By Sukant Deepak
Srinagar, Jan 21 (IANS): He wants to ask a few questions first, says that most of the time he speaks to the media, a slant is taken by journalists that "makes for a good copy". "You can imagine the repercussions for people like me who run a business in a conflict zone," he says. Javid Parsa, owner of the largest food chain -- Parsa's -- in Kashmir, which has an outlet in every district headquarters of the UT except Bandipora (his hometown) and different parts of the country, including Bengaluru is slowly relaxing over tea. Now smiling too.
With 24 outlets throughout the country, Parsa's first opened shop in Srinagar in October 2017. "Yes, it has been quite a journey, though not really an easy one," the young entrepreneur says.
For someone who operates in a conflict zone, the business model is simple: "When I plan an outlet here, I consider 15 or 20 working days in a month. So, if the target is X amount -- I ask myself, can it be raised if the outlet is closed for 10 days in a month owing to disturbances?" he says.
This 33-year-old, son of a carpenter who grew up in Kashmir and went on to study Interior Design and Business Administration in Jalandhar and Hyderabad respectively was one of the first employees of the international giant Amazon when it opened shop in India.
"Every time I would come back home for holidays, it always struck me that eating out in Kashmir was always restricted to the same Wazwan or Tujj. It was mostly roadside barbecues or the very few restaurants in Srinagar. Not to mention, a complete lack of eating places that also served as cultural spaces."
Adding that different spaces like Lamakaan in Hyderabad have had a deep impact on him, Parsa says that his extensive exposure to people and places outside the valley pushed him to create something that is much beyond food.
"An eating place has to be more than just the grub offered there. It must boast of its unique personality, an ambience that is inviting and willingness to improvise."
The fast-food chain which serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian products -- Wazwan, biryani, pulao, desserts, salads, and beverages, and witnessed the opening of its first outlet in Srinagar in 2017 employs more than 300 people across outlets now.
Interestingly, an important part of the establishment is the 'Parsa Book Bank' that has a collection of more than 20,000 books that can be borrowed. "Each outlet has around 600 books. You can be a part of it by donating just one book, and access the 20,000," he says.
Popular with publishers, artists, writers and musicians who regularly do their book readings and launches at different outlets, Parsa stresses that he has intentionally not restricted his energies to Srinagar. "Out of 19 outlets in Kashmir, only three are in Srinagar, the others are in the 16 district headquarters." Talking about his plans for Bandipora, he says, "That place is known for its culture. So many scholars and historians have emerged from there. One day, I hope to open a cultural centre there, let's see."
For someone who did not use any traditional means of advertising to increase his business and depends only on social media -- Facebook and Instagram, the latter have been nothing short of a blessing. "Frankly, I owe everything to social media. It has truly revolutionized our business," says the entrepreneur who also sponsors several local schools with computers and regularly organises blood donation camps.
Starting much before the cafe culture swept Srinagar, Parsa is happy that he has made a contribution to the dining out culture in the valley. "Especially in rural places. When we started out in Kargil, there was no proper cafe or restaurant, just roadside dhabas. Of course, it has been challenging for me too. People in many of these places did not really go out with their families for a meal out.
Content that even after seven years in this trade, he still wakes up with the same enthusiasm, he concludes, "I just want to establish that it has been an individual effort. I do not like to be a poster boy of any narrative."