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Comesum, come all

December 13, 2003

Rajeev Mittal started worked in his family's railway catering business but always had ambitions of striking out on his own.

His opportunity came when the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation invited tenders for cafes at railway stations.

Mittal and a cousin Abhishek Aggarwal set up Comesum, a multi-cuisine food cafe at Pune railway station. That was two years ago.

Today, there are two in Delhi (at Nizamuddin station and Old Delhi station) and one at Kolkata railway station. By March, five more Comesum cafes will open in Bangalore, Vijayawada, Nagpur, Amritsar and Agra. Mittal expects Comesum to post a turnover of Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million) by 2005.

Today the Indian consumer has become more quality-conscious, especially as regards food.

A passenger travelling by train a decade ago was satisfied with the kind of food that was served at railway stations. However, today's customer demands much more.

This was something we realised and felt that if we opened a food plaza at railway stations which provided quality both in terms of food and service, it should do well.

Luckily for us, in 2000, IRCTC was inviting tenders for opening up food plazas at railway stations. We bid for it and were given the contract. A few months later the first Comesum was opened at Pune station.

Comesum means multi-cuisine in Latin. It was a name we selected after a lot of research. We wanted it to be different so that it would attract the attention of passersby.

We serve nearly 350 dishes at each of the four Comesum food cafes. We are not catering to the local tastes of a city but to the tastes of people from across the country.

Therefore, it is essential that we have something for everybody. As a result we serve Mughlai, Chinese, Continental, south Indian, bakery products and also street food like chaat.

We will soon also introduce Gujarati and Marathi food. What's more, all our cooks come from different regions so that the taste is authentic. For instance, our cook who is responsible for making the idlis and dosas in Delhi is a south Indian.

Since we cater to the tastes of people from different regions, it becomes necessary for us to ensure the regional flavour.

The fifth Comesum is opening at the Bangalore railway station next week. The man who is going to cook chhola batura there has been trained in Delhi.

Now a north Indian passenger who disembarks from a train and visits Comesum will get to eat chhola batura that tastes just like the one available in Delhi.

It will make him feel comfortable in an alien town. That's what we believe is so unique about Comesum.

By the beginning of March, there will be a total of nine Comesum cafes in seven cities. The investment that has gone into it is huge but we are pretty hopeful of making profits by 2005.

The way we see it is that all the compartments of AC I, AC II and AC III tier in most of the trains are nearly always full.

One needs to get reservations months in advance. Passengers travelling in these compartments are our target customers.

These are the people who are willing to spend a little more if they are assured of quality and comfort. If we give that to them they will come to us. Our food plazas record a footfall of between 1,200 to 1,500 every day.

In the next five years, we plan to open nearly a 100 food plazas. Of course, not all of them will be at railway stations. We plan to open them in malls and other market places. We want to make Comesum a national name.

Where we gain over other food cafes such as Haldiram is that we serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food and therefore have more variety.

We'll feel we've really arrived in the food business on the day when a customer misses his train eating at Comesum and instead of being angry regards it as an opportunity to eat some more.

As told to Smita Tripathi



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