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Flavours Of Awadh

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Shiraz Golden Restaurant, one of the most famous eating joints in Kolkata for Awadhi food, claims that almost 70 percent of the people in the city have tasted their food and the group has 100 percent brand recall amongst its customers. The brand recently added another feather to its cap by stepping into Dubai and for the first time, international hotel chain Tulip Inn is foraying into East India in association with the Shiraz Group.
North Indian cuisine is undoubtedly the most relished cuisine in the country, which has made its presence felt in a big way at the international level too. Awadhi cuisine is amongst the various categories of the North Indian delicacies. Although majority of the Awadhi dishes are inspired by Mughlai cuisine, they all have their own distinct taste, flavour, aroma and ingredients. Shiraz Golden Restaurant is one such place that strictly and solely concentrates on Awadhi delicacies, which by far are the most sophisticated of all other North Indian cuisines given that this food belongs to the land of Nawabs.

Inception of Shiraz Golden Restaurant
What became popular as ‘Shiraz Golden Restaurant’ was merely an unassuming joint at the Park Street-Mullickbazaar Crossing, Kolkata. The year was 1941 and it was sheer love for Awadhi food that inspired Late Arshad Ali to set up the eatery. It wasn’t a readymade brand from another city, and it didn’t have big-name investors or a big-statement décor; blame it on the era when it came up. But, what it had simply outscored was every possible parameter for success — the humble endeavour of the founder, though with its share of flaws.

The restaurant was rechristened in 1956 as the ‘Golden Restaurant.’ By that time, the eatery had already started exploring the possibility of expanding the food business. The most recent avatar ‘Shiraz Golden Restaurant’ formally came into being in 1970 as a partnership business between Ali and Shamsul Haque Zaved. Another legacy that Shiraz has been carrying forward is certainly their breakfast offering for the Pathans of Kolkata.

Over the years, Shiraz Golden Restaurant has evolved tremendously and its popularity has crossed boundaries. For more than five decades, the intersection of Park Street and Mullickbazaar remained the only meeting and eating point. In 1995, it started proliferating with its first franchisee located at Jadavpur, following which eight outlets have come up and the brand has also opened an outlet in Durgapur, West Bengal.

The reason Shiraz has opened only eight outlets in the city over a period of almost six decades is because they want to maintain quality. Moreover they believe that a limited number of stores gives them a fair share of exclusivity. According to them, they were the first ones to introduce Awadhi and Mughlai cuisine in Kolkata and the rest simply followed them.

Initial Hiccups and Consequent Remedies
Initially, Shiraz Golden faced a few challenges such as establishing a brand, controlling the attrition rate and keeping unhealthy competitors at bay. According to Ishtiaque Ahemed, Owner, Shiraz Hotels: “In the beginning, we had to deal with competitors who were tempting our employees into joining them, copying our layout and replicating our recipes. But, Shiraz has stood the test of time and emerged as a winner. With time, we have developed a strategic solution; we offered more salaries, better perks and also expanded the number of our outlets.”

Shiraz claims that the biryani they serve is the most famous and has somehow still managed to keep its charm alive. “The best-selling product would undoubtedly be our biryani, which is an institution in itself. The lightly spiced biryani and its consistent quality that we have maintained over the years are the factors that have made Shiraz such a big name in Kolkata,” claims Ahemed.

Of late, Shiraz has also expanded its range of vegetarian delicacies to further appeal to the customers who prefer vegetarian food cooked in Awadhi style. They have included popular dishes such as paneer shashlik, vegetable pulao, dal makhani and paneer butter masala. Keeping in mind the inclination of Kolkatans towards fish, the brand has also included dishes such as ‘pomfret tandoori’ in its menu.

To maintain the quality of food across all its outlets, Shiraz has maintained a central kitchen, which serves all the outlets. The central kitchen has a staff of 15 members and standard industrial equipment is used in the kitchen. It is located off Park Street, and since the main outlet is nearby, it is convenient to transport the food and other goods back and forth without spending too much time.

According to Ahemed, few of the operational challenges that they are currently facing include day to day competitors and retaining manpower in the times of financial crisis. “Price hikes in labour, food items, and transport do hamper growth,” he adds.

Spreading Awadhi Cuisine’s Aroma
Shiraz Golden Restaurant works on the sheer dint of serving authentic Awadhi cuisine to the natives of Kolkata, and now they are ready to take their real taste and flavour to other parts of the country. “The market has slowly developed. From regular Mughlai, people have started liking authentic Awadhi cuisine. Awadhi food in Kolkata is nothing compared to other states and we strive to take the flavour to all parts of India,” informs Ahemed. The company is bullish on their pan-India expansion after which they plan to expand at an international level. Recently, Shiraz Golden Restaurant opened up in Dubai, but the company is not in a rapid expansion mode there and is waiting for the right opportunity to come their way.

According to Ahemed, the food lovers in Kolkata have always been loyal supporters of their restaurants. Stating the fact, he says: “From the beginning, Awadhi cuisine has hit the palates of people in the East. The light fluffy biryani and the royal chaap have been received extremely well. No other restaurant can claim a 100 percent brand recall and research reveals more than 70 percent Kolkatans have tasted the food of Shiraz. Chef Shammuddin, a direct descendant of Wajid Ali Shah’s royal kitchen, was the first to introduce authentic Awadhi cuisine in Kolkata and introduced ‘Shiraz ka Biryani’. A few well-known names who have visited us include , Faroque Sheikh, , Asrani, MF Hussain, and .”

Ahemed is also ready to take the franchising route for expansion. “We are looking for franchisee stores all across India and we have targeted franchisee operations in Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Guwahati and Siliguri,” he reveals.

The average investment that goes in each outlet of Shiraz is almost ` 9-10 lakh, excluding the interior, kitchen equipments, hoardings, etc.

Moving Ahead
Moving ahead, Shiraz will always keep in mind two things before expanding in any city. They will ideally look at the customer compatibility and the cuisine acceptability. While the group does not plan to make any drastic changes in the menu when they enter other cities, they might hike the price depending on the cost of logistics. Thus, price variation can occur there depending on city to city.

Talking about the ideal location for his restaurants, Ahemed states: “We would prefer residential-cum-business areas. It’s difficult for us to set shop in malls since rents are higher, which will force us to increase the price of the items, and we don’t want our customers to face such problems.”

Speaking about the business margins in the business, he says: “The margins of profit are not that high; however, centrally operated outlets are profitable including having a central kitchen.”
According to Ahemed, competition nowadays is healthy for any business. “There are many restaurants that have come up in the recent past with new eateries opening every month offering basic fare like rolls, biryanis and chaaps. But every brand has its own set of loyal customers who no matter what will come back to the same place. Moreover, new customers and tourists are sure to visit the place simply due to what they’ve heard of the brand!”