A restaurant does not necessarily about a collection of mere furniture, utensils and foods. It is an ingenious way of creating an environment with a passion for facilitating food buffs. It is a space where a cosy, homely atmosphere is ensnared, so that the visitors would feel compelled to come back for more.
People with desire to set up a new restaurant don’t need a lot of money. All they need to have is a unique idea, feels Monjurul Hoque founder of Barcode Restaurant Group.
‘They must avoid copying others. They should create something on their own,’ he hastened to add.
In a recent interview with New Age, he shared some valuable insights on the business with which he has come a long way and still advancing.
‘Restaurants are an important element of the tourism industry. Before setting up a restaurant, entrepreneurs should have a creative theme, a prior idea about business, location, clients’ choice, etc. A good restaurant in a given destination can enhance the number of tourists. By setting up restaurants with distinctive look and environment we can attract tourists.’
Monjurul, a trendsetter in café culture in the port city of Chattogram, was born in Sharjah. Having attained gorgeous foreign university degrees and experience in classy business companies, his exclusive ideas and zeal to do something for the food lovers of Chattogram turned him into the most popular entrepreneur of his city.
Within five years, Monjurul changed the ‘feel’ of the restaurant landscape in Chattogram where he has created a number of unique bistros, thereby ensuring lip-smacking platters for foodies in a reasonably low price.
Monjurul worked in various restaurants while he was studying in Singapore. After coming back to Bangladesh, he initially served as director of N Mohammad Group, the renowned business conglomerate founded by his father late Nurul Hoque.
‘When I was studying in Singapore, we used to spend time in different cafés. But when I came back to Chattogram, I felt the shortage of restaurants where people could spend time with friends and families to enjoy inexpensive but healthy meals in a homely atmosphere,’ he said.
‘I felt the absence of a place where students can spend time with friends for class project or simply chitchat and while a way the time over a cup of coffee or savouring very light snacks. With that goal in view, after thirteen long years, I had established Barcode Café in Sholoshohor area of Chattogram with a capacity of 48 seats and only four items to serve. It was launched in October 11, 2013,’ he said.
Within a year, the cafe became so fervently admired by Chattogram foodies that it had be made almost double in size. Later, Monjurul subsequently opened two more cafés — Burgwich Town Fusion Café and Barcode GEC in two different areas of Chattogram.
‘In Burgwich Fusion Town Cafe, we are providing different types of snacks, biriyani, various types of soup along with the traditional street food such as fuchka, chatpati, etc,’ said Monjurul.
‘I used to visit Japan on business tours. I love Japanese food. There was a Japanese restaurant in Dhaka but not in my city Chattogram. Then I decided to open Barcode on Fire with mouth-watering Japanese food on the menu,’ he recalled.
He said that the story behind Mejjan Haile Aiyun is also very exciting. ‘Mejjan is a traditional food of Chattogram. To prepare this we need various spices and the cooking method is also exceptional. Whenever my friends and relatives from Dhaka and abroad used to visit Chattogram, they always wanted to have Mejjan. It is difficult to cook Mejjan for few people at home. Then I started thinking about a restaurant and launched Mejjan Haile Aiyun in Chawbazar,’ he explained.
Another of Monjurul’s venture includes the popular restaurant Bir Chattala, situated in Jamal Khan area.
‘The restaurants structural design and food together give clients an “ancient flavour” of Bangladesh. The tape recorder, radio, cassettes, bookshelves full of books — they all once belonged to me. I bought the stools, tin jars, from my home Hathhazari to add to the environment,’ he said.
Monjurul’s preoccupation with the idea of providing foodies of all stripes with an ideal environment to sit and enjoy their time has led to many more interventions. In the campus of Asian University for Women, there is Barcode Cinematella where light snacks for students at economy prices are available.
His empire also extended its tentacle to Dhaka, the mega city where restaurateurs are vying with one another to serve quality food. ‘In Barcode Cafe, Banani, we are providing authentic Italian and continental food and international quality coffee made from the freshly roasted coffee bean. Now Barcode Group is running six different types of restaurants. Each restaurant was set up to fulfil the demand of different group of customers with different varieties of food on offer,’ he said.
Monjurul told New Age if you passed one or two hours simply sipping from a can of soft drink, there would be no one to force you to leave or order meal. My aim was to create a comfort zone for food lovers of Chattogram where they would not only enjoy their meal but also feel comfortable to while away the time.
Most of the restaurant or hotel owners say they prefer ‘homemade’ food. But unless I go abroad on business tours, I regularly eat Barcode food five times a day. It has been so for the last five years. I have no stomach problem at all. Even my family members also prefer Barcode food,’ he confided.
Why not? His is a vision to make more people take to tasty and inexpensive meals.
Monjurul is extra cautious about how to keep the paraphernalia in perfect shape so that ‘one will serve people better.’
‘Equipments and machineries used to make quality and healthy food play a huge role in this business. We never serve customers adulterated or date-expired food items at Barcode,’ he pointed out.
‘All types of ingredients and materials at first come to Barcode factory. We strictly control the quality as we receive ingredients. Additionally, we never keep leftovers in refrigerators. Rather we distribute the additional foods among staffs or children in orphanages,’ he said.
His jovial bearings added an extra dimension to how he conducts his business as a professional. He told New Age that he himself work in the restaurant once in a week as a staff. ‘I collect order, serve food and take suggestions from clients. I love to do that as it gives me pleasure to receive firsthand the reactions of the clients,’ he explained.
Foodies who frequently visit Barcode are used to seeing Monjurul greeting customers as if they came to his home and he was entertaining them. He counts every feedback and responds to them with the help of his team.
‘I try to improve gradually — little by little. Today what is available in our menu or the existing setting that one encounters at present, would not remain the same after two-three months. I believe in change, which must take place for sustainable progress,’ Monjurul pointed out.
Recently Monjurul appointed a lady staff in the café. He said in my restaurant we avoid any sort of discrimination during recruitment. Barcode staffs who have been working here were totally novice. At present 300 people are working in the Barcode team and are drawing good salaries, with housing and medical facilities to boot.
After recruitment, I myself trained them. Gradually they became the master of the craft — how to make these mouth-watering dishes, how to serve them so that customers would come away with memorable experience.
Barcode’s success sent good vibes across the city’s business community. A good number of entrepreneurs opened restaurants in Chattogram following on the heels of its huge success.
‘I appreciate their initiatives. If a restaurant has at least 20 to 30 staff in total, it is really a huge number if you consider this as an “employment generation” opportunity in the context of a thriving economy. The result is satisfactory since such an enterprise creates opportunities for students and unemployed people to work at a job. They play a great role in the country’s economy,’ he concluded.
The trendsetter of café culture in Chattogram, Monjurul Hoque is not only a businessman but also a social worker and a visionary thinker. Since he works without thinking of gaining any political mileage, his popularity among the city’s youth is awe inspiring. He is the founder of Shokher Mulluk and Amra Chattogram, organizations that seek to address the needs of the youth in both cultural and social sectors.
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