Journey of Naan: From staple to delicacy

Published: June 5, 2016
From pizza to chicken tikka, marshmallow to Nutella, these gourmet naans cater to all taste buds. PHOTO: FILE

From pizza to chicken tikka, marshmallow to Nutella, these gourmet naans cater to all taste buds. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: In 2014 Ali Ahmed, a sophomore at Lahore University of Management Sciences, had an entrepreneurial epiphany: he wanted to start a brand of premium rotis and naans, culminating a string of high-end tandoors nationwide. He pitched this idea to three other friends, including future Chief Marketing Officer Saifullah Minhas, who were studying with him. “All of us wanted to do something extraordinary in life and this desire led to our entrepreneurial venture,” explains Minhas. “Once we opened up our shop, we realised the potential of our idea. Thus, Maro Tandoors (MT) was born.”

The meteoric rise of the concept introduced by MT led to this idea being rapidly replicated across Lahore and Islamabad. For instance, Usman Iftikhar, one of the owners of Mr. Sheeda (MS) in Lahore, wanted to incorporate continental tastes into a local staple. Bakhtawar Taimoor Khan, co-founder of Naan Dhaba (ND) in Islamabad also openly admits she was inspired by similar enterprises in Lahore but thought there was a lack of variety. Similarly, the founders of Naan Stop (NS) in Islamabad studied the concept and improved upon the idea to fit their market.

According to Abdul Azeem, from ND, baking a flatbread is much more complex than it looks. “We first tried kneading the dough, how you would for a normal naan, but that did not work,” he explains. “Every day we would try three to four different types of flour combinations, figuring out the dough took us a month,” adds Azeem. The menu at these flatbread outlets cater to a wide range of taste buds. Flavours vary from savoury items, such as pizza or chicken tikka, to sweet dishes, including Nutella and marshmallows, to exotic naans comprising of jalapenos and dry fruits. They offer food at prices ranging from Rs100 to Rs400 per naan.

MT almost never made it. Their lack of experience in a competitive market caused a shut down for 10 days, where they fired all their employees two weeks into their opening. “We made a lot of mistakes,” elaborates Minhas. “But we were determined to make the restaurant work. During those 10 days we decided to learn all the processes ourselves – that’s how we came up with our signature naans,” he informs.

One of the misconceptions about this business is that the initial investment is very low, a myth the tandoor enterprises would like to bust. According to the entrepreneurs they started off with huge funds that were collected from parents, personal savings or loans granted by friends. “People assume you can spend just a few lakhs and you are ready to go. Sure, that much capital will get you a tandoor but is not enough to build a brand,” says Talha Gohar, co-founder NS.

Food outlets sealed over poor hygiene

All four outlets have expansion plans in the near future. The entrepreneurs feel that having overcome initial challenge of introducing the product to the market, the time is apt to launch new flavour combinations along with rapid expansion, all while making sure that the quality of the product is not compromised.

The founders of all these ventures belong from a variety of backgrounds but they all have one thing in common: the desire to want to do more than just daily jobs and the guts to pursue that passion. “The most important advice for entrepreneurs is to take the plunge,” exclaims Minhas. “If you want to pursue something go for it and don’t wait around for someone else.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2016.

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