Consistent taste and “word of mouth” is what has taken Student Biryani, a brand of Café Student, from a small roadside vendor to one of Pakistan’s fastest growing franchise networks. The Karachi-based food outlet – after attracting notable traffic in Dubai – now wants to test North American and European markets; extend its Gulf network through global franchising.
Established by Haji Muhammad Ali in 1969, the eatery – a favourite biryani restaurant for most, if not all, Karachiites – with a 15% return rate, continues to expand disregarding investors concerns about energy crises and poor law and order.
Student Biryani’s network is spread over 26 outlets (12 branches and 14 franchise restaurants) in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Dubai. It is adding one more outlet – a takeaway restaurant – in Boat Basin, Karachi this December while also finalising the launch of its first restaurant in Islamabad, to be operational early next year.
There is no better market for the business than Pakistan, Ali’s son and company director, Muhammad Arif believes. “There are more opportunities than difficulties. Pakistan is an agriculture-based economy,” he added, “ the ingredients are a lot cheaper here.”
There are days when sales are affected due to violence in the city, Arif said, but added that the business normally does great, especially on public holidays.
Arif’s father started the business – selling homemade biryani and a few other dishes – in Saddar, Karachi. He named it Cafe Student to attract students from a host of schools and colleges that were located in the area.
This worked well for him as his first customers were students and teachers who particularly liked his biryani, which dominated the business so much that it overshadowed Café’ Student, the official name.
Ali’s recipe for biryani is still the business secret for Café Student that associates its popularity partly to “the word of mouth” – publicity, as Arif puts it. The business has turned Ali’s recipe into a formula that’s centrally dispatched – mostly in the form of premixes– to all outlets to ensure that each place has the same taste, Arif said.
“We have a centrally-controlled supply chain,” Arif said, “we buy the same quality of rice to make sure the taste doesn’t change,” he added.
The love for biryani coupled with consistent taste helped the business grow significantly over the last decade. It converted its head office in Saddar to a multi-storey restaurant serving 2,500 to 3,000 customers every day – the number includes takeaway, dining-in and home deliveries.
With a continuous expansion plan, the company is now considering franchise option to meet the increasing demand for the brand.
“Franchising is the easiest and fastest way to grow your business,” Arif said. “You don’t have to invest and yet your brand name and consumer-base grows while you get royalty,” he added.
Responding to a question Arif said, one needs to invest about Rs8 million to develop a 3,000-sqaure-feet restaurant – a standard size for the business – in Pakistan. There is tremendous opportunity for this business in Pakistan; one has to be patient because it grows slowly, he added.
The company has a 15 to 1 return rate, he said, but it can vary for branches depending upon the size of the unit. The return ratio for a takeaway unit, he explained, will be different from a dining-in restaurant.
The company already has 14 franchise restaurants in the country and more are in the pipeline. The story doesn’t end here; Student Biryani is also extending its customer-base in the Middle East.
“We are almost ready to open our first branch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” Arif said, adding, “We have another branch in the pipeline for Sharjah; we will launch it soon.”
The majority of customers in Dubai are Indians, Arif said, he is, therefore, personally interested in entering the Indian market as well.
The company is in the final stages to give the go-ahead for three franchisees one each in the US, UK and Dubai. They are expected to launch their operations very soon, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2011.