NEVER SAY NEVER, EVER
Hotelier India|May 2021
Perseverance, determination and a refusal to back down from challenges helped Chander Baljee, CMD of royal Orchid Hotels build a network of 60 operational properties, within two decades
VINITA BHATIA

Chander Baljee is a strong believer in serendipity; a well-founded belief if one examines his life’s journey. His family runs the popular Baljee’s restaurant in Shimla since 1953, and a visit to the hill station is incomplete without dropping in to enjoy some piping hot sweetmeats.

Chander joined the business in 1972 to help his father and brother open an upmarket restaurant, ‘Fascination’ on the premises. Soon, it became the go-to destination for the city’s young crowd and tourists.

A chance conversation with a regular customer, who was then the Deputy Director at Mysuru’s Tourism Department, proved to be a life-changer. “This gentleman would visit our restaurant for tea and urged me to visit the southern state for business. I simply agreed,” Chander reminisced.

Most would dismiss this as just another polite chat with a client. However, when the Deputy Director wrote to Chander about the expiry of Hotel Metropole and Vrindavan Garden Hotels lease and that the state government was re-opening bids for both properties, the latter decided to pursue this opportunity. Despite the palpable opposition from his family, he travelled from Himachal Pradesh to Mysuru to submit tenders for the hotels.

“When we did not get these projects, my host suggested I consider leasing ‘Hotel Stay Longer’. After some negotiation, we got the property and I have been in Bengaluru ever since,” Chander laughingly said.

Incidentally, Hotel Stay Longer, rebranded later as Hotel Harsha, is still part of Royal Orchid Hotels (ROH) portfolio. Even more interestingly, Hotels Metropole and Vrindavan Garden are also part of the company’s network.

“After a period of almost 30 years, the lease tenders for both hotels reopened. I was determined on getting it after missing the first time around. Both these properties have been part of our portfolio for the past 16 years,” Chander proudly stated, proving once again that destiny did play a key role in his life as an hotelier.

BUILDING A BUSINESS, BRICK BY BRICK

When he came to Bengaluru, Chander had just INR 5 lakh as capital. Of this, he used INR 3 lakh as deposit for the Hotel Stay Longer, and spent another INR 1.30 lakh on refurbishing and upgrading the furnishing and cutlery.

“I had around INR 65,000 to spare when I started the hotel and the monthly rent was INR 25,000. Letters of Credit (LC) from banks were non-existent, it was tough to get utilities like gas cylinders and business was not great either,” Chander recalled, while talking about the challenges he faced back then.

However, he refused to throw in the towel, exit the hospitality business and move back to Shimla. It is his fervent conviction that tough situations toughen up tough people. Neither did he give up on his ambition to expand the business; despite lack of capital to build or buy another hotel being a constant constraint.

Once again, fate dealt him a favourable hand. “The Karnataka Government issued a tender for a land parcel on Bengaluru’s old Airport Road next to the Golf Course. I bid the highest price and won. People told me that I was crazy to invest on the place located on the city’s outskirts and that putting up a hotel there was reckless. However, I did not have the money to invest in a city-based hotel,” Chander stated.

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