Tasty boost-up of Kerala’s service industry

Sample the many flavours of Keralas food start-ups challenges included
news Saturday, January 09, 2016 - 17:15

The last couple of years saw a boom in start-ups in Kerala by young entrepreneurs. This has now translated into a tasty boost-up of the service industry with food start-ups coming in to picture.

The News Minute spoke to a couple of young entrepreneurs from Thrissur who run “not just another restaurant”, but ones with a different touch.

When one walks into Sulaimani 168 -a theme restaurant- in Thrissur, one is immediately transported into Basheer’s world with the aroma of delicacies cooking in authentic Kannur style wafting in.

Not surprising, given the fact that the restaurant is conceptualized on the works of the famed Malayalam writer Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer.

If you are acquainted with Basheer’s novels, excerpts from his novels -written and painted on the walls- is sure to fascinate you. No Malayali can ever forget the bitter-sweet exchanges of Saramma and Keshavan Nair in Premalekhanam (Love-letter).

“We always wanted to start something different which offers more scope of interaction. Being great foodies ourselves and Basheer being our favourite author, we came up with this theme,” says Shaima Manas, co-owner of Sulaimani 168.

Manas and Shaima -former IT professionals- started the restaurant in Febrauary 2015 after quitting their jobs in Delhi and moving to Thrissur.

The couple chose the menu with lot of care incorporating items from Manas’s mother in Kannur. They improvised not with the recipes involved, but with their names.

“Thoma soup”, a soup made of goat meat, is named after “Aadu Thoma” (Aadu means goat in Malayalam) -the popular character played by Mohanlal in the movie Spadikam.

“We realized that for a restaurant to be successful, it not only has to provide quality food and service, but also manage to capture their attention. Every room in this house-turned-hotel is named after Basheer’s novels. We have also made available a couple of his books, so that our patrons can re-read them at a leisurely pace,” elaborated Shaima.

Bringing a novel idea to fruition is exactly what inspired Abhil Sebastian to start “TeAmo Club” and bring the taste of Taiwanese bubble tea to Thrissur. Abhil quit his job as an engineer in Chennai two years ago to start TeAmo in November 2014.

He adopted the concept to suit the needs of his Malayali target customers by bringing in preferred fruit flavours. This tea-based drink flavoured with fruit jellies and ice cream has been a huge hit in just over a year’s time.

Challenges: Funding & Expansion

Conceptualized by Abhil, TeAmo is co-founded by two other partners. The most challenging part of setting up a business -Abhil rues- is with regard to licensing and permit.

Shaima and her husband Manas faced the same trouble. “Getting a suitable rented space is difficult in itself. The lengthy government process involved in procuring a license makes it even worse,” Shaima reiterated.

As for Abhil, keeping political interference at bay has been a challenge. For someone who is entirely new to the business field, handling various types of customers remains a task.

“We have had instances where political party representatives barge in asking for donations to the party fund. They threaten us when we refuse to pay,” he sighed.

Being new to the service industry, Abhil reflects that the challenge lies not in setting up a start-up, but in beating the survival odds.

“When we started off, such a concept was an entirely novel one. And getting people to experiment with new flavours is a very important feature”, he added.

As for Shaima, updating the menu every now and then to bring in new dishes has helped them retain their old customers and also create new ones. A year into business, both the outlets are now hoping to expand in the near future.

Both TeAmo and Sulaimani 168 rely only on promotion through Facebook.

While TeAmo offers a free drink to its registered customers on their birthdays, Sulaimani 168 has this printed on their menu: “We hate and are so against ajinomotto, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours. If you find any of these in the food we serve, we will pamper you with unlimited dining for 168 hours”.

They sure know how to cater to a hungry palate!


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