The opulent culture of biryani is well-cemented across the subcontinent. Hyderabad’s romanticising with the same dish is no secret either. While Hyderabadi appetizers could make a platter of Irani Chai or Osmania biscuits too, biryani is the closest thing to the city dwellers without a doubt. In the same space, someone had to say, we know how this dish should taste like. Someone to preserve the linkage of culture with biryani. As fate would have it, there came a name- Paradise.
The story of Paradise Restaurant is it standing up to its own shibboleth, “World’s favourite Biryani”. The Hyderabadi culture of biryani and its savoury story isn’t new, it goes back to the times of Nizam. However, the acknowledgement that Hyderabadi Biryani so rightfully deserves, had to be given. This is where this restaurant chain stepped-in. Establishing a modern yet household connection with the city and their favourite dish.
The start of Paradise restaurant was a humble one. In 1953, Paradise Restaurant was not even the Paradise that people used to come for. It was simply an adjoining canteen to a local theatre of Secunderabad known as Paradise Cinema hall. By that time, its customers were mainly the movie-goers of Secunderabad who would come to watch the movie and get some snacks along with it. However, as they say, fortune favours the brave, the unexpected carrier of the name “Paradise” became that small canteen only, eventually. Due to family conflicts and other issues, the theatre shut down its operations and space was then given to a builder who constructed a hospital in the space. Back in the 50s, others would have written-off any future of a small canteen in a jiffy.
The Hemmati family had other ideas. They, as Ali Hemmati often recalls, “Did not let the name Paradise die down.” They decided to stick with it. As history became the evidence, that was one of the crucial moments for what is now a money minting food-chain. Often, keeping a cool head and thinking sensibly in adverse times, leads to better decision making. This helped Paradise Restaurant come out of the shadow of a cinema hall serving a full-fledged restaurant. And now there is a restaurant and an opportunity that shall not go unnoticed. Henceforth, starts a long journey.
In the early stages, Paradise meant a theatre in Secunderabad. As history tells us, today it is the restaurant for biryani.
Keeping the customer in mind
During the initial years, the stop of Paradise Restaurant meant less Biryani and more tea. Tea, something that Paradise kept consistently nominally priced was the reason for their crowd. People from different walks of life would take a halt, have their Kheema, Samosa, Chai before leaving for the day. The people-centric thought basis behind their actions slowly led the path of differentiation from other food outlets. The restaurant would start its work from 5 a.m. early morning. Ali Hemmati, the present owner of the chain says it is because of the commute hours for people working in different towns. This remains just one example out of many which gave the brand a sense of permanence and reliability amongst its regulars.
Success well cooked
For the Hemmati family, the factors that led to their success were not a one-day affair. Neither did they conjure some advertising led magic that changed the fortune overnight. It was, right from the start, well-thought decision making and set of principles that worked for them.
During the 1950s even before the Cinema hall called “Paradise” officially launched, the restaurant was supposed to start. Uncle of Ali Hemmati, Ghulam Hussain, who started the restaurant, decided to name it Paradise as it would practically serve the theatre soon. This today, remains a household name in the twin-city. In the early stages, Paradise meant a theatre in Secunderabad. As history tells us, today it is the restaurant for biryani.
The success of Paradise Restaurant is much ingrained in its values that were revolving around their customers. From the early days when the restaurant would open up in wee hours of the morning for commuters till today.
Ali Hemmati, the present boss man at the restaurant took charge in 1978. Having no prior business experience and with the pack up of his aviation dream, it was a massive task ahead. Maybe not a plane, he indeed piloted a tiny restaurant into a successful one. In 1978, Paradise Restaurant was a 100-seater small setup with less than 40 employees. There were problems all over, from hygiene, seating to quality of food.
With other restaurants getting established at the same time, Paradise did not and the pressure on leadership was immense. The 60s and early 70s were times when food joints and eateries were not really the way to go in Hyderabad. There wasn’t much attraction towards these kinds of restaurant setups either. In such a small window, Paradise needed an ultimate breakthrough.
