In today's age of technology and disruption, a traditional business can also flourish if it is positioned correctly. However, it was not only positioning, but careful planning, attention to detail, and clinical execution that led to Alpha Catering's being featured here today. We had the chance of interviewing one of the co-founders, Sayem Faruk, to know more about this thriving startup.
Take us through Alpha's journey from ideation to launch.
It all started when we were carrying out a research project on the level of hygiene and quality standards of the local food industry. To our dismay, the results were appalling—most restaurants were aggressively cutting costs and compromising on profits.
We decided the best way to change the norm was to do it ourselves. People asked us “Then why didn't you open up a restaurant?”, and the simple answer is because the market is saturated. On the flip side, as caterers we can serve multiple customers at the same time. And to ensure that the facility conformed to global standards in terms of space, equipment and layout, we consulted Tony Khan, a celebrity chef in Bangladesh, and several other industry experts.
Are you passionate about food in general?
Absolutely! That's the primary reason we're in this business. We're not chefs, but we can brew the perfect cup of copy (laugh). We take an interest in the food we serve and how it is made. We are foodies turned businessmen.
Tell us a bit about the company.
Currently there are very poor hygiene standards in the industry, no product innovation, and a lack of professionalism. Alpha's vision is to reverse these trends.
We started our full-scale operations in August of 2016. Thanks to a highly experienced and talented cooking team, we can serve over seven cuisines, which we consider a competitive advantage. Bengali Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Arabic, English, etc. We cater for all sorts of occasions—corporate meetings, conferences, seminars, daily lunch, home parties, birthday parties, weddings, etc. And in a span of just 6 months, we acquired a commendable client base.
We take sourcing very carefully and buy only fresh produce by alternating between bazaars. We use branded ingredients and are looking to procure directly from firms soon. It's a bit more challenging when it comes to protein, but we vet our sources to ensure best quality. Again it's better to procure from branded suppliers and we hope to do so soon.
Also, no one is allowed inside the kitchen without proper attire, not even us. There are separate cutting boards, storage facilities, and sections, and the whole setup is CCTV monitored.
What's your team like? How do you manage?
We have a staff of 25 at present. You can divide them into three groups.
The first is the cooking team, and obviously the most important. Our Executive Chef, Nicolas Rozario, has more than a decade of experience working in the Middle Eastern catering industry. Under him, we have two sous-chefs—Andru Corraya and Leon Gomes. Besides the three, we also have four other chefs de partie. Combined, they have experience of over 120 years.
The second group comprises of the support team. They each have designated roles. Some are involved in packing food, some work in delivery, while others take care of purchasing raw materials.
The last group is the management. We have an Operations Manager, a Customer Relationship Officer, a Sales Executive, a HR and Admin Officer, an Accountant, and so on.
We're hiring regularly to build a strong, cross-trained team.
What challenges did you face or are facing?
Since most of our clients are corporations, it takes some time to clear payments as they must follow certain protocols. Another challenge is to make consumers understand that maintaining hygiene and quality pushes up our costs relative to caterers who don't. However, our prices are still lower compared to some leading caterers.
What keeps you going despite the challenges?
We're on a mission to bring global standards to the local industry. When you have full confidence in yourself, your team, and your purpose, it's easy to jump from setbacks to setbacks with the same enthusiasm. We have had all sorts of failures and nerve-wracking crises. We know more of them are coming soon, but it's that grit that's pushes us to go on day in and day out.
What is your current strategy? What clients do you cater to?
Initially we focused heavily on office lunch. Currently we serve 300 orders every day to offices, including bagdoom.com, Unilever, MGH, and Newscred. Events are much more attractive because revenues from one single corporate client can equal a month's revenue from office lunches. As such, we are now trying our best to develop relationships with corporations, universities, institutes, and event managers. We have successfully catered to the likes of BAT, ACI, Chevron, NSU, IBA-DU, ICDDR,B. Our proudest achievement is serving Dr. Muhammad Yunus at Grameen Trust's board meetings! We are also the official caterers of The City Bank Ltd.
What are your plans for the future?
We want to keep pushing continental cuisine in events. We also want to bring about changes never before seen and go beyond traditional catering. Imagine an event where you have six different stations—rural Bengali, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese. Chocolate fountains, exotic desserts, exquisitely decorated tables, smart servers, and so on. The possibilities are exciting to say the least, and we are working on them already.
How different is entrepreneurship from your perception of it? Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Startups are overrated. You'll end up doing uninteresting tasks that add little value most of the time. Yes, you're your own boss, but you are your own employee as well. That means you cannot skip work, you'll have your own KPIs and will be accountable to the rest of the team. But at the end of the day it feels good when customers praise your service and that makes it worth it.
Alpha Catering invited us to their kitchen at Ibrahimpur to take a look at their kitchen and try some of their delicious food, like they invite all their customers. Here's wishing Asif and Sayem and all other young entrepreneurs all the best.
The interviewer is a sophomore at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka