Startup Grind Presents Valeri Chekheria, CEO of Adjara Group

In a packed auditorium at Tbilisi Conservatoire, 500 young entrepreneurs gathered at Startup Grind Tbilisi to listen to an interview with Valeri Chekheria, CEO of one of the most world-famous Georgian companies, Adjara Group.

Adjara Group is the mastermind behind some of Georgia’s best-known hospitality brands: Stamba, Fabrika, Lolita, Rooms Kazbegi, and Rooms Tbilisi all belong to the brand. Startup Grind organizer Colin Donoghue sat down with Valeri Chekheria to talk about his past, vision, and advice for budding entrepreneurs.

Chekheria grew up in a Tbilisi emerging from the Soviet Union. “I grew up in the 90s when we had this big trouble living,” he tells Colin. “We didn’t have basic needs: no electricity, no gas, no water… it was a very difficult time.”

He went on to study law before working in the Ministry of Finance after the Rose Revolution. Despite being only 24, these were formative years of his life as he worked his way from the position of intern to working alongside the Minister of Economy. “We were a generation who never knew the taste of money from corruption,” says Chekheria. “We might make many mistakes, but we would be the generation who didn’t allow corruption to happen.”

Chekheria was then lucky to be based to New York for six years where he studied a Masters at Colombia University. It was here that he met his future investor and learned the working habits of the wider world.

After securing a job as General Manager of Holiday Inn in Tbilisi, he aimed to implement these work ethics in Georgia: “I remember the first day,” says Chekheria. “I said, daily meeting from 8am from tomorrow. That didn’t last long.” Instead, he turned to focusing on the basics, working alongside housekeepers to ensure that quality was maintained throughout the hotel.

Chekheria began to change the hospitality industry in Georgia by offering a quality service and local experience. This is how the Rooms brand idea was born. The first Rooms hotel opened in Kazbegi, but it wasn’t without its difficulties. “It wasn’t very popular to go into hospitality, especially for the younger generation.”

To interest the local younger generation in hospitality, staff members of the hotel would play sports with the local kids, encouraging them that it was, in fact, cool to become a waitor.

Chekheria stressed the importance of involving the local community in his hotels and being a “good neighbor.” “We buy lots of local products, we contracted local farmers,” says Chekheria. “We benefit from each other: we buy fresh products from the locals and they get new jobs.”

Three years ago, Adjara Group took this one step further by collaborating on projects with Georgian farmers. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, farming became unpopular and many agriculturers left the profession.

Chekheria, realizing the need for local-grown fresh produce in his hotels, contacted the Head of the Farmers Association. Together, they convinced Georgian farmers to begin farming again. Many chefs now work together with the farmers to ensure that the produce is the best quality it can be. In addition, the group has invested in more than 3000 hectares of land in Khaketi where they are growing almonds. Today, over 80% of the food served in Adjara Group restaurants is Georgian.

Other restaurants have begun following their example and are now buying fresh products from farmers, says Chekheria. After all, not only does the food taste better, but it’s a good story to tell to tourists.

The Adjara Group now employs 3000 staff across Georgia and has transformed the Georgian hospitality industry. When asked how he maintains such a strong team, his answer is simple: new ideas and a friendly working environment. “Any employee who comes to work at my company should be happy,” he says. “If they’re not happy and proud to work there, then they will not provide a good service.”

By Amy Jones

Image source: Entrepreneur Georgia

29 April 2019 12:50