Research the way out
“This restaurant was not a focus of attention for the last 25 years,” Ali admitted in an interview to Better India. He knew something had to change and it won’t be an easy process. For this Mr. Hemmati had a plan. He carried on an activity that wasn’t well performed back then even by marketing personnel; Market research. This was the point where the trajectory of the Paradise Restaurant was being decided and it needed pivoting. From an old restaurant that not many cared to think or write about something special that it is today.
By definition, a simple business no matter what it sells or provides does not get called a brand. A brand has a unique proposition and identity. This identity building can take years of planning. This is what Paradise Restaurant as a business did. It finally gave its restaurant, its star product-biryani. Onus on leadership to mould the brand and give it required shape is instrumental.
The success of Paradise Restaurant is much ingrained in its values that were revolving around their customers. From the early days when the restaurant would open up in wee hours of the morning for commuters till today
Ali took the pressure of his taking over of the restaurant as a lucky challenge. He understood at the very onset that things cannot go on the same way. He started studying about the restaurant market, food market, his locality and the needs of Hyderabad city when it comes to a food-chain. He didn’t want to step into his family business and let it continue the same way as the market had changed with time.
The correct positioning for Paradise
The solutions to Paradise’s potential breakthrough started appearing one by one. Their research soon led them to an interesting realisation. City’s huge chunk of the market (potential customers) are still at their homes because of a basic reason. Their choice of eatery was not having a suitable family atmosphere. A conservative environment that could comfortably seat a family of five with kids and women. This is the bridge that Ali Hemmati chalked out for Paradise to build. The Hyderabadi fine-diners were at that time mostly serving alcohol and the crowd mix due to that became unsavoury for families. For Paradise, that was the turning point. Vehemently against alcohol anyway, the owners chose the high-way or my way approach. Paradise decided to keep serving its food just the way it was being done without giving an eye to the profit they were inarguably missing out on due to lack of alcohol on the menu. So was Hyderabad’s first non-alcohol serving dine-in restaurant for all.
Soon, the space of Paradise Restaurant started to appear smaller given their footfall. From birthday parties to get together, Paradise started becoming the go-to place. You could take your kids, friends, family there and the lightness of the atmosphere would put you at ease.
No compromise policy
The other special factor behind such prolonged success of Paradise brand is due to setting up of their priorities straight. For the owners, hygiene never took the backseat. Right from the time, Ali took over, he realised this is the last thing to compromise upon. This commitment to hygienic practices of cooking food not only gave them new customers but also ounces of trust. This discipline in hygiene at Paradise has had its hiccups and Paradise has been penalised for those lapses too. Though, importantly, it has been consistent in the food-making process and its overall, unchallenged cleanliness across the nation.
Lastly, the real magic that makes Hyderabadi Biryani at Paradise so special, ingredients. Biryani preparation requires lots of masalas, spices, dry fruits and varied relishes. Paradise Restaurant knew that the only way to make a difference is by sticking to a process where the ingredients are always top of the class. They would always buy what’s the best available option in the market. This would entail higher costs naturally but their policy of normalisation of pricing did not change at all. Mr. Ali would often confide this in interviews that, whenever the food pricing would go up, the instinct as a restaurateur is to balance profits by raising prices however Paradise did not do that. The loyalty and commitment to their customers were so strong that they would inform, one-month prior to change in prices, its reason on a notice board. He wanted the loyalists of Paradise to know up-front what the deal was. It was part of the restaurant’s transparent policy-making.
