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Enter the dragon

November 28, 2003 13:36 IST

The Chinese invasion in India's restaurant industry is about to begin. The Rs 500-crore (Rs 5-billion) Mark Pi International Group is all set to make its debut in India.

The Chinese fast food chain, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio (US), will open its first restaurant (outside the US) at the PVR Anupam complex, Delhi, some time in mid-December.

The Chinese chain has appointed Delhi-based Trak Services Private Ltd as the master franchisee for South Asia. Trak Services, the holding company of the Rs 100-crore (Rs 1 billion) Chand Group, is known for investing and operating in the IT and ITES domains.

Says Rohit Chand, chairman, Trak Services, "Our next outlet will be in Mumbai. We plan to open 20 outlets by the end of next year. Out of that five will be company owned and operated while the rest 15 would be sub-franchised." He hopes to have 240 Mark Pi outlets across the country in the next five years.

Mark Pi, the founder of the Chinese fast food chain named after him, apparently landed in America with $50 in his pocket and a dream to own a restaurant.

Today, Mark Pi is among the top five players in the Chinese fast food segments in North America. A third degree black belt holder in karate, Mark Pi is currently in Delhi to fine-tune the kitchen processes for his chain. He says that the Indian market poses a great challenge as well as tremendous opportunity for growth.

Pi's master franchisee, Chand, agrees that organised food retail is growing in India. His company, looking to add new businesses to its portfolio, found the food and hospitality business to be the sunrise sector.

Besides, retail consultants KSA Technopak figures on the industry were exhilarating: in India roughly Rs 35,000 crore (Rs 350 billion) is spent annually on eating out. Of this the organised sector accounts for Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion). This is expected to grow to Rs 6,000 crore (R 60 billion) by 2005.

Chand says that his experience in handling consumers and back-end operations (especially in the IT education field) will help him in his new business venture. "We'll have a centralised kitchen that will source all the raw material for our Delhi outlets. It will also help in ensuring consistency of our products. We have also got our supply chain in place," informs Chand.

Trak had been on the lookout for an international partner in the food sector for some time. It narrowed down on Mark Pi, as the Chinese fast food chain takes less than 60 seconds to prepare a meal. (The Guiness Book of World Records lists Pi as the fastest human noodle maker in the world -- 4,096 noodles in 41.34 seconds!)

Also, a survey conducted by Trak showed that after the Indian food, Chinese was the most favoured food in the country. "Mark serves Shan Tong cuisine; it's spicy and should suit the Indian palate," explains Chand.

The new Chinese joint is ready to take on competition by an aggressive pricing strategy. A vegetarian meal, which includes either starters or soup, a rice or noodle dish and a side dish will cost Rs 50. A non-veg meal will be priced around Rs 80.

And this, according to both Pi and Chand, will be a major reason for consumers to switch from burgers and pizzas. Its first 50-seater restaurant will have a modern Chinese decor.

Trak has invested nearly Rs 2 crore (excluding real estate) in its first outlet. And according to Chand if things go according to plan, the company should break even within 18 months. He says that eventually Trak aims to become an end-to-end hospitality services company ranging from commercial farming to exporting food items.
Yusuf Begg