1. Tell us about yourself as in your career, education, childhood days and hobbies.
I studied in psychology but later decided to move to some other industry which have a better future .Then I chose hospitality industry & then completed my diploma. After that, I started working at the Pan Pacific Hotel at Sonargaon in 1998 and worked there for 2 years. Then I moved to Abu Dhabi where I worked in a 5 star luxury hotel for a short period.
After returning to Bangladesh I got a chance to work with a very renowned & successful brand “Pizza Hut” which falls under the umbrella of Transcom Foods ltd. I was a part of opening team & opened 2 outlets in Dhaka and Chittagong. After that, then I joined Coffee World and opened 2 outlets in a very short period of time. After Coffee World I moved to South African Peri Peri Grilled Chicken restaurant brand named “Nando’s” and successfully introduced 2 outlets & established the brand locally. Then I finally joined Navana Foods Ltd and working here for the last 10 years.
I like to travel a lot but I struggle to manage time for this. Alhamdulillah, I have travelled 4 continents, and hopefully I’ll visit North America and South America soon. I also like watching movies & series which are based on real-life events.
2. How did your journey at Navana Food start?
Our Senior Vice Chairman trusted on me & appointed to setup and establish “Gloria Jean’s Coffees” brand in Bangladesh. And Alhamdulillah till then I am taking care of this band & successfully made this as a part of our life style.
At the beginning it was not that easy to get to the right place for our outlet. It took me almost 2 years to find the appropriate location in this city because it was very costly. Gulshan Avenue is the most popular road for business in Dhaka and so it was tough to open any outlet on this road. But our real estate business helped me in finding the right location.
3. You have played diversified roles in your company. Where did you have the most memorable experience and how did you see this change?
I have spent most of my career, which is 10 years, at Navana. And everywhere I worked, like Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, Transcom Food, MGH Restaurant and at Abu Dhabi - I enjoyed everywhere because of my colleagues. My colleagues are like my family & still have some fantastic colleagues who helped me to grow these brands and maintaining a better family life.
4. What motivated you to join specifically the food and restaurant sector? Also, are you a foodie, and do you give food reviews?
I have always been a good student, but I didn’t do well in HSC while my classmates did. They got admitted to medical or BUET, and I hadn’t gotten admitted anywhere. So I tried to find a place where I could do better, and I found this industry where I met a few good leaders and got a chance to evolve. Soon I realized that I was doing pretty well in this industry, and whatever I tried, Allah helped me to achieve that.
Yes, I am a very big foodie since my childhood. I love having food and giving feedback to my chefs. That’s how we create our menu, that’s our everyday work in fact. Even with my wife, I always complement about any of her good dish.
5. When Gloria Jean’s first launched in Bangladesh, what was the initial response from the local community as it is a global coffee chain?
Navana supported me a lot to bring this brand here in Bangladesh & open the 1st outlet on Gulshan Avenue back in 2012. For the first 3-4 years, our 1st outlet used to be over crowed and to spread these crowed we had to open in Dhanmondi & later on at Gulshan 2 diplomatic zone.
Alhamdulillah all the branches are doing well till date. Our guests appreciated everything that we did for them. And, our coffee shop became the largest in Dhaka with their help.
6. What were the experience and challenges initially you faced after starting Gloria Jeans? And how did you overcome them?
You know, it’s a tea-drinking nation. Between tea and coffee, tea is the cheaper option. So making a tea-drinking nation into a coffee-drinking nation was definitely a challenge as well as expensive. We are habituated to having not only tea but also to considering diluted instant coffee as the coffee we know. And it took us time to get used to the fact that there are coffees that don’t dilute and we have to take an extract from the coffee beans to make espresso.
Making people understand these was difficult. They said, “Why? Instant coffee is cheap, so why are you charging so much?”. Then we had to make them understand that we bring coffee beans from around the world, such as South America and Africa, and make the blend in Australia to make the best blend for them. We also bring roasted beans from Australia, our central warehouse, and use the best coffee machine in this world and that is why it’s costly. So it took 5 years to explain the story behind a good cup of coffee to a lot of customers and now people have understood the idea of it and appreciate the difference between instant coffee and ground coffee beans.
