When Borhanul Hasan Chowdhury, youngest son of former Chattogram mayor ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, was studying in the UK, he worked part-time at a restaurant for a while.
Now, with two of his friends, he owns two of the most popular restaurants in the port city – Café Milano and Little Asia.
Borhanul Hasan Chowdhury talks about his restaurant business and other relevant matters with The Business Standard's Jobaer Chowdhury.
How did the idea of getting into the food business come to mind?
We always had to arrange food for many people in our house and I have been interested in food ever since. I went abroad to study in 2005 and took a part-time job at a restaurant for a while. At that time, I was given different types of training and I also did a master's in this field in Dhaka after I had come back home.
How did the business start?
I missed having a good place to sit and have a cup of coffee in Chattogram. In 2011, two of my friends, Mahmudur Reza and Ifas Khan, and I opened a CP branch, a popular franchise brand in Dhaka, on the ground floor of Premier University. Later, we started Café Milano in 2013 and Little Asia in 2019.
What challenges did you face?
In the beginning, it was very challenging. We looked for our restaurant space all over, but it was not easy. Many did not want to rent to us because I was the son of Mohiuddin Chowdhury.
They thought I would not pay rent properly or I might cause trouble. Eventually, I applied for the abandoned storeroom space on the ground floor of Premier University. My father did not attend university meetings for a long time to avoid any questions regarding this. Our application for the place was accepted after 10 months but with strict conditions.
My father did not like the idea of my getting into the restaurant business as I had studied abroad. He did not give me any money and eventually I started the business with my sister's FDR (Fixed Deposit Receipt).
What was your role at the restaurant?
I was trained by CP, including on how to make chicken fry. In the beginning, I would cook the fried chicken myself. In 2013, we started Café Milano. We bought a coffee machine for Tk5 lakh. In Chattogram, it was us who introduced authentic coffee for the first time. We had no idea about the salary of chefs or other employees. It was difficult to get the right manpower so I made the first 3,000 cups of coffee at our café.
What difficulties did you face in the beginning?
It was very difficult to explain to the people of Chattogram that coffee is bitter. In 10 days, we needed 50 kg of sugar. Slowly people have become accustomed to the taste of coffee. We bought coffee beans from Kenya and roasted them in Dhaka. Coffee beans roasted and ground abroad do not have an authentic taste by the time you make and drink it here.
How was the business during the Covid-19 pandemic?
When home delivery started in the early days of the pandemic, we faced many difficulties. There were several lockdowns at different times, but we have learned many things from the crisis. If a lockdown is declared again, we are ready to face it. We have not laid off a single employee in the pandemic and we have 221 employees at our two restaurants. All of them are still working.
What are your thoughts on success?
I learned to respect work of any kind when I studied abroad. Education there is very realistic and hands-on which has been very useful for me in my business. When Café Milano temporarily closed for building renovations, we came to understand how truly our customers loved and appreciated us.
We received messages from about five thousand customers. People missed Cafe Milano and now we know we have been able to create a customer base in Chattogram. That's our success.