It was the Merchant brothers’ craving for sweets that led them to launch a dedicated Indian dessert chain called Shahi Durbar in 2011. “We realized that the dessert segment in India is heavily tilted towards international desserts like cakes, ice-creams, etc. There was a dearth of places that offered Indian desserts like phirni, rabdi, gulab jamuns, etc. So we thought of launching a dessert parlour that served all the Indian desserts we grew up eating,” says Aasim Merchant, director of the company. It helped that Owais was a qualified chef and Aasim held an MBA in Marketing.
The first Shahi Durbar came up at the Oberoi Mall, Mumbai – considered the number one mall in terms of footfalls. The initial investment in the 40 sqft kiosk was ~Rs 10 lakhs. With the advent of time, the company did away with the kiosk format and opened sit-down outlets. Currently, there are nine such outlets – all in Mumbai.
Shahi Durbar serves Indian desserts with a twist. The menu comprises of kulfis, faloodas, rabdi, gulab jamuns, phirni, etc in the price range of Rs 45 to Rs 200. Fresh Fruit Cream and Falooda top the list of favourites. The sugar-free kulfi has found favour with the health conscious.
“It was actually launched to cater to diabetics who want to enjoy desserts, but it has turned out to be one of our star products as people are increasingly becoming calorie conscious. People often ask us for the calorie count of our products,” says Aasim.
The innovation streak extends to the chocolate dip kulfi which allows customers to choose any flavor of kulfi and have it dipped in chocolate. A seasonal menu along with regular new additions helps to keep customer interest going. “A key learning that I have imbibed over the years is that it is important to ‘create an experience’ for customers… an emotional pull towards the brand. Indians are emotional when it comes to food and that is what we are trying to capture.”
Initially, the brothers grappled with issues of supply chain. “Operating an outlet in a mall is very different from operating a standalone store. You have to ensure that the product reaches the mall much before the mall opens for business. It was a huge challenge to align the kitchen with the mall delivery. Our shipment would invariably get delayed,” remembers Aasim.
Another major challenge was getting the right manpower. During the start-up days, the brothers would do everything – from mopping floors to preparing the products, from taking orders to serving customers. The supply chain is now functioning smoothly, and the company has invested in identifying and training the right staff. Since the products require a lot of fresh fruits, ensuring a consistent supply of good quality fruits is a constant challenge. The brothers too make personal visits to wholesale fruit markets to source reliable vendors and to ensure that their produce is the best, even though there is a team deployed for the purpose.
A 1,000 sqft central kitchen in Andheri, Mumbai, manned by a staff of 12, caters to all the Shahi Durbar outlets. Products are delivered through company-owned vans. State-of-the-art equipment and a brine tank ensure that kulfis are frozen within 20 minutes. “We deal in Indian desserts which cannot be automated. Everything is handmade. Machines can’t make phirnis, gulab jamun, rabdi, kulfi, etc. You need experts to do it,” says Aasim.
Currently, Shahi Durbar outlets are spread across Mumbai at Oberoi Mall Goregaon, Inorbit Mall Vashi, Korum Mall Thane, Viviana Mall Thane, R City Mall and stand alone stores at Oshiwara, Vile Parle, Carter Road and Bandra. The company owns four standalone outlets and the rest are franchised. Shahi Durbar offers 100 percent margin on food items to its franchisees. The launch of the third outlet at Korum Mall was a turning point for the brand, as with this outlet, the company ventured into the counter format, and going forward, the brothers turned all the kiosks into counters.
The average store size of a Shahi Durbar is 300 sqft and each outlet requires an initial investment of Rs 12 -15 lakh. It takes 18 to 24 months for an outlet to break even, informs Aasim.
The company has been growing at 100 percent year on year since its launch. The revenues in the last financial year was Rs 1 crore, and the targeted figure for this financial year is Rs 3 crore, informs Aasim. The company is actively looking to take the brand outside of Mumbai through a combination of owned and franchised outlets. Pune, Bangalore, Gujarat and Delhi are on the radar.
The brothers plan to launch 50 outlets by 2015 – 60 percent of which will be franchisees. “I want to see Shahi Durbar in every city in India.We have all grown up eating Indian desserts, and their popularity continues till date. I see a huge potential for the growth of this food category, ” affirms Aasim.
Company: Merchant Foods & Hospitality Pvt Ltd
Brand: Shahi Durbar
Owner: Aasim and Owais Merchant
Initial investment: Rs 10 lakhs
No of outlets: 9 (all in Mumbai)
Business model: Owned and franchisee model
Future plans: 50 new outlets by 2015