A cook called Aasife tastes success by serving the best of biryani that he could churn out
Vol 7 | Issue 7
Around 18 years ago, a 21-year-old youngster, Aasife Ahmed, who could not study beyond Class nine due to financial difficulties at home decided to use the Rs 4,000 he received from a LIC ‘Money Back policy’ to start a small biryani business from a thallu vandi (pushcart).
His innate entrepreneurial skills, passion for cooking and some experience as a biryani master under a veteran cook gave him the confidence to start a venture of his own.
Aasife Ahmed, owner of Aasife Biriyani, in front of his Alandur outlet with the thallu vandi that pushed him to success (Photos: H K Rajashekar)
Today, he is the owner of Aasife Biriyani, a popular chain of biryani outlets in Chennai, whose annual turnover is touching around Rs. 70 crore.
He has nine branches in the city - with the largest one spread out on a 15,000 sq ft facility at Alandur - and 700 people working for him.
“It was my love for cooking, the desire to achieve something big in life, hard work, and my self confidence that contributed to my growth,” says Aasife, who is now on a rapid expansion mode.
“We plan to have a total of 17 outlets in Chennai. We will open eight more outlets before the end of this year. All of them will be company owned.
“The outlets outside Chennai will be operated through franchisees. We have plans to open outlets in Coimbatore, Pondicherry and Colombo (in Sri Lanka),” says the first generation entrepreneur, whose rags to riches journey is bound to be one of the most inspiring success stories of our times.
In 1999, not far from where his Mount Road outlet is located currently, he started his business in T Nagar on a push cart with three kg of chicken biryani which was sold out in a few hours giving him a profit of Rs 250 on day one.
“With just Rs 4000, I bought a push cart for Rs 2350, a petromax light (pressurised paraffin lamp), ladles, plates, and vessels. I made biryani at home and carried it to T Nagar on my two-wheeler.
Nine more outlets are being planned in Chennai before end of the year
“The crowds came to me because I maintained quality. I would never compromise on quality irrespective of the prices of the ingredients.
“Customers liked my preparation and began to flock to my shop. I loved to hear their compliments about the food. If I didn’t receive a single compliment in a day, I would be very concerned,” says Aasife.
In three months, his daily sale went up to 10-15 kilos and profit to Rs 1000. He got rid of his Kinetic V2 Moped - which he was using to transport the food from home to his shop - and bought a Bajaj M 80.
But soon he was forced to shut his shop due to threats from a local rowdy who wanted to start a biryani business for his brother in the same place.
Not losing heart, Aasife shrugged off the disappointment and set up shop at Butt Road in St. Thomas Mount, where business picked up quickly.
In 2002, he opened his first proper outlet at Butt Road. It was a small shop that could seat 15 people. For first time he was able to operate from morning, since biryani sale on the pushcart always started only after sundown.
Three years later, he opened a larger multi-cuisine outlet in a 1,500 sq ft area in a nearby place. “We employed about 30 people in the restaurant, including waiters, cleaners and cooks,” recalls Aasife.
By 2014, they had grown to eight restaurants. “The expansion was funded mainly through banks and private loans. I ploughed back most of the profit back into the business as well,” he says.
When differences arose within the family on his fast-track expansion, he gave two restaurants each to his two brothers and mother, and kept the remaining two for himself, which are now part of Aasife Biriyani Private Limited, where he holds 99 per cent stakes.
Aasife started trying his hand in cooking from age 12
“In last 15 months, we have added seven restaurants to the chain,” he says.
Aasife’s childhood was replete with struggles and challenges, which provided ample opportunities for his entrepreneurial skills to come to the fore.
He first tried his hand in cooking at home when he was just 12. While he was in Class seven he started delivering newspapers before going to school.
Later, he collected old note books and papers from different places and sold them in the wholesale market for good profit.
“When I found that buyers of old papers sell to wholesalers at nearly double the buying rate, the very next day I approached a school and asked for buying their old papers.
“They took me inside a room, where to my pleasant surprise I found about 500 kg of old exam papers stacked up. I rushed back home and borrowed Rs 1,500 from my mother to hire a vehicle for transporting the papers.
“She pledged her jewels and gave me the money. It was my first big deal. I made a killing that day and sold the papers for a profit of Rs 1,800 which was big money those days, enough to buy provision for our family for two months,” recalls the restaurateur, sitting at his Mount Road outlet, whose average monthly turnover, he reveals, is about Rs 90 lakh now.
Aasife recalls that he sought earning opportunities at a young age, because their family had sunk into deep financial crisis after his father who worked as a health inspector in Chennai Corporation was suspended from work for taking extended periods of leave.
“He was running around to sell an ancestral property that belonged to more than 30 persons in the family,” says Aasife, who was around 11 years old then.
The family could no longer afford to educate Aasife and his two younger brothers in a private school and shifted them to a government school in Pallavaram, where the family lived.
Where it all happens - the kitchen at Aaisfe Biriyani, Alandur outlet
At 14, Aasife bagged a contract from a company in Chrompet for doing knitting work on their leather footwear.
“We started with 300 pairs initially and it grew up to 7,000 pairs within a year. I had around 30-40 women in the neighbourhood working for us.
“We made around Rs 1 lakh per month, and with my earnings we bought a piece of property of our own in Pallavaram and put up a hut there,” he says.
But when the leather industry went through a slump and the knitted footwear models went out of fashion, the orders stopped coming.
With no job now, and having dropped out of school, Aasife joined as an assistant to Asmath, a biryani specialist in the area, who cooked at weddings and other local functions.
“He paid Rs 500 whenever he hired me. I used to get work for about ten days in a month.
“But I was thrilled with the job. I still remember the day he gave me the ladle after two months. I felt so happy and shared the news with my mother as if I had won some award,” he says, laughing.
Eight months later he packed his bags to Mumbai from where he hoped to fly to Muscat to take up a “high paying” job. But the agent who took Rs 35,000 from the family absconded, leaving him stranded in an unknown city.
He managed to use his skills to help in a local footwear shop, and got money for his ticket back home.
“I travelled from Mumbai to Chennai with just Rs 5 in my pocket. I had no money for food and starved throughout the journey.
“I faced that moment in life when a person has to choose between begging and stealing. I could do none of it and just kept drinking lots of water to keep me from fainting,” says Aasife.
He kept the five rupees for the ticket on the suburban train from Chennai Central to Pallavaram, where his house was located.
“It was only after I reached home and had a filling meal I got my life back. It was at that point I decided to start my biryani shop,” he says.
Aasife, who got married in 2004, has a 12-year-old daughter and two sons, aged 9 and 5.
“My wife is also a ninth class dropout like me. We may not be well educated, but we have hired the best professionals to run our business,” he says.
This Article is Part of the 'Amazing Entrepreneurs' Series