How he built a biryani empire

Y. Aasife Ahmed, managing director of Aasife Biryani. Photo: M. Vedhan  

Y. Aasife Ahmed was not much for bookish learning. “I knew what I was passionate about, and I set about pursuing my dream,” he says. And so at 18, he apprenticed with a biryani cook and later started his own wedding catering business.

Even then, he had his eye set on something much bigger, something he hardly dared to dream of, but he set about working towards it anyway.

What started with five kg of biryani on a  thallu vandi (pushcart) on Butt Road in St. Thomas Mount 15 years ago has now grown to 500 kg of biryani per day, served out of four Aasife Biryani Centre outlets all around the city, the latest one being on Anna Salai.

“From the pushcart we moved to a hole-in-the-wall. We still serve take away from that shop. We then expanded across the road,” says Aasife, seated in the well-appointed lobby of the Alandur branch one evening.

I tell him I have fond memories of cycling down the road on my pink Ladybird to pick up biryani and  kothu barotta for lunch.

His face lights up as he says, “You must have seen me there then; I was always behind the counter! It is good to meet old customers. In fact, there is one person who has been a regular from the beginning, and he still dines at our outlet frequently. It is the most satisfying feeling.”

While the shop was established as Aasife and Brothers, they have now parted ways. “My two brothers have diversified into other businesses. They do not share the same love for biryani or the potential I see here,” he shrugs, gesturing to the restaurant filled with chattering diners and customers waiting for their take-away orders.

He has hired the same architect and design firm to work on all his upcoming restaurants. They open in Kilpauk this month and in Nungambakkam the next.

But his pet project is the one on OMR. The 39-year-old’s soft-spoken and calm demeanour is replaced by a palpable excitement when he talks about it: “We have five floors, each with a different concept. The kitchen will take up an entire floor, and another will have a floating restaurant. There will also be a large play area for children. I want it to be the biggest restaurant in the country when we launch in May or June this year.”

Aasife’s mantra for both his cooking and his business is quality. “The ingredients should be of the best quality; even if one ingredient is not good, it will ruin the taste. Also, diners want to see a well-maintained restaurant. They care about the ambience, and so my staff are trained to ensure that every nook and corner is cleaned throughout the day. I am lucky to have such a great team of managers who know exactly what my expectations are and carry it out to perfection,” he says.

It is a good thing his favourite food is biryani, mutton in particular, and although he does not cook as much as he used to when he started the business, he does several taste tests a day.

“I go to the gym for an hour every morning. After that I visit the centralised kitchen in Guindy, and each of the outlets. I ask for whatever negative feedback has been received, and we set about rectifying them as quickly as possible,” he says.  

Walking around the Anna Salai branch just before opening time on a weekday afternoon, Aasife draws my attention to the wall.

“Our speciality is that we use wood fire to make our biryani. As a tribute to that, we cut up our firewood logs and incorporated that into our decor,” he says proudly, running a hand over the now varnished wood.

“Although this is the newest branch, I feel like I have arrived on the scene with this restaurant. It is just the beginning for me.”

Apart from biryani, Aasife’s other love is cars. “Right now, I drive an Elantra. I would love to get some of the best and fastest cars available,” he says with a grin. But those can wait: right now, his plan is to take over the Chennai biryani market by 2016.

He does, of course, talk of his three children — a girl and two boys — with a lot of tenderness.

“I hope that one day they will take over what I have started here. I want this to be my legacy to them. Although it is my passion, I am doing this for their future as well.” 

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 8:55:53 AM |

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