Lasting legacies

June 7, 2021

Giving back is an inherent part of human nature, and nowhere is it perhaps more discernible than at Newcastle-based property, leisure and care sector operator Malhotra Group. As founder and chairman Meenu Malhotra embarks on a £150 million accommodation, entertainment and sports development in the Punjab city of Ludhiana, where he spent his early years before moving to Newcastle, son and heir apparent Atul is working on landmark North East projects that will leave his own legacies. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to Atul to learn more about the family business’ cross- continent endeavours and why he will always be indebted to his father.

Cricket stirs great passion across India. For millions, the sport is a second religion that incites excitement and rejoice in equal measure.

The northerly state of Punjab plays no small part in the fervour, with venerated spinners Bishan Singh Bedi and Harbhajan Singh, and batsman Yuvraj Singh – who once hit six sixes in an over against England – notable hometown performers across the decades.

Now, another proud son of Punjab is readying himself for his own self- confessed big innings between the two nations.

This time, though, the action won’t take place on a field but a construction site – specifically a 15-acre expanse once used as family farmland in the city of Ludhiana.

Meenu Malhotra, who grew up in the industrial hub before moving to Newcastle as an 18-year-old in the late 1970s, is giving back to the place that shaped his formative years.

And how.

As 2020 gave way to 2021, Meenu, who is founder and chairman of property leisure and care sector operator Malhotra Group, unveiled a £150 million blueprint to create a huge 2000-job complex on the outskirts of Ludhiana.

His plans include 11 towers, which will house 1100 two and three-bedroom apartments, a 550,000sq ft shopping mall replete with national and international retailers and restaurants, a hotel and a multiplex cinema.

They also comprise a sprawling sports campus that complements a swimming pool and badminton and tennis courts with walking tracks and snooker and table tennis rooms.

Work could begin later this year.

Alongside its many economic and social advantages, the project, says Meenu’s son Atul, will be a fitting legacy for his 60-year-old father, whose love for Ludhiana has never dimmed.

“Newcastle is my father’s adopted home; he has been here 40 years and it has given him so much,” says Atul, who is operations director at Malhotra Group.

“But he is a passionate Indian and a patriotic Punjabi, and Ludhiana will always be his home.

“He refers to this project as his one last big innings; it is all about leaving a legacy.”

Atul continues: “He bought the land about 25 years ago.

“I used to laugh because although it was a mammoth space, it was basically farmland – I remember my grandma going every morning to pick fresh fruit and vegetables.

“But he said to me, ‘son, one day this plot of land will come good’, and he was right.

“Over the last 15 to 20 years, there has been a massive economic boom in India and the part of Ludhiana where the scheme is planned is prime ready for development.”

With Meenu – who began working in the North East in a newsagents’ shop – personally overseeing the Indian scheme, Atul is preparing to take on further responsibility for Malhotra Group’s continued local and national growth.

It represents, he says, the beginning of a slow transition of the company, which will see the Northumbria University business studies graduate take a firmer hold of the reins.

It will also give Atul an opportunity to create his own legacies, a prospect he says is exciting, having honed his skills since joining the family firm full-time as a 22-year-old, following years of weekend and holiday work.

“I don’t think my father will ever really retire,” says Atul, “but he is slowly insulating me to take the company forward.

“He wasn’t tough with me when I was growing up, but he wanted me to learn every facet of the business.

“He would say, ‘when you’re sitting in the big seat, it is important to have experienced all the different departments’.

“One of my first jobs was at one of Newcastle’s very first privately-owned student accommodation developments,” reveals Atul, who remembers, as a youngster, the family’s clothing shops in Wallsend, Byker and Hexham, and making rent collections at homes his father owned in Wallsend, Walker and Benwell.

He continues: “We turned the old Parrish’s department store into living space on Shields Road and I worked 12 hour shifts on security looking after 200 students, the building and staff.

“I also pulled pints in the Duke of Northumberland, which was the first pub we bought.

“We took it on because it was a lovely building, but not long after, Heineken asked if we wanted the pub downstairs – my first thought was, ‘I haven’t a clue how to run one!’

“It was scary to begin with, but my father came up with a very successful plan and it gave me great experience of dealing with customers while looking after a busy site, its staff, cash, beer and things like wastage and gross profit too.

“It was a very busy pub, particularly on matchdays, doing more than 2000 barrels a year, and it remains one of our most profitable sites,” adds Atul, who will celebrate his 40th birthday this summer.

