The new trend exciting Pakistani foodies is built entirely on the humble naan. In its most basic form naan is a daily staple for many people, but as Maro Tandoors, Mr Sheeda, and Naan Stop have shown, a change of filling is all it takes to make naan the basis of an entire menu.
Maro Tandoors opened in Model Town in January 2015 and claims to be the pioneer of filled-naan eateries in Lahore. The brainchild of four students at LUMS – Ali Ahmed, Saifullah Minhas, Zaeem Shahid and Zain-ul-Abideen Hassan – the idea developed after the young men undertook research to find out what might be a consistently profitable business. According to Minhas they settled on a tandoor because demand for the product is generally steady and because “head bread makers earn Rs 20,000-30,000 a month, so we figured if an employee was taking home that much, the owners would be making a lot more.”
They first set up a small tandoor serving takeaway naan, but after trouble with staff who refused to take the young businessmen seriously, the team was faced with the choice of either closing down the business or making the product themselves. They chose the latter course and in the process developed the Nutella naan which would skyrocket them to success.
Next, Usman Iftikhar (an MBA and Certified Financial Analyst) took a closer look at the remodelled naan sold by Maro Tandoors in Lahore and felt it was possible to provide better service. He partnered with Ahmed Hassan, Hafiz Abid, Muhammad Bilal and Zain ul Abidin to set up Mr Sheeda in Johar Town, Lahore in September 2015, upping the ante by providing outdoor seating with a view of the tandoor so patrons could see their food being made.
As the trend took root in Lahore, Ahmed Mukaram, Kashif Rana, Shehryar Qureshi, Talha Gohar, and Usama Farooq – students at the Lahore School of Economics – decided it was time to join the trend. Believing that the market in their home city was becoming saturated, they opened Naan Stop in the main commercial centre of F-10 Markaz in Islamabad. With a basement kitchen and street-level service point, the team leased a nearby stretch of space for seating and began serving customers in December 2015. While their business model was essentially the same as Maro Tandoors and Mr Sheeda – street food at low cost – they felt the experience of eating was as important as the food itself, and paid special attention to visuals, decorating their eatery in homage to Pakistani truck art. Even the name, they point out, is a play on non-stop, which is evocative of the working lifestyle of a Pakistani trucker.
The product offered at all three establishments is much the same; freshly-baked naan filled with a choice of meat, vegetables, cheese and chocolate spread.
When it came to generating publicity, Maro Tandoors took to the go-to medium for youngsters – social media. Despite having no experience of advertising or marketing, the entrepreneurs capitalised on Pakistan’s annual lawn mania by posting photos on Facebook of impeccably dressed young men styled as if for a high fashion shoot, posing with naans in hand. Titled ‘The Nawn Collection, Spring 2016’ the campaign was a hit among their target demographic of university and high school students. As for Mr Sheeda, the team admit their publicising efforts have not been very strong – some social media activity and placing ads on the backs of rickshaws sums it up – but they intend to make a concentrated effort to improve their marketing. On the other hand Naan Stop lucked out when it came to free publicity. As the first of their kind in Islamabad, they generated interest in print and electronic media. “We really didn’t do anything,” says Rana. “Word of mouth brought the customers in.”
The product offered at all three establishments is much the same; freshly-baked naan filled with a choice of meat, vegetables, cheese and chocolate spread. Prices are set keeping in mind the target customer, described by Iftikhar as “the young university student who lives off pocket money,” and range between 120 and 240 rupees, although Naan Stop’s dry-fruit naan takes the pricing cake at 400 rupees a pop.
Because outdoor service is an integral part of all three eateries, the weather plays a big role in determining customer traffic. As the summer heat intensifies all three report a dip in the weekday lunch rush as customers prefer to step out later in the evening. The weekend brunch crowd has also thinned, but dinner service continues to go strong, particularly at Mr Sheeda’s and Maro Tandoors’ outlets that provide indoor seating.
As the summer heat intensifies all three report a dip in the weekday lunch rush as customers prefer to step out later in the evening.
Maro Tandoors and Mr Sheeda both say they intended expansion from the get-go and developed supply systems influenced by large chain restaurants; the naan is cooked onsite and the fillings are prepared in independent kitchen facilities and shipped to each outlet (two for Maro Tandoors and three for Mr Sheeda). Naan Stop is also working on developing a similar set-up as they consider franchise opportunities; when additional branches open up the kitchen will be moved from the flagship outlet to a separate location.
The initial cost of setting up a tandoor averages 500,000 rupees depending on location, size and staff, but as business booms, so do the costs. Mr Sheeda figure that with three locations their biggest outlay is rent. Naan Stop also cite rent as their main expense because of Islamabad’s higher cost of living, whereas Maro Tandoors peg wages (they have a staff of 60 compared to Mr Sheeda’s 27 and Naan Stop’s 25) as the most expensive item on the balance sheet.
Because of the affordable investment tandoors are mushrooming in Punjab’s food landscape; Rana notes that “twelve or 13 have opened in the last month in Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” but Iftikhar believes individual eateries can only grow up to a point, unless entrepreneurs set out with a comprehensive strategy in place. Opening one outlet after another can help gain market coverage, but if the product is not consistent among the branches it will not be long before the fire goes out for the unprepared entrepreneur.
Izza Khalid is a PR professional. firstname.lastname@example.org