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Only Biryani

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The art

Biryani making was a family legacy since the 1950s. My grandfather was a champion when it came to making biryanis. He dished out a perfectly spiced biryani even when he was cooking for 3,000 people in various vessels, and without using any measuring tools. Though my family took his legacy forward by establishing a catering business, I decided to brand the biryani, package it, and retail it all over the city. But I didn’t want to run just another biryani joint. I decided to focus on Bohri style of biryani, which no one in the organized space is doing.

The response, especially from connoisseurs of biryani, has been overwhelming. Our biryanis are all ‘dum’ preparations that follow the old school of cooking wherein the rice, masalas and the meat are slow cooked together in a large pot. This ensures the right quantity and flavor in each and every batch. We are proud to offer consistency in our biryanis due to which we are seeing repeat business from customers.

We have a kitchen of around 380 sqft, an office and a store – all in the same building – located in Oshiwara. We chose this place because it has a cosmopolitan population with a large section of people who order out. It’s also more price sensitive. We have invested Rs 45 lakhs in setting up our flagship store here, and it will be a benchmark for all our future delivery outlets. I had spent time at Ammi’s (a popular chain of Biryani outlets in Bangalore) to understand the business  and biryani preparation keeping consistency in mind. I have gained sufficient experience and operational knon-how and can set up another outlet in as less as three weeks.

Our butter chicken biryani is the star; it contributes almost 40 percent to our revenues. If I have any bragging rights to biryani, then I can say that our biryanis are appreciated by all segments of people, and are not stereotyped as ‘Muslim biryani.’ We wanted to create a product that would have mass appeal, and have done so successfully.
Challenges

When I started my kitchen, I had a chef who was an expert in biryani. Having worked in London, I had a very precise process oriented approach towards cooking. When I tried to bring in metrics and measures in the biryani making process, the chef felt offended and left. I then developed a system for weighing each and every ingredient, and made a printed sheet of the recipe with the exact measurements, which can be followed by anyone. It is by adhering to the exact process that one can achieve consistency.

It’s difficult for us to match the ‘30 minute’ delivery standards that customers are use3d to, especially during peak hours. A start up like us cannot compete with a Dominos or Pizza Hut that have 20 delivery bikes. To tackle this problem, we have tied up with a company (on a commission basis) to deliver our biryani orders.

Forecasting orders is another challenge. We take four Sundays and take out an average. We don’t serve the biryani straight from the pot after it’s cooked. We leave it in the pot for a couple of hours for the masalas to seep through the layers of rice. After this, we separate the three components – white rice, yellow rice and the chicken with masalas. When the order is placed, we add defined quantities of each component (individually weighed), microwave it and serve it. This rules out any inconsistency and customers get a balanced serving of biryani. Running a single outlet is easy, but the real challenge will be in running subsequent outlets with the same quality and service.

EfficienciesWe do 75 to 80 deliveries in a day, out of which 75 percent is during dinner time (8 pm to 10 pm). A delivery business is primarily about good service, functional and convenient packaging, and timely delivery. What’s very important is the customer’s experience over the phone at the time of placing the order. We have hired a mystery audit firm  to evaluate customer greeting, listing the items on  the menu, upselling, explaining the specials, and repeating the order at the end of the call. We also ask our staff to call the client in case of delay due to traffic jams, etc.
We will soon be starting a hotline number, and would also look at a phone app. Initially, we plan to use APP to keep customers apprised of our menu, etc, with links to , Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Plans 

We are building a strong team to launch three more company-owned stores. These will come up in  Andheri (East), Powai and Bandra by the year end. I think, a city like Mumbai can take 16 to 18 Le Berians with an average business of Rs 6 lakh per store. Once we have established six stores, we will take Le Berian to 150 sqft kiosks in malls, which will further increase the brand’s visibility.

My vision is to eliminate the gas and exhaust from our outlets, so we are considering kiosks in malls, which will serve a complete menu based on the heat and serve concept, with zero cooking at the outlets.  Franchising would be an option only when we establish a strong back-end, which can deliver the products in a new market and where we could leverage the local expertise and investment. My idol is Ray Kroc, who built McDonald’s into the most successful fast food operation in the world. Why can’t we have a model like MaDonald’s with Indian food? It’s about time we got the assembly model of food in India.

Competition

It’s good that there are more players ike Bombay Biryani Centre, Biryan, Mad About Biryani, etc, in the delivery segment as it creates recognition for the product category, which in turn increases the . However, our products are unique (Bohri) with masalas and rice peculiar to the Bohri style, which makes the biryani very moist and flavourful, and it can be had without any gravy dish. People enjoy our biryani as it’s a refreshing change from the regular  Hyderabadi and Lucknawi biryanis, which are completely different; nor do we plan to include them in our menu.

However, it is important to keep customer interest going. We offer six types of biryani. After  evaluating demand, we retain only the four most popular ones, and add new varieties to replace the ones removed from the menu. We also plan to introduce a surprise biryani on certain days of the week, and are thinking of ‘Make your own biryani,’ concept where customers can choose the tikka and masala, and we will toss it with rice and serve it.

Learning

I have worked with Gordon Ramsay and Michelin star restaurants like La Trompette in London. The most important things that I learned is following and adhering to a ‘process’. I also learnt the importance of ‘flavor’. The chalta hai, casual attitude doesn’t work. I have seen them throw food for 50 people in the garbage bin because it didn’t meet their stringent standards. The level of excellence they seek is commendable. That’s what I want to bring into my business.