Aurora Magazine

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Secrets of the Long Distance Runners

Published in Nov-Dec 2022

Khalid Naseem evokes some of the Pakistani brands that have withstood the test of time.   

At its most basic, a brand is a promise of consistent delivery in quality, service standards and anything else that people value and are willing to pay for. It is a name or symbol associated with the offer and a set of expectations.

In this respect, although there are scores of global and local brands that spend a lot of money on advertising and other image building activities, others only become cherished for their offers and popular only through word of mouth (WOM). They are brands in every sense of the word, yet no one recognises them as such. Here is a brief synopsis of some of them.

1. Phajja Siri Paye

Phajja Siri Paye is the story of Ustad Fazal Din and his passion for cooking. He learned the craft of cooking siri paye from his mother (an expert cook), whose siri paye were known for their delicious taste. She developed a unique recipe that used yoghurt and garlic in more than the usual quantities. Ustad Fazal Din, nick-named Phajja, learned this recipe from her and further perfected it. It is this recipe that sets Phajja Siri Paye miles apart from any other similar offering. Ustad Fazal Din and subsequently his son, Chowdhury Liaquat Ali, maintained the consistency of the recipe even during periods of extreme price hikes when you experience the temptation to lower the number of expensive ingredients the most. Ustad Fazal Din set up his first (and only) restaurant 100 years ago in Heera Mandi, opposite Shahi Qila in Lahore. Over three generations of people have tasted the deliciousness of Phajja’s siri paye. Few are those who visit Lahore without eating Phajja’s paye. Apart from the core offering, Phajja Siri Paye is strongly associated with attributes like courteous staff, 24/7 service, a neat and clean ambience and affordable prices.

Inspired by the wellknown saying about Lahore, Jinnay Lahore Ni Wakhia Oh Jammia Hi Nahin, (if you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven’t seen anything), Phajja Siri Paye’s WOM communication’s punch line is Jinnay Phajjay Day Paye Nahin Khaey Oh Rajjia Hi Nahin (if you haven’t eaten at Phajja Siri Paye, you haven’t really eaten).

Phajja Siri Paye has received free brand endorsements from personalities that even global brands cannot hope to garner. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on a visit to Lahore, asked for Phajja’s paye and having tasted them, he called for Chowdhury Liaqat Ali and told him he wished there was someone like him in India too. (Chowdhury Liaqat Ali proudly narrates this incident to as many visitors as possible.) Photos of celebrity customers hang on the restaurant’s walls, serving as powerful on-site branding elements.

2. Regal Chawk Ka Maula BuxPaan

Maula Bux migrated from Uttar Pradesh, India in 1942, and settled in Lahore, where he started a paan shop, located opposite Masjid-e-Shuhada on Lawrence Road. His paans soon attracted attention and he became an overnight success. So much so, he had to hire a team of helpers to serve his customers. Maula Bux attributed his success to his delicious paans and his courteous behaviour towards his customers. He had the knack for remembering the individual tastes of his customers and prepared the paans accordingly, without their need to explain their preferences.

Paan is a part of our culture and Maula Bux’s paan attracted the literary and artistic communities, making the shop their meeting point between the fifties and seventies. Prominent among them were Akhtar Shirani, Imtiaz Ali Taj, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Shaukat Thanvi, Justice Bashir Ahmad, Sufi Tabassum, Ghulam Farid Sabri and Aziz Mian Qawwal.

Their tagline is ‘Regal Chowk Lahore ka Maula Bux Paan, labon ki shaan’ (Regal Chowk’s Maula Bux Paan is the glory of lips) which he displays prominently in his outlet. The shop is also mentioned in many literary works. Qudrat Ullah Shahab mentioned it in his book Shahab Nama and the well-known poet Shahid Chand Puri wrote an entire poem on Maula Bux Paan, which later became a sort of logo or brand symbol for the enterprise.

3. Tibet Snow Cream

This is a product of Kohinoor Chemical Company, established 55 years ago, in what was then East Pakistan. The company had offices in Dacca (now Dhaka) and Karachi. Earlier, they imported the product from East Pakistan, but later set up a manufacturing facility in Karachi. The cream is widely available in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Built solely upon its functional credentials, Tibet Snow claims to remove spots, blotches and blemishes from the skin, moisturises in all seasons, absorbs excess oil, prevents acne and blackheads, provides a natural glow and fights dust particles.

Tibet Snow has not been visible in the media for years now. A 1956 ad featured a PIA air hostess, with the copy positioning the product as the choice of working women who have to look smart. The tagline used in the communication was ‘Beauty Cream of the East’. Although the brand has not evolved with the times, it seems it does not need to, given it cannot even meet current demands – while counterfeit products are proliferating to fill the gap, exploiting its equity to their advantage. Tibet’s success appears to lie in diverting resources from brand-building efforts to maintaining the consistent quality of the product, while keeping it affordable, which automatically takes care of publicity needs by fuelling WOM communications.

4. Nisar Charsi Tikka Sheesh Mahal

Nisar Charsi’s father started the restaurant about 55 years ago. His son now runs the business along with his brother. The name ‘Charsi’ relates to the time when his father used to run the show. He would occasionally have a puff or two of hash. His friends used to tease him and call him charsi and the name stuck and people started to refer to the restaurant as Charsi ka hotel. Nisar’s father had a passion for desi food cooked without spices, bringing the original flavours of the meat to life. He was hard working and never compromised on the consistent quality of the food prepared at his restaurant.

Nisar Charsi Tikka Sheesh Mahal is located in Namak Mandi in Peshawar. The restaurant’s speciality is charsi kadhai, a Peshawari dish, now popular all over Pakistan. The kadhai is cooked using lamb, without any added spices except for salt and is cooked in lamb fat instead of oil or ghee. Nisar’s charsi kadhai is the original recipe, but since it is simple to make, many me-too variants have popped up, copying the original formula. Nisar and his brother prefer their restaurant to be known as the “Number One Shop” because of the emergence of many restaurants serving a similar menu to theirs.

To conclude, the common thread running through all of the above examples is the fact that these brands all have a sound story as their foundation – just like Benson & Hedges, Ralph Lauren, Apple and Ogilvy & Mather (although not as well-known). They also had original recipes/formulations which they maintained and they consistently continued to deliver quality.

Khalid Naseem is the Head of Strategy, Firebolt63.