You are not a true Delhite or a foodie if you haven’t visited Gali Kababian, Jama masjid for a royal feast at the award-winning Karim’s. The journey of Karim's dates back to 1913, when Haji Karimuddin started a small eatery to serve mughlai food to the common man without knowing that the brand would become a global fame one day. A favourite among celebrities, travellers and among common man, the journey of this rich cultural ensemble dates back to the time when Karimuddin was a royal chef par excellence to Bahadur Shah Zafar during the Mughal Era. Post the exit of Mughal Dynasty, Karimuddin came back to his hometown, Farak Nagar and was determined to bring the rich savory flavors of the Mughal cuisine to roots of the country. With such a cultural culinary palette in his blood, he started off as a small seller near Red Fort and realized his passion of serving the royal delicacies to the common man. He was determined to build on his vision of owning a culinary legacy and sold off all the precious gifts and charms he was rewarded during his tenure with the Mughal Dynasty and purchased and set the first stone of the Karim’s empire. Since then, generations after generations are upholding the traditions of this Mughal marvel, working towards taking his legacy forward of serving royal food to the common man.
Today, the fourth generation is running the show and has lived by the same legacy for over 106 years. Defined by the symphony that Allah has 99 names and Karim is one of them, and it is because of this very name, Karim is growing day by day. Aiwaz Asif, the fourth generation restaurateur talks about expanding the brand not just for business expansion but to grow as an emotion that 'Karim' is. Excerpts from the interview:
Building a legacy
The core of this patronage to authentic Mughlai food is built on the mantra of quality and consistency and we take pride that nothing has changed since the day Karim’s was born. However, keeping up with the modern taste palettes of the customers, Karim’s has taken the menu through different regions of the country and have added the taste of local dishes such as in Calcutta, signature dishes. We aim to nurture the heritage of serving food from the Mughal Dynasty. The brand was made for the common man and the generations have been striving to sustain and preserve the beliefs.
An emotional connect
Living and running the legacy is the biggest challenge. We have not changed our recipes since the day the brand was started. We have kept everything on the menu by the recipe how it used to be as maintaining the consistency and taste is the biggest challenge. As our forefathers believed in serving the royal food to the common man, we have been thriving to ensure that we serve that every day at our outlets. The tenderness of the meat, the spices, the marinations and the cooking techniques, all go way back to the time 108 years ago. It is an emotion for us and we have been living it generations over generations.
How have you innovated the brand as you are the 4th generation from the family?
We all through the generations have not considered making any innovations to the brand. Karim’s was started with the vision of serving royal food to the common man and we have been only working towards achieving this and making it a profitable business for us and our franchise partners.
Driven by emotions
Indians have Mughlai cuisine somewhere in their DNA. While we all were growing up, the exposure has been great of mughlai cuisine and that is the reason why mughlai enjoys a good percentage of share in the market as compared to others. Food is ever evolving and so are the palates of Indians. The exposure is huge now and with the ERA of Millenials and Gen Z, global food with comfort Indian food is what we can see evolving in coming times too. The menu offering at Karim’s stands apart. The brand is known for the richness in food and is enjoyed because of its rich succulent flavours. The moving trend where people have now turned conscious about their health and well being, the ones who want to indulge they do and then balance it out with a workout and healthy lifestyle. Running a legacy brand has its own pull of rich flavoursome meals that creates nostalgia amongst the people and they drive back to the signatures which they have been enjoying over the years and generations.
You are running 50+ outlets of the brand. How about expanding to global markets?
We currently have 50+ operational outlets in India and UAE. We are looking forward to expanding our foothold through the franchising route, and the key is to make people embrace the royal and deliciously historic cuisine from the mughal era. We opened our first branch in the 1990s in Nizamuddin West, followed by Kailash Colony, Noida, Gurgaon, Kamla Nagar, Dwarka. As a way forward for the future, the brand is looking towards a mix of company owned and company operated outlets along with franchise owned company operated outlets.
As, Karim’s is defined by the symphony that Allah has 99 names and Karim is one of them, and it is because of this very name, Karim is growing day by day. Currently catering over 50 + outlets, we plan to capture the global expansion in the coming years.
Which are the top cities in your radar?
Mumbai, we have been in talks and welcoming queries for Mumbai currently. However we plan to rollout across the South of India covering Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai etc.
We have also seen that more than tier-1 cities, Tier-2 cities have attracted legacy brands like Karim’s, Moti Mahal and Paradise to name a few. Why so? What’s your plan tapping these cities?
Yes, indeed, Tier 2 has shown much love to Karim’s as well. We have good no. of outlets in Tier 2 at places such as Kota, Dehradun, Lucknow, Simbaoli, and a couple of more. We understand the market size and scope, hence welcoming franchise expansion in Tier 2 and Tier 3 for Karim’s.
How has the pandemic treated you? Do you also have any plan going into the delivery/ cloud kitchen model as being hybrid is need of the hour?
Pandemic has definitely affected everyone across the globe. Karim’s business model and its offering since beginning has been Dine-in, Delivery and Take Away. The Dine-in business did impact everyone and so did it to us as well, however we could sustain with our deliveries and take-aways during the current times. The delivery industry has picked up and is a great hope for making profits till the time pandemic settles.
If we talk about the top ordered food and the customer favourite. What’s that from the menu?
The top dishes ordered at Karim’s over the generations have been Mutton Seekh Kebab, Paya, Mutton Burra, Mutton korma, Mutton Nahari Mutton Stew, Brain Curry, Tandoori Bakra. The most enjoyed has to be the Tandoori Bakra. These dishes belong to the menu and have been prepared exactly how they used to be 108 years ago.
What’s the average footfall that you receive at your outlets?
Our average footfall at Jama Masjid outlet is approximately 1200 - 1500pax.
5 tips that you would like to share with fellow restaurateurs in the business to learn from a legacy brand?
Well, all I would like to share with my fellow mates for a legacy brand is; consistency and quality is the only key. Brands become a legacy only if we follow the vision without getting diluted with the changing trends. There are times when you would feel that the need of the hour is to change; there is exactly where you have to remind and live by the commitments which made the name into a brand and work towards building it a legacy. It takes generations over generations in building a legacy and living by the commitments towards the vision of the brand.
Any trend that you see will disrupt the Indian market in the next 2-3 years?
Change is the only constant which will be observed in coming years now. Comfort food and Experimental cuisine is something that will entice a customer to step out and enjoy post pandemic life.