Ravi Singh dreamed of being a surgeon when he was a child, but, by the time he left school, he had shifted his focus towards education.
In 2000, Singh began a Bachelor of Education degree at Western Sydney University, and he might well have been a teacher today had it not been for the part-time job at Hungry Jack’s he took to support him during his studies.
Unlike most 18-year-olds, he wasn’t content to just flip burgers, deep-fry chips and wait for his shift to end. Instead, he applied himself so devotedly that he was made a team leader on the late-night shift, supporting the growth of the company.
“We started the business with an idea and all best intentions to make it work, and as we’ve grown, we’ve adapted to what the Australian consumer wants.”
Soon he was promoted to become a fully-fledged business manager and found himself applying the teaching techniques he was learning in his classes to his 80 employees.
By his 21st birthday, he was charged with expanding Hungry Jack’s across NSW, as well as devising national leadership training programs and strengthening the companies vision; responsibilities that would see him excel his career to executive roles within the Competitive Foods Australia (CFAL) Group, the company behind the Hungry Jacks brand. At the same time, he continued his academic studies in business.
After being headhunted to become director of strategy for a Dubai-based home fashion company, training at Harvard Business School, publishing a book on entrepreneurship and working internationally with his own brand, Bluefin Consultancy, in 2015 he joined forces with a man he’d trained as a Hungry Jack’s franchisee years earlier. In September 2018, they launched a new brand together.
Eight years on and Kickin’Inn already has 15 outlets, and a reputation for delicious Cajun seafood and a warm welcome. This year, the business has plans to open another five restaurants, including one in South Australia.
“We started the business with an idea and all best intentions to make it work, and as we’ve grown, we’ve adapted to what the Australian consumer wants,” Singh says. “Hence, why we we’ve got such a wide variety of followers on social media – we’re unique, we provide the customers what they want, it’s something genuinely different.”
But it’s not just the rock oysters, Kickin’ Shrimp Martinis and mud crabs (or ‘krabs’ as they’re styled on the menu) that have driven the success. Singh is still the same teacher at heart and he knows that training his 400 staff members has been key.
“I live and die by people,” he declares. “People, to me, are the most important resource. A person with the right heart and the right attitude is all I need. I don’t need skills.”
For Singh, he isn’t the one who has created the brand, it’s the waiters, cooks, suppliers, office staff and delivery drivers.
“People, to me, are the most important resource. A person with the right heart and the right attitude is all I need. I don’t need skills.”
“It’s not me! I haven’t done anything. I’ve just guided them in terms of what the expectations are and what the vision is. They are the ones that work day in, day out. And they’re the ones who promote our business. I want to keep it that way.”
And part of ensuring he does keep it that way is a very rigorous interview process to find out which of three categories that Singh has identified they fit into.
“The first one is just looking for a job, any job. The second wants a good job, a good career with great remuneration. And the third isn’t so much concerned about money, but wants to build a career and work for an organization where they can learn and grow,” he says.
“While there’s nothing wrong with the three categories, it’s just that we need the right people with the right heart,” he says, adding that his way of directing and coaching a brand is all about people.
“I can tell you now, my 400 staff members fall into category number three. As I’m speaking to you now, 92 percent of my employees have been promoted from within. So, all the people running the business used to be either cooks or waiters.”
One of Singh’s insights as he prepared to launch the business was that standards of service in Australia were what he describes as laissez-faire, and well below what customers were expecting.
So that presented an opportunity. Along with the food itself.
“Seafood was generally served on ice. And I said to myself and my business partner Sami ‘No, seafood can be served a lot better than it is now, so why don’t we introduce Cajun sauce into the mix?’ That’s how the idea formed and where the golden opportunity lay.”
“As I’m speaking to you now, 92 percent of my employees have been promoted from within.”
Except that it wasn’t very golden at first. When their first restaurant opened in Petersham, New South Wales, customers were decidedly thin on the ground.
“We were rejected because Cajun was unknown and we were asking customers to eat seafood with their hands. So they said, ‘No. That’s unsociable, unethical; you shouldn’t force us to do that’.”
But the primary reason of rejection was because they had challenged the norm. “Eating with hands is not normal in a restaurant setting,” he says.
“So we challenged them and, all of a sudden, they just grabbed hold of the trend. And everybody wanted to use hands to eat food!” he continues. “It was an education process that saw a change in behavior. And it was fun – rather than being about table etiquette, we want people to just be themselves and enjoy Australian seafood cooked by the best.”
Today, Kickin’Inn is the largest and fastest growing company in Australia. Singh’s vision is to open 100 restaurants in the country by 2030, to make it the largest seafood restaurant chain in the world.