Khan Kitchen was launched in 2017 with the ambitious idea of becoming the biggest name in lunch delivery to office-goers around Dhaka.
Afroza Begum, its founder and managing director, was keenly aware of the struggles of office goers who had to settle for either substandard food or rich and expensive food, during their lunch hours. She commissioned a market research and survey and discovered five to six million people ate their lunches at restaurants, fast food shops and from home-food suppliers in the capital every day.
Afroza went in fully armed to tap into this little-explored market. She invested around Tk 10 to 12 crore, hired 300 people and set up an automated kitchen in the middle of a 14-bigha land in Beraid at Badda.
Within a few months of its inception, Khan's kitchen was providing 7,000 lunchboxes every day to office goers in Dhaka, including to areas Motijheel, Shantinagar and Bijoynagar. They had already reached 80 percent of their target customers. The cost of each box was set at Tk95.
But then the company hit a snag.
Several problems surfaced along with customers' complaints when Khan's Kitchen expanded their services.
Food quality deteriorated because of hot weather and customers regularly complained of late delivery.
Worried over the rising complaints, Afroza decided to change her business strategy.
She realised meeting a big number of retail orders from different locations of Dhaka with limited manpower, and combating the heat in traffic congestion, was very difficult.
Instead, she decided to pull back operations and narrow down her clientele and delivery area. They now supply mostly to Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Niketan and surrounding areas.
Today, Khan's Kitchen is providing lunchboxes to 3,500 people at Tk120. It is operated by 150 employees.
Instead of providing lunch boxes, they launched buffet services at different office canteens. After cooking the food, they carry it in buffet trays and set them up in the canteens.
In addition, it has expanded into delivering for special events.
"It looked like my business had sunk but it actually hadn't. I was earlier covering a huge number of retail customers over a longer distance. So, I needed more manpower and financial support to run that operation. Under the new strategy, I am sustaining while putting up with my quality," Afroza said.
Khan's Kitchen still has the capability to cook food for 50,000 people per day. However, they have not had to deliver for more than 25,000 people a day till date.
"I intend to do business, but after providing healthy and good food. When it was not working, I changed the strategy – and it proved effective," Afroza said.
The company has seen a 20 percent growth after one and a half years of changing strategy.
From the consumer's end, all these efforts have been met with due appreciation. Rahel Hasan, a senior executive at SMC group, said "In terms of quality and taste, the lunch from Khan's Kitchen outranks other food catering services in Dhaka. On top of that, they listen to our feedback and change the menu accordingly."
Khan's Kitchen stands on a massive property, which includes a four-bigha land is reserved for the infrastructure, while the rest of the land is set aside for its future farm.
Although the kitchen purchases fresh produce like vegetables, fish, and meat from fixed vendors, they plan to start producing these in their farm to maintain the highest quality.
The preparation for cooking starts every evening. From prepping to washing, to marinating – all these are done by automated machinery to avoid human touch. After the preparation is done, the chefs' work begins.
Before entering the kitchen, it is a must for all employees to take an air-shower. The kitchen has epoxy flooring to keep it germ-free.
Even after that, the executive chef strictly overviews the sous-chefs and other workers, and instruct them on food safety and recipes.
The kitchen, machinery, and utensils are cleaned daily. They frequently consult with professional nutritionists and get the food tested.
The past and future
Afroza had a difficult time when launching Khan's Kitchen as the banks were shy to give her a loan.
She then sold of some of her personal property and took a small loan from a bank and finally started her business venture.
Mostofa Zaman, manager of marketing and sales of Khan's Kitchen, said, "We are now offering a menu that includes Bengali, Indian, Chinese cuisines and fast food. To serve the public, we are trying our best to keep a balance between price and quality."
Along with everyday lunch, it also offers food which is cooked in olive oil for clients seeking healthy diet. In the near future, they plan to offer an customised menu for gastritis, high blood pressure and diabetes patients.
After spending three years in the business, Afroza said the outcome was entirely different from what the market research indicated.
"Though I am still learning the tricks of the trade, my suggestions to new entrepreneurs would be to generate a business idea that will be appealing to the public. In addition to that, honesty, investment, and having the courage to reshape a business model are indispensable," advised Afroza Begum.