He gained similarly valuable knowledge when Malhotra Group embarked on a gaming centre venture in the south of the region at the start of the new millennium.

The hours were extensive, but he says they have long since proved their worth.

“Every day I travelled down to Stockton to set up the arcade,” recalls Atul.

“It was tough getting up at 6am and getting to bed at close to midnight, and it took me about a year to get the business settled and processes in place.

“But it was time well spent – there was a lot of cash in arcade gaming centres 20 years ago, so it was a good learning curve in terms of processes.”

From there, Atul says the business “snowballed”, which led him on a path to his current role of operations director, which has a specific focus on Malhotra Group’s successful leisure arm and includes a raft of well-known hotels, restaurants and bars.

With its portfolio featuring the revival of Newcastle’s oldest banqueting hall in The Market Lane pub – which was once used to entertain the landed gentry – and the multi-million-pound restoration of Cloth Market-based live music hall Balmbra’s – which forms part of the famous Geordie song Blaydon Races – Atul has the ingredients to begin creating his own legacies.

He says: “We are very good at identifying properties and bringing them back to their glory days.

“I have to admit that I initially didn’t fully realise what Balmbra’s means to the city; we bought it ten years ago and I knew it was mentioned in the Blaydon Races, but it was only when we announced our proposals that I saw the passion people have for it.

“I put a photograph of our plans for the building on my Twitter feed, and it gained more than 150,000 impressions and 1000 likes,” continues Atul, who spent a year with an Atlanta hospitality company in the USA before joining the family firm on a full-time basis.

“It’s Newcastle’s oldest live music hall, so we’re going down that route,” he continues.

“It has a 500-person capacity, and any future COVID-19 restrictions notwithstanding, I want it to be known – bar the Utilita Arena – as one of the largest music spots in the city.

“I want to have live bands, get local artistes and pianists to play, offer karaoke and maybe even get artistes to do private gigs.

“The opportunities are endless.”

However, the business’ leisure division extends further still, with its new, multi-million-pound headquarters on Newcastle’s Grey Street – known as Malhotra House – complemented by ownership of several buildings on the boulevard that includes Leila Lily’s bar and restaurant and the four-star boutique Grey Street Hotel.

Furthermore, plans are in place to deliver what bosses call the ‘Dorchester of the North’, a £30 million luxury hotel and leisure development, complete with rooftop swimming pool, terraces, bars and restaurants, that will straddle Grey Street and Mosely Street.

Elsewhere, in Gosforth, the company – which recently welcomed KPMG’s former Newcastle senior partner David Elliott as chief financial officer – oversees the Three Mile hotel, bar and restaurant, having spent £10 million to renovate the venue.

“We are working with a lot of history and with that comes responsibility,” says Atul, who reveals brother and London sports agency founder Varun – who once worked for musician Jay-Z’s Roc Nation entertainment company – is set to join the family business to support its hospitality sector progress.

“We are honoured and humbled to own a large part of Grey Street but with that comes a responsibility to the city to ensure we do it justice.

“It is the best street in the North East and has been voted as one of the best in the country, and we are working with the council and Heritage England to return it to its glory days.

“But we have a large UK portfolio of property and we’re sitting on more than £100 million worth of developments in leisure, hospitality and care.”

And Atul says the business – which recently named Kathryn Nicholson as its new financial director – is enjoying real success in its care division.

Operating under the Prestwick Care banner, the endeavour is headed by his uncle Bunty, who is on the board of the Care North East member organisation, which includes independent care home providers and local care home associations.

Having recently opened Beech Tree House, a £12 million, 100-job, 86-bed home in Alnwick, Atul says the care side of the company, which employs 800 of Malhotra Group’s 1200-strong workforce, has further plans in the pipeline.

He says: “We will complete on Bede House, a 66-bed Ryhope-based home, this summer, and are working on a £10 million project at the old Rex Hotel, in Whitley Bay, which will create a 90-bed care home with stunning views.

“We have 800 beds across the business, but this will exceed 1000 beds in the next few years.

“There are a lot of exciting projects coming up across the board.”

And, with such strong foundations in place, Atul, who is married to Natalie and father to Leila and Eva, says he is relishing the prospect of leaving his own legacies for the next generation, just like his father.

He adds: “We’re are in this great place, which is in no small part down to my father.

“He was brave, he took calculated risks and look how they have paid off.

“He’s gone on an amazing journey and I’m extremely proud of him.

“It’s now up to me and my siblings to take the group forward for many more years to come.”

Malhotra Group

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