As if engaging in a deadly game of Russian roulette, a few entrepreneurs have launched their ventures at a commercial space near Bilawal Chowrangi – a place where business usually does not survive.
The most recent tenant is the popular chaat house, Chatkharay, which opened its second branch there two years ago. After a few rocky moments, renovations and changes, the owners have reopened the doors of this branch to the food lovers of Karachi.
Other ventures, including the restaurant Thai Express, have tried their luck at the space and failed. “I was initially very apprehensive about opening a branch here,” admitted the owner of the Chatkharay, Nasreen Hameed. “But then I figured must keep my faith in God and went ahead with the plan.”
Her son, Saer Khan, who returned from the US four years ago to take control of Chatkharay, said that the branch initially did well, but after three months it started floundering. Now, after the expansion and renovation of the place, he hopes to breathe life into it.
Khan is confident that his business will not suffer the same fate as those before it because the poultry shop next to the space has finally packed up. “No one wants to frequent a restaurant next to a ‘murghi wala’,” Khan said in a matter-of-fact manner. “But when the owner finally decided to pack up, I jumped at the opportunity to rent his space and expanded this branch of Chatkharay.”
Chatkharay first opened at Khadda Market 18 years ago with only six employees including the owner. Today, it has four branches in the city with about 70 employees on the payroll. Hameed said she never expected the business to do this well. “My sons had moved abroad and my daughter was married,” she said. “I started this just to pass the time. I wanted to fill the gap in the market for a place where families can sit down and enjoy some hygienic chaat. But its success has been beyond my imagination.”
It was when the expansion became too much for Hameed to handle alone that she called her older son to return. “This was a very different experience for me,” Khan said. He had previously worked as an information software consultant.
Khan said that his biggest challenge is managing people. “On a daily basis, I hear some of my employees kill each and every family member they could possibly have so that they can take a leave or be paid their salary in advance.” But despite this, he enjoys being in the chaat business and plans to stick around in Pakistan. Khan is said that as long as he is here, “Chatkharay is alive.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2011.