The Food Chain

When it comes to deciding where to head for a quick bite or a lavish meal, Chennai offers a plethora of options.
Sandwich from Sandwich Square
Sandwich from Sandwich Square

CHENNAI: When it comes to deciding where to head for a quick bite or a lavish meal, Chennai offers a plethora of options. Usually, lazy weekends are for one-of-its-kind restaurants. But the busy, regular days are for familiar food brands right around the corner of our streets. And at the growing food franchise outlets in the city, these are the busy days too. 

Shruti Bokgia, marketing head, Desi Klub shares, “The last three years have seen a boom in food and beverage industry in Chennai, when compared to other cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and New Delhi. One new restaurant opens here everyday. And six in every 10 of them are franchises.” Take a business like Madras Coffee House for instance. It’s first outlet was launched at an IT park. And a year from then, about 90 outlets were set up across the country. “This is phenomenal growth of a local brand, which identified the simple essence of what people connect to and relish,” says Iyyappan Rajendran, founder, Strategizer, a franchise consulting service. 

Owners of food-related businesses believe that Chennai is becoming a hub for accessible joints, with a moving crowd, and an innovative menu that challenges traditional ideas of comfort food. They share that franchises let them tap this underestimated potential. Kripa Dharmaraj, founder, MC’s Lunchbox, says, “Our research showed that there was a gap between restaurants that served south Indian food, and people who craved homemade food. And the number of unorganised stores that were closing down, whether or not the food was good, was on a rise.”  

MC’s Lunchbox was started in 2013 after a six-month research period. In June last year, they opened to franchises. Kripa shares that the idea is to switch from a central kitchen to cloud kitchens, that are within a 90-minute reach from any point in the city. The ingredients and flavours used, recipes and method of cooking, all remain the same. And the boxes look and taste the same wherever they’re ordered from. 

Tanveer Iqbal, founder, Sandwich Square, a store that has 54 outlets, with 38 in Chennai alone, explains that the point of a franchise is to retain the uniqueness in the taste of the brand across all stores. Like all booming franchises, their menu too is for the area’s people. “Everyone, from an auto driver to a grandmother in an area, should find something for their palate in the store. Which is why we also chose to do micro-level marketing, like carrying a banner about free sandwiches, or the launch of a new flavour like ‘vada curry’ in one of the stores,” shares Tanveer. 

Location and product analysis are key to opening a franchise, and 80 per cent of businesses in Chennai, fail because of the lack of it. Iyyappan explains that initial investment must be carefully planned. “For a product worth `6 lakh, we have to invest at least `9 lakh-`10 lakh. Here, there are more uncertainties. Everything from locality to parking matters,” he says. 

That said, in the last five years, food franchises have seen an 80 per cent rise in Chennai, while beauty and wellness, nursery and primary education, and retail has only risen to 20 per cent. Most franchise owners are graduates right out of college, and employees who have worked in the IT industry for 15-20 years. Yogesh Kumar, a 19-year-old engineering student who is considering investing in a franchise after college, shares, “I’ve always wanted to do something independently, but it’s too early and risky to start a business by my own. If I invest in a franchise instead, I’ll learn automatically on the job.” 

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The New Indian Express