Mast Kalandar for Gaurav Jain and his wife Pallavi Gupta has been a once in a life time opportunity. The dream of successfully establishing an Indian QSR (quick service restaurant) brand with a ‘freshness’ was what the couple turned to reality. And in the process, they have received a resounding thumbs up from customers.
Incorporated in 2005 as a part of Spring Leaf Retail Pvt. Ltd., Mast Kalandar currently has 22 branches (18 in Bengaluru, 1 in Chennai and 3 in Hyderabad) across south India. According to Jain, founder and chief-executive officer, “We would have faltered if we were not so passionate about the vision.” The company’s single mindedness to deliver on the promise of authentic, tasty and healthy north Indian food has made Mast Kalandar customers happy eaters who often come back for more. Most interestingly, the duo had no background in the restaurant business when they started off.
Filling the gap
“We were happy with our respective careers, but, always aspired to start something on our own,” shares Jain. The core idea came up during an India-Pakistan day and night match held in Bengaluru in 2002. “After the match a bunch of us wanted to eat dinner, but could not find a single north Indian restaurant serving home cooked food at a reasonable price point,” he says. Infact, this incident triggered Jain to watch this specific market space. He kept looking for new entrants, but, never found any one addressing this need.
“Employees are encouraged to bring in new ideas for process improvements. We have introduced a unique flag system suggested by an employee that has cut down the average service time by five to six minutes”
In 2004, the founders quit their respective jobs with the best brands in the information technology (IT) industry, and took the plunge into the food retail business. Their conviction to focus on the retail segment was strengthened with their collective, but diverse competencies acquired through their previous jobs. “We took the plunge with the belief that QSR as a format with north Indian cuisine was a winning combination,” says Jain. The couple invested their personal savings of Rs. 18 lakh to get started. “In our mind the target audience for Mast Kalandar was anyone, especially working professionals (immigrants or locals), who wanted to experience authentic north Indian home cooked food at affordable prices,” explains Jain.
Learning and unlearning has been an integral part of the journey for the husband-wife team. With their management background they could easily focus on the analytical side of the business – be it the decisions on the price point or making flawless business plans. “We have institutionalised processes and systems to ensure that there is constant emphasis on repeatability, scalability and standardisation,” says Jain. The focus on training, continuous formal audits with emphasis on process and system adherence ensures that Mast Kalandar delivers consistency in food, service and ambience across the board.
Their ignorance about the food retailing sector did not deter them either. Infact, it helped them question the existing norms in the industry and think differently. The concept of fresh food and home-made is counter intuitive for a veteran in this field.
They built on their idea with a combination of scientific market research, best practices from the existing international fast food chains and thinking on their feet for breakthrough strategies.
Keeping the customer happy is and will remain Mast Kalandar’s success mantra. Jain says, “I keep reinforcing to my employees that we are in this business to serve our customers.” He spends a significant part of each day understanding the pulse of the customer via formal feedback or by meeting with customers at the outlet. Jain, personally gets involved in handling negative feedback. According to him, if the customer has taken the pain to speak out honestly about something he did not like, it is because he truly cares for the brand. It is this attention to detail, be it customer satisfaction or other processes that has helped Mast Kalandar innovate on different fronts.
From new offerings on the menu, interesting promotions, implementation of the hot chain transportation process, building a company-owned store format (vs. the more popular franchisee model) or leveraging social media for brand building, efforts have been taken to keep up with changing trends while not diluting the core of the brand. Employees, too, contribute to the process of change by bringing in fresh ideas. Says Jain, “Employees are encouraged to bring in new ideas for process improvements. We have introduced a unique flag system suggested by an employee that has cut down the average service time by five to six minutes.”
Recently, Mast Kalandar has raised its Series B round of funding from Helion Venture Partners, Series A backer Footprint Ventures and Salarpuria Group, an angel investor in the company. The company plans to use this investment to aggresively expand to over 100 stores by the end of 2012. Jain says, “As the head of the organisation I need to constantly reskill myself, else the job will outgrow me. I am currently focussed on building IT systems that will help change the face of the organisation to take it to the 100 store level.”