Other than that, people appreciated our initiative when we first started it. People used to visit us a lot because it was the kind of coffee shop Dhaka city had never experienced before.
7. How do you ensure the quality and maintain the international standards of the foods and drinks?
This is actually the biggest challenge in Bangladesh. I worked for different brands where I learned to keep the same standards. In Bangladesh, we always start things in a good mood but after a few months or years, sometimes our moods go like “Okay, let it go, it will work out, we have good sales, let’s do a bit compromise, nobody will care this small thing… so & so” but it does not go in that way and finally business starts losing customers.
To monitor everything, we have to have a monitoring system to check everything, such as how they are making the coffee right. We have to check the coffee machine at least twice or thrice every day, whether the coffee machine is giving the right temperature or not, etc.
Our monitoring system has to be right to keep things on track. Otherwise, it will go off. We have to monitor the team as well to check if they are motivated, and if not, why they are demotivated.
So, we have to work on the teams and machines every time as otherwise whatever you create, it will not be easy for you to keep things at the same pace. And if you want to escalate on something, you’ll have to provide extra training. So that we have created individual training & development department, who always monitor standard practice & train team where ever it needed.
8. How do you retain your customers both corporate and individual ones?
We always focus on service. From what we understood, it’s the relationship and nothing else. We try to build our relationships with our guests, we try to understand particular choices and what they like and dislike. We try to remember these and provide services accordingly as in this industry, service is the only way to be in the business.
9. How do you train your employees like chefs, cooks, and barista?
Training is basically a continuous process. We always focus on training and try to monitor our team like who is making mistakes, why he or she is making mistakes, what kind of mistakes are being made, and also keep their personal problems in mind. For that we have created individual training department to work with them. In fact during my 20 years of service life I went for several international training in India, UAE, South Africa, Australia, Italy & UK. All these international training added value in my carrier & it helped me to take the training department at an international level.
10. How did Gloria Jean’s gain such a strong marketing position within a short time? What was your strategy behind such a big achievement?
Currently we have around 1000 outlets in 40 country in 5 continent. And our service team helped our brand to grow, it’s the team that did everything for this brand. So we try to take care of our team who are taking care of our guest as their moto is “We don’t sell products, rather we sell experience”. And Alhamdulillah we are going forward.
11. How is the current competition in the market right now? Which coffee chain would you consider as your strong competitor and why?
Nowadays every business is competitive. I mean, everybody is doing well and we are going with our strategy. If you talk about international & local brands everybody is doing well from their position. Even some small local brands are doing well.
In a country, only one brand cannot give you the experience. If people move around, they will get to experience different ambiances or different style of service and that is how a country or a culture flourishes. So, I don’t think they are competitors, I appreciate more brand & branches so that customer can experience difference between ours & others.
12. Is there any plan to expand the chains of Gloria Jeans around Bangladesh? What criteria do you consider before choosing a location?
Yes, we are planning on moving to different parts of the city hopefully by 2021. We are not in Uttara, Mirpur and some other places. We are trying to cover up Dhaka first and then hopefully by 2021 or 2022, we will move to Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.
And about choosing the location, definitely, we want a high-state location where there will be a higher number of people.
13. What projects are you involved in now along with the Navana Foods and are there any upcoming projects of Navana Foods you’d like to mention?
Yes, we have a bakery brand named “La Tarte” which has 1 single outlet in Gulshan 1. Currently we are running this branch on trial basis for future expansion. And InshaaAllah by 2021, we will have 5 more outlets in Dhaka. We are also going to sell some frozen packet food in the market soon, like momos and chicken lemon lolly. Which you may get from the super shops under the brand name of Navana Foods ltd.
14. What suggestions do you have for the youth who’d like to build a strong career in restaurant chains?
Nowadays, job market is very competitive & everyone wants to work for a better brand, office or company. But it takes time, energy, experience to reach one’s goal. To be successful we also need to keep our eyes & ears open.
You have to give a lot of time. Still today, I work around 11-12 hours every day and there is no alternative. In the service industry, you have to spend time with customers and best effort to retain them.
This is a booming industry. If you are dedicated, sharp, energetic and utilize your time properly there are opportunities here for you to develop faster in this industry than any other.