Ciju Chandran, a proficient industry leader and Chief Operating Officer (COO) at FiLLi Cafe, brings impressive expertise and a visionary approach. With hands-on experience of over 16 years in Café & QSR operations, Ciju Chandran is applying his strategic vision and ability to align product roadmaps with market demand, leading to the successful launch of several inventive products and contributing to the company’s growth.
Apart from being the COO at FiLLi Cafe, Ciju is the proud winner of the All India Chef Competition, 2005, and is closely associated with some of the top global brands like Starbucks coffee. With the rapid transformation of the Food Industry in recent years and Ciju Chandran playing a crucial role in adapting and uplifting the organization amidst these changes, the COO shares his visionary and people-centric perspective.
Please briefly summarize your career journey, including key milestones and transitions.
I have gained eminent experience of over 16 years in Café & QSR operations with a Hospitality Management Degree from IHM Trivandrum, India. Alongside, I specialized in Industrial Training for Food Production and Food and beverage from Park Hotel, New Delhi, JW Marriott Mumbai, and Leela Kempinski, Mumbai. Apart from that, I have also added the “winner” title of the All India Chef Competition, 2005, to my list and was a part of the pre-opening team of Shangri-la Hotel New Delhi, INDIA.
I am closely associated with big brands like Starbucks coffee, Costa coffee, Danube, and Choithrams, and currently with FiLLi Café in UAE, which is nothing short of a privilege and endless possibilities for me.
Currently, I’m designated at FiLLi café as COO – Chief Operating Officer for UAE and global franchise development. In this role, I have prioritized market expansion, R&D, successful brand extensions, collaborations, and enhancing customer experience.
Furthermore, I have conceptualized and executed market trends and cost reductions and driven product development initiatives. I’m predominantly focused on developing strategic plans to enhance service quality standards and implement strict measures in customer care procedures to optimize guest satisfaction and retention.
My strategic vision and ability to align product roadmaps with market demands resulted in the successful launch of several inventive products, establishing myself as a critical player in the company’s growth. Our vision is to be the global leader in the tea industry by setting standards of excellence.
How do you ensure your company remains adaptable to emerging trends and technologies?
It is paramount to strike a balance between immediate goals and long-term strategies. We must ensure our organizations can effectively tackle challenges and adapt to future market and technological changes. We need to stay updated on industry trends constantly; customer needs, online and offline presence, proper branding and pricing, technological advancements, and consistent and ethical sourcing of raw materials are the other vital factors to be considered.
This can be only achieved by strategic planning, adaptability, innovation, and a result-oriented, passionate team. The recent progress in our food and beverage menu, which showcases a diverse range of global fusion flavors, is visible. This includes options for plant-based alternatives, advancements in packaging, subscription offerings, and hybrid dining experiences. Our top goal is to maintain the high quality and consistency of our offerings while prioritizing reductions in food waste and improving the speed of service.
What are your future goals for your career and company?
I have the utmost passion for restaurants and cafés and am fortunate to have been involved with exceptional and forward-thinking brand owners like Mr Rafih FiLLi. I am committed to Filli Café; however, I aspire to launch my cafe concept or partner in a startup success journey.
We plan to open more than 300 outlets globally in the next 5 years with plans to launch our tea powders in modern retail with more than 450 supermarkets and duty-free options.
More than one billion people enjoy the taste and culture associated with “chai”; it is undoubtedly a drink that can build new relationships and reconnect with old ones. FiLLi is proudly part of this heritage to ensure it continues by uniting cultures one cup at a time!
What valuable lessons have you learned throughout your career?
People with great passion can make impossible things happen! The notion of nobody being indispensable is not one to be embraced. It is incumbent upon us to serve as a significant pillar within our organization, instilling confidence in brand owners through the unfailing display of entrepreneurial ownership in all our endeavors. We should align ourselves with the company’s growth trajectory and actively contribute to its triumphant journey toward success.
I am an absolute believer in being valuable to our company and providing reassurance to brand owners by taking ownership of our work. Let’s contribute positively to the company’s growth and be a part of its success, is what I follow.
Every owner in the world begins with small shops on the streets, and they establish their brand through dedication, perseverance, and sometimes unexpected fortune! And only the stories of triumph are shared with the world, while the struggles are kept under the shade.
How do you differentiate your services from competitors in the current market?
We are a value-driven brand, and over the past few years, we have successfully established a solid brand and visual identity. Our commitment to delivering top-notch and consistent products has allowed us to engage with customers, understand their preferences, and develop innovative new offerings.
We have made significant investments in technology and a hybrid dining experience, which have allowed us to enhance our customer’s experience and strengthen their loyalty, resulting in our business thriving.
How has your company effectively navigated and capitalized on emerging global market trends or shifts in consumer behavior?
We formed many partnerships and collaborations both locally and internationally. We invested in CRM tools to manage customer relationships. We adopted e-commerce and digital platforms to reach more people. We also focused on online marketing and social media to connect with consumers and raise brand awareness.
Additionally, we invested in continuous employee training to stay informed about industry trends and enable them to adapt to changes.
Any advice to anyone looking to enter a new food business?
Many business owners focus too much on investing in physical assets (capex) and overlook the importance of investing in valuable employees. It is crucial to recognize that people are the most valuable assets of a company, as they never depreciate if you take care of them. Make sure to prioritize your growth strategy and avoid letting others control it.
Before opening another store, ensure that the existing store is self-sustaining. Believe in your concept, and do it passionately, and the success is to be specific.
What are the most essential qualities or skills you believe beginners should cultivate to thrive in this industry? We asked Ciju Chandran
Question yourself: Are you passionate enough or motivated about your work, or is it just a job that you do for nine hours a day? Achieving success will feel like an unattainable goal if you’re not genuinely excited about your work.
You must possess passion in everything you do and the ability to inspire and motivate your team. It is crucial always to maintain a positive attitude at work and refrain from resisting change or desiring an easy path, but rather be skilled at persevering no matter the circumstances.
Ensure that you maintain a definite work-personal life balance, as it is equally essential to allocate time for your family and friends and take care of your physical and mental well-being to give the best for your business.
Follow Ciju Chandran on LinkedIn.