Featured case:
Picante Mexican Grill: A New Delhi Experience

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The case

Who – the protagonists

Akshay MittalAkshay Mittal (pictured), Gokul Chandrasekaran and Kshitiz Mittal, co-founders of Picante Mexican Grill. Akshay and Gokul decided to set up a restaurant in India on the completion of their MBA studies in America. Akshay’s brother, Kshitiz, a newly qualified engineer, was also recruited into the core team.


Picante Mexican Grill restaurants offered nutritious Mexican food in a casual space where diners could enter, eat and leave quickly. The restaurant interiors were uncluttered and modern and the food on offer used all fresh ingredients. The authentic recipes were developed by professional food experts and tested by focus groups.


The trio aimed to take advantage of the rise of quick-service restaurants in India –Mexican ingredients the market was growing by up to 30% a year.

In addition, many restaurant customers in India were questioning the fat, sugar and sodium content of the food they were eating, and also wanted information about where it came from. Picante Mexican Grill aimed to focus on healthier lifestyles and value-based decisions.


In January 2012, Akshay, Gokul and Kshitiz opened their first Picante Mexican Grill restaurant and in less than five months they had grown the business from one to three outlets.


The first Picante restaurant was launched in a business tower in Gurgaon, India, in a bustling city street. Other restaurants and food outlets were already located in the tower, but no Mexican food was available.

The location was chosen for its access to customers who had travelled overseas, knew a little about Mexican food, and had disposable income. Shortly after, a second restaurant was opened in a popular shopping mall, and a third in a residential area, both also in Gurgaon.

Key quote

‘We are investing in building an organisation with a core set of values that provides opportunities for employees that they would not get anywhere else.’ – Kshitiz Mittal

What next?

Despite all that the restaurant founders have learned about the food industry while setting up Picante Mexican Grill, the third location in a residential area was causing difficulties. These included how to efficiently organise the central kitchen operation that served all three outlets; how to attract and retain staff who didn’t want to spend money on transport costs to get to work; and which customers should be targeted to maximise profit.

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Picante Mexican Grill: A New Delhi Experience
Ref UVA-OM-1520
Teaching note
Ref UVA-OM-1520TN

The authors

Gerry Yemen and Gal RazGerry Yemen and Gal Raz

Gerry and Gal explain why they and their co-authors focused on the Indian market and the importance of taking a flexible approach when writing cases.

Working with alumni

The case protagonist, Akshay Mittal, is a graduate of our school and launched his business in Delhi. We enjoy working with alumni such as Akshay as they understand case method instruction, tend to be open to discovery, and are willing to provide data that those unfamiliar with cases may be less comfortable sharing.

An Indian experience

India mapOne of the international residencies in our global MBA for executives is in India and we wanted to give students an opportunity to examine and debate business issues in the emerging Indian market. A new service business such as Picante presents many interesting challenges that were a perfect fit for this residency.

Teaching objectives

The case can be used on a core operations course to focus on service operations and queuing or supply chain management. It is also ideal for executive education courses where faculty from different disciplines such as marketing or strategy, can take part in teaching it. Specific learning objectives include:

  • the difference between global and local in a service setting
  • how to align customer preferences and a firm’s performance using attribute mapping
  • the effect of variation in demand and supply
  • how to calculate staffing and carry out cost/benefit analyses
  • the interaction of strategy, marketing, and leadership issues within a service firm’s operations.

Staying flexible and changing direction

Perhaps the most significant case writing advice we would give is that sometimes the case you set out to write is not the case you end up with. We were planning a marketing case, but after interviewing and spending time with the case protagonist, we changed direction to write a more operationally focused case while also touching on some key marketing issues. Good case research and writing demands flexibility while keeping an eye on teaching objectives.

Unexpected outcomes

Effective cases often allow for reasonable assumptions and a mix of alternatives that should be considered and this is an example of exactly that. In the end, all three Picante locations were shut down – which makes the case even more compelling to students because few, if any, recommend this option in class. The decision to close was partly based on the cofounders’ personal views and outside earning potential. Most of our students don’t believe they would have done the same and many suggest trying to get more capital to open more stores.

The authors

Gal Raz, Associate Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business
e razg@darden.virginia.edu

Gerry Yemen, Senior Researcher, Darden School of Business
e yemeng@darden.virginia.edu

Rajkumar Venkatesan, Bank of America Research Associate Professor, Darden School of Business
e venkatesan@darden.virginia.edu
tw @Rajkumarvenk

Elliott Weiss, Oliver Wight Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business
e weisse@darden.virginia.edu
tw @enweiss

Samuel Bodily, John Tyler Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business
e bodilys@darden.virginia.edu


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