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INTERVIEW

“We are betting big with plan to open more than 100 new restaurants”
Monday, 17 January, 2022, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
India is a unique market when it comes to momos. Momo is immensely popular in India, and in every big city, you will find a momo stall on every street corner. Momo is a street food staple for Indians and in many parts, it has become a cultural landmark wherein Momo King plans to create a niche for itself. Shyam Narayan Thakur, the founder and CEO of Momo King, shares his experience, in an email interaction with Ashwani MaindolaExcerpts:

What attracted you to join the food industry?
I have always been fascinated with the culture of food. After travelling to several cities in Asia, Europe, and the far West - I would often find myself lost in the food markets. Momo King is a reflection of that philosophy; the outlook of diversity in food and people coming together to create a moment of happiness. Momo King is more than just another Momo restaurant - it’s an idea about the joy of food that brings people together.

After being in the food industry for 10 years, how have you put your expertise into this venture?
From the start, we have inclined towards the idea of authenticity. We know that if the food is made from love and care, people will support us on our journey. Like every other restaurant chain, we started with modest beginnings and worked our way up. Even after 10 years in the business, I am all about innovating and adapting. We keep on introducing new trends and flavours that separate us from the rest.

Has the pandemic changed consumer behaviour in India and how do companies like yours ensure and reevaluate the subject of food safety?
Yes, the pandemic has brought a huge change in consumer behaviour in India. People have become more hesitant in visiting restaurants and street-side vendors who fall behind on hygiene and quality. However, not a lot has changed for us as we have been compliant with the highest standards of food safety and hygiene at all our restaurants and ghost kitchens even before the pandemic. We maintain food safety and hygiene checks several times a day. On top of that, all our staff members are vaccinated and we keep a close check on their health at all times.

What was the idea behind the curation of the Momo King menu?
The idea behind the menu was to give the people of India a taste of the Himalayan Momo. We had been very successful in Malaysia before foraying into India, but we knew the challenges were very different. That is the reason why we have several exclusive items like Sandheko Momo, Choila Momo, Jhol Momo, and more that can’t be found at any other restaurant. Momo is one of the most popular snacks in India, but the problem is that it tastes the same in every other restaurant. This is where we wanted to differentiate ourselves from others and provide a taste that’s unique to Momo King.

What do you think is the future of the QSR industry in India?
I think this is just the inception of the rapid growth that the QSR industry in India is about to witness. We are betting big on the future of the QSR industry with our plan to open more than 100 new restaurants in the next few years. In general, people are much more aware of the franchising options these days compared to 5-10 years down the line. Every week, we get dozens of franchisee inquiries from throughout India from first-time investors. This is a clear testament to the future growth of the QSR industry.

Now that you have listed your brand on BigBasket, how do you plan on competing with other similar brands?
The competition in the Ready to Eat Momo segment (and other Ready to Eat snacks in general) is heating up! But, like with our restaurant menu, we plan on competing with the other players with our quality and diversity in the offerings. We have more than 20 Ready to Eat options available to order at this point in time. This number is way larger than the 3-4 product offerings by other brands in the sector. Along with the masses, we are also targeting multiple niches with our Vegan and Whole Wheat options.

What other retailers are you targeting?
We have a full-on expansion plan that ranges from major online retailers to offline retailers. We want our Ready to Eat segment to be accessible to everyone. We will be going live on Flipkart, Amazon, Grofers, and a few other online retailers in less than 2-3 weeks. In conjunction, we are also in talks with several offline retailers and convenience stores to place our products. 2022 is going to be a big year for us in terms of prioritising and strategising towards the Ready to Eat segment.

With cloud kitchens becoming a norm in the F&B industry, will businesses be more interested in cloud kitchens rather than restaurants post-pandemic?
Cloud Kitchens or Ghost Kitchens are definitely a very interesting prospect and the pandemic has fueled their growth to great lengths. For the major F&B players who rely on face value; this will be a no-go, but for up-and-coming restaurants, Cloud Kitchens are the future. In fact, several new restaurants are completely cloud-based. We have also invested in several cloud kitchens and we plan on adding many more to our portfolio in 2022.

Do you feel there is a greater inclination of people towards Ready to Eat food options in India?
The last two years have seen a shift in the general perception of Ready to Eat food options in India with more brands capitalising on the trend. This has resulted in competitive pricing eventually benefiting the customers. The inclination is undoubtedly shifting towards packaged and Ready to Eat food in India, but we still have a long way ahead of us when we factor in the tier-2 and tier-3 cities. What works to our advantage is the fact that we have the advantage of multiple locations where the customers can enjoy the same variety and flavours with dine-in options. In the end, it all comes down to giving better choices to the customers by providing a seamless experience in dine-in and takeaway options.
 
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