Shreyas Kulkarni

Domino's owner Jubilant FoodWorks enters biryani biz with ‘Ekdum!’

The company has opened three restaurants in Gurugram, with plans for more. It is yet another evidence that biryani has become the favourite of restaurants and foodies alike.

India placed over 44 lakh biryani orders since the COVID-induced lockdowns started, said food delivery giant Zomato. Swiggy, another food delivery giant, registered over five lakh biryani orders during lockdowns, as per its ‘Lockdown StatEATistics’. Looks like biryani is clearly India’s undisputed food deity.

These numbers aren’t surprising. The 2018 FICCI-PWC report on the changing landscape of India’s foodservice industry said that “biryani had emerged as the unlikely champion of India’s fast food scene, unseating pizzas and burgers, which used to dominate standardised fast food kitchens”. The report went on to value the organised biryani delivery industry at around Rs 2,500 crore.

This love for biryani was best seen outside Anand Dum Biryani, an eatery in Bengaluru’s Hoskote district, back in October. "I came here at 4 a.m., but got my order at 6.30 a.m., since there's a long queue for biryani. The food is too delicious, it's worth the wait," a customer told ANI.

In the last few years, several biryani cloud kitchens and restaurants have opened shop. The famous ones include Charcoal Biryani, Biryani by Kilo, Behrouz Biryani, Ammi’s Biryani… the number keeps increasing.

“It’s not surprising,” says Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), and executive director of deGustibus Hospitality. “Biryani has always been a strong segment, along with pizza, burgers and Chinese (food).”

Jubilant FoodWorks, a food service company behind brands like Domino’s, Dunkin Donuts and Hong’s Kitchen in India, is the newest entrant in the biryani business, with its new brand ‘Ekdum!’.

Domino's owner Jubilant FoodWorks enters biryani biz with ‘Ekdum!’

It’s a restaurant chain that serves a range of biryanis, from Hyderabadi Nizami Biryani, Lucknowi Nawabi Biryani, Dindigul Biryani, Kolkata Biryani, among other variants, to a range of kebabs, curries, breads, desserts and beverages. The first three Ekdum! restaurants have opened in Gurugram, with extension plan in NCR in place in the next few months.

It offers dine-in, takeout and delivery facilities. One can place an order through its app, or mobile/desktop website. The biryani is affordably priced, starting at Rs 99.

Explaining why Jubilant FoodWorks ventured into the biryani business, food writer and brand consultant Kalyan Karmakar told us that India is a rice eating and carb-loving country. “Our meals can’t be just meat or vegetables. So, that’s where a biryani becomes a complete dish.”

Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar

Karmakar made quite the striking analogy when he said that it’s a bit like going to a dance floor where people will jive to western music, but the mood changes completely when there’s bhangra (music). You will enjoy your burger and pizza, but at the end of the day….

The dish that’s spearheading F&B’s return?

Seeing the love for biryani among people and restaurants, yours truly wondered if it is, in some way, spearheading the food and beverage (F&B) sector’s return to normalcy. It’s not, stated Katriar.

Anurag Katriar
Anurag Katriar

“I feel biryani, more than being a renaissance dish, is a safer bet because it is something which already has an established market. All you (restaurant) need is to create your own USP.”

The real competition

Biryani is not relished only in restaurants. A great amount of biryani consumption happens on the streets. Have you ever seen a guy who’s set up a street stall with a big handi? Yes, that’s where a lot of people gather around in the evenings to enjoy a plate of tasty biryani.

Are the likes of these the real competition Ekdum! should be worried about? Not really, as per Katriar. “The tables have turned completely. Today, hygiene is the most important factor for a customer while deciding where to order from.”

Katriar told us that restaurants with better brand equity, or brand recognition will fare better because people trust them to follow the requisite health and safety standards. “The new USP for everyone will not be how beautiful my place is, or how good my food is, it will be about how safe my place is.”

Ekdum!’s website has a section dedicated to the safety measures it follows. The food you order is cooked in open kitchens so that you can see if the restaurant is following all the safety protocols.

Karmakar took another route when he told us that the word ‘unorganised’ is doing a disservice to biryani. He said that while biryani has become a street dish in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, one should not forget that each of these cities has independent family-run restaurants…

… You’ve got Noorani in Mumbai, Aminia and Shiraz in Kolkata and we’re only thinking about the North and East, there’s Dindigul Thalappakatti in Chennai.

As per Karmakar, the second and third generation of these family-run restaurants have taken them out of the old city to the suburbs and newer parts of the city “in a new format that’s very different from the older restaurants, such as they are more brightly lit, air-conditioned, cleaner…”

Speaking about the likes of Ekdum! and others, Karmakar says that they should take the family-run restaurants seriously and “not think they’re old fashioned and people won’t go there.”

The state of India’s F&B space

Remarked Katriar, “If you look at pure numbers, then yes, we are recovering here and there. But that’s not good enough to bring about a revival which is, maybe, two to three quarters away.”

He made a striking point about how, despite the COVID vaccine’s likely availability in March, people will need at least two quarters to de-escalate their fear of the virus, and for economic activities to improve. It will leave people with enough disposable income to go out and splurge.

He went on to say that in India, eating out isn’t only about food, but it is an occasion in itself. Relatives paying a visit? Let’s go and eat out. Promotion at work? Party. Getting married? Party. “It is the lowest and most common form of celebration,” Katriar signed off.

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