Jamavar Dal, Old Delhi Butter Chicken and Lobster Neeruli. “Many dishes on the menu are those that I grew up eating and have been personally taught to Surender by my grandmother, Leela, an ace gourmand,” explains Samyukta. Furthermore, the art of design is beautifully showcased in this space, located on Mount Street, Mayfair. It is set across two floors and designed by Fabled Studio. Taking inspiration from the Viceroy’s house in New Delhi, the restaurant features accents that draw on the ancient games of India with Chaturanga dining tables combined with the vibrant colours of Jamavar shawls, rainforest emperor marbles, dark timber panelling, as well as a mirror embellished bar in celebration of the Indian textile techniques. The restaurant also features a private dining room with beautiful views of a homegrown botanical garden.
Clove is another exemplary example of Samyukta’s passions coming to form. Imagined as a home, Clove connects Samyukta’s upbringing in hospitality to her two loves: design and India. The store is nestled in the Art Deco quarter of Colaba and the space itself with its minimal aesthetic, arched doorways and oversized windows function as a transporting junction that lends perspective to everyday luxury. Each room is structured around a large, painted wall display unit which is quirkily offset by a floating free-form brass lamp above, adding the only three-dimensional element to the composition. The edit showcases Samyukta’s favourites across fashion, design and craft from India. In being whimsical yet purposeful, Clove houses a homegrown selection that is aimed at appealing to a diverse set: the local, the gifter, the traveller and the collector. “Over the last two years, we’ve been incredibly blessed to collaborate with some of the best in the country and abroad to bring forth a distinctive yet accessible edit that focusses on the craftsmanship, quality and innovation of India at work,” says Samyukta. Ask her her favourite space within Clove and she quickly retorts, “the Dandelion alcove is my favourite part of the store. It epitomises the coming together of both my worlds and is a constant reminder to me that mere ideas can turn into realities.”
Her primary inspiration to all her achievements has been her family. She gushes, “Being an only child, I owe a lot to my parents. My mother, though an incredibly tough boss, taught me everything I know about the arts, design, attention to detail and what being a thorough professional entails. I like to think of my father as my biggest critic and my most ardent supporter. His presence is a source of great reassurance, and I am constantly learning from him. Lastly my grandfather, Captain Nair, had an integral part to play in who I am today. I am so inspired by him for his vision and his daringness, a man who always landed on his feet, and was a paragon of generosity and good humour.” She continues to elaborate how incredibly lucky she is to have a family that supported her desire of forging a path of her own, even though they had laid a pretty solid golden brick road. But she admits, “It isn’t always easy, and there are days when the going gets tough. When that happens I always think back to why I started. I am encouraged by the power of my dreams, because when I reflect even in my wildest moments, I wouldn’t have thought it would all come together so beautifully. Most importantly, I realise that this is only the beginning and I am only just getting started!.”
Finally, she lets us in on what she’s looking forward to in the new decade: “I am in the midst of tabling a new project in London, expanding the Dandelion brand across product categories and working on fun collaborations at Clove. Most of all, I am incredibly excited for the new decade and all that it is going to bring with it, because there’s nothing more I love than the magic of new beginnings.”
Here’s to your new beginnings Samyukta! All the very best!
Samyukta’s top 5 dishes from Jamavar, London, and the things you should indulge in on your next visit!