The aroma goes places
What Paradise Restaurant is to Hyderabad today, is what many other chains dream to be. Back in 2009, till the time, there was no other branch than the main one, people would travel kilometres for biryani at Paradise. The takeaway requests would mostly be from people who are either catching a flight or train. Seating at Paradise soon became the kind of problem a restaurateur would like to have. By 2007, Paradise was fully renovated. Today, Paradise Restaurant at Secunderabad boasts to be the biggest restaurant of India with a seating capacity of a whopping 1500 plus customers. It happens to be one of the largest in Asia as well. The revenue of Paradise is about 350 crores. With more than 3500 employees, the restaurant manages to serve more than 10,000 people in one day. And that is the figure of just one branch!
Today, Paradise is not just in Hyderabad. While in taste and essence it will always be the bearer of the Hyderabadi cuisine, now it is a national brand. Across India, there are more than 35 outlets of Paradise restaurants. With the latest being in the heartland of West Bengal, Kolkata. This aggressive expansionism was led by a professional team of managers and executives from the late 2000s. In Hyderabad itself, there are 17 branches of Paradise chain covering important marketplaces to malls and airports. Despite that, people would still travel miles to reach the main branch just for the feel of it.
The clout aggregation with Paradise Biryani is huge. There are regular visits of celebrities from different walks of life. From Sachin Tendulkar, Amir Khan, Salman Khan to the likes of Rahul Gandhi, Prakash Raj. “I can have Paradise Biryani for Lunch, Breakfast and Dinner,” says Sindhu, badminton champion from Hyderabad.
Popular testimonials are many but what counts the most for a heritage brand like Paradise is the word of the loyalist. Chakravarti, a student from Hyderabad explains this very well, “It has been years now. We are a group of 5 friends. From the times when we were in school to now when we all are in our respective jobs. Our place to have lunch, to celebrate a birthday or just some occasion has always been Paradise. They make us feel at home and I think another reason is that there is something in their tradition of food serving, taste, pricing that has remained consistent with their old principles. Even after their expansion, not much has changed. Things are more or less the same. I think they have done well in comparison to their competitors.”
While an avid biryani lover of Hyderabad would have his or own favourites, Paradise does have stiff competition in the market. The market post-development of online food ordering services has opened up vastly. Many new players in the market are already coming up with huge rounds of initial funding. In terms of branding and advertising, no stones are being left unturned by any of them. In fact, post-2015, GQ in their review of outlets in Hyderabad wrote, “Even though Paradise is often dismissed as a puffed-up Hyderabadi cliche, truth be told, their biryani really is that good”. There are outlets like Chicha’s, Adaa, Bawarchi, Jewel of Nizam and others who have also cut through the market with their specialties. Some are heavily dependent on their new forms of advertising models. Some through heavy discounting. However, none of them have been able to oust Paradise, popularity-wise or revenue-wise.
One of the reasons why this has remained so is the ethos of the restaurateur Mr. Ali Hemmati has remained intact in terms of business strategy and sincerity towards the culture of Hyderabad. The other reason is that Paradise upped its game, keeping up with the times. Their website is a fully functional one with a responsive user interface. There is an application as well. On Facebook, their page has strong interactivity. With more than lakh followers and an equal amount of likes on the page, they are quite truly, leaders of digital noise. On Yelp and TripAdvisor their average rating overall would come out to be more than 4.5. On the food reviewing websites like Zomato it is 4.4. Their strong digital presence reminding the tourists and localities of their rich legacy continues to work in their favour.
Timely intervention and introspection by the leadership turned tables for Paradise. From a small canteen next to a theatre to a multi-outlet brand across India, Paradise now has cemented its position. As the owner often recalls, “There is no secret recipe.” What clearly worked for the Paradise Restaurant was an attitude of non-complacency. Even when the sales were excellent, they did not lose sight of the customer’s interest. Paradise as a name is not just Biryani in the 21st Century. Today, it is a place for feasting, gathering or just stopping by.
Withstanding all the challenges and competition, they have simply kept on serving with a sense of gratitude. No wonder why, on a visit to Hyderabad, the rickshaw walahs will still recommend you to stop by Paradise before leaving.
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