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Making millions through fast food
September 13, 2003
J S Sahni, a self-confessed foodie, wanted to open a restaurant soon after he left college.
But he met with unexpected resistance from his family which threatened to throw him out of the house if he became a "bawarchi". But Sahni went ahead with his plans and Kent's was opened in Delhi's Defence Colony market in 1985.
It started off as a small (only 55 sq ft) hang out that served burgers and cold drinks. Sahni's initial investment included a microwave and a refrigerator.
His family owned the space and they gave it to him grudgingly after he made it clear that he was determined to become a restaurateur.
Today there are 15 Kent's in Delhi and Sahni is planning to expand outside the city. Kent's Fast Food posted a turnover of over Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) this year.
My family owned a small space in Defence Colony market where they wanted me to open a watch repair shop since there wasn't any such shop in that area. However, I was determined to open a fast food restaurant. My family was very upset with me but they had no choice.
I started by serving only burgers and cold drinks. I used to outsource the meat and vegetarian patties and then buy the buns from a bakery, put it together into a burger, heat it and serve it.
Since there was hardly any space, I just put a few bar stools around a table and that was it.
During that period there were a lot of Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians living in Defence Colony. These people stayed as paying guests and generally did not have telephones.
So I provided them with this facility. They could receive calls at Kent's and I also took messages for them.
This worked very well for me as these people would come to Kent's and while waiting for their call would eat. So it soon became very popular for the foreigners and Kent's became a hang-out place.
By the late '80s I had crossed the first million mark and in 1990 I bought another 100 sq ft of space. This was next to the space I already had so now my restaurant began to take shape. I hired a full time cook and other staff and introduced pizzas and grilled sandwiches.
We set up little plastic tables and chairs outside and became popular with both foreigners and Indians.
However, a few years later a fast food restaurant opened just a few yards away from mine. It had an air-conditioned seating area and my sales fell.
That's when I bought some more space and turned Kent's into a full-fledged eating joint with air-conditioning and music in the background.
The coming of the MNCs has been both good and bad for us. We lost a lot of customers as people wanted to try American pizzas and burgers.
But it was also beneficial in the sense I was able to increase prices without upsetting my customers. My prices were still half of the MNCs.
In 2000, I started franchising. Today I have 15 franchisees. When selecting a franchisee I insist that they have their own place. I provide everything else including trained staff.
The same supplier provides food materials like bread, buns, cheese, chips etc. to all the franchisees. This helps maintain quality. Also, I do quality checks twice a week at all the franchises.
In order to maintain standards, I'm planning to train the franchisees for at least a month before they start running their own operations.
I'm looking at least three to four more outlets by the end of the year. I plan to move beyond Delhi, but since maintaining quality and standards will be difficult as I won't be able to conduct frequent checks, I'm going slow.
The food business is a profitable business and I believe that any person who is capable of spending between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 6 lakh (Rs 500,000 and Rs 600,000) initially to take up a franchise and set up the place, will be able to make at least Rs 30,000 per month. There should just be a will to work hard.
As told to Smita Tripathi