--By Pinaki Roy
Started with an initial investment of Rs 600 over a quarter-of-a-century ago, ‘Bajeko Sekuwa’ chain of restaurants has come a long way. “Presently, our annual turnover well exceeds Rs 100 million,” says its Chairman Chetan Bhandari.
The enterprise came into being as an endeavour of his father Dinanath Bhandari who was passionate about cooking. During festivals and celebrations, family members and friends in his village would ask him to make Sekuwa (skewered barbecued meat). He would willingly do so and cherish their compliments on being a good cook.
After migrating to the capital, Senior Bhandari started a small eatery close to the Tribhuvan International Airport. It so happened that while on a visit to the airport, he noticed people selling different kind of food around the area. He observed that the airport served as a workplace for many people, including the services personnel, employees of Nepal Airlines Corporation, customs officials etc. It struck him that if he could put up a food joint there, decent footfall was almost a certainty.
The Brand Name
Many wonder where the eatery got its name from. When Bhandari ventured into selling sekuwa, he did not have a proper shop let alone having a name for identification. “The credit for the brand name goes to the customers who used to frequent our roadside eatery those days,” informs Chetan. Being a Brahmin and clad always in traditional daura-suruwal, the regular customers would refer to Dinanath Bhandari as ‘Bahun Baje’ among themselves. And not too long in the future, people started calling the eatery as ‘Bajeko Sekuwa’.
Chetan’s foray into the business too has an interesting twist to it. Even though he was involved in the business as part of the Bhandari family, the turning point came when his dad expressed his desire to have a break for a pilgrimage to India. An MBA graduate, Chetan was considering a career in the corporate world but this sudden development left him with managing the business on his own while his father was away. He says, “Even before my father returned from his pilgrimage to India, I had made up my mind to manage the business and develop it into something bigger.”
The Chain Effect
Bajeko Sekuwa opened its first outlet at Sinamangal area in the capital. The eatery chain has since opened outlets in Nayabazar, Sorhakhutte, Battisputali, Anamnagar and Gairidhara over the last 11 years or so. With the expansion of the enterprise came the branding part – the name, logo, color and the likes.
While Chetan acknowledges that the business came into being because of his father, he is largely credited for transforming the brand into a hugely popular name among the food lovers of Kathmandu. He approached the business in his inimitable style and made it count amongst the most successful restaurant chains in Nepal.
Bajeko Sekuwa chain of restaurants offers over a hundred selection of food including, most notably, different varieties of sekuwa. It also has unique offerings of fish and vegetable sekuwa that are loved by its patrons as much. Over 150 people have found employment with the company who serve more than 500 customers a day in addition to more than a dozen banquets each month at its sprawling Battisputali premises.
How Times Change
Chetan recalls that in the early days of Bajeko Sekuwa, he would find it difficult to open fresh outlets for lack of new location as well as business loans from banks. “The scenario has completely reversed today. While home-owners approach me personally to lease out their properties, the banks are way more forthcoming with granting loans to my business,” smiles Chetan.
He says that it doesn’t matter what one chooses to do as long as s/he is focused about it. He adds, “Anybody wanting to enter business must conduct research related to product and market, set targets and stay positive.” The affable yet charismatic restaurateur in his 30s adds that risk-taking capacity is what brought him success and if one wants to make it big, there is no looking back, “After all, we do business for money.”
Cashing the Brand
Having tasted unprecedented success, Bajeko Sekuwa is now looking to open new outlets in the Kathmandu Valley as well as outside of it. “I am working at a franchise model for the business wherein aspiring entrepreneurs from across Nepal will have the opportunity to get associated with us,” Chetan says. He adds that internationally too, there have been interests pouring in from entrepreneurs based in countries such as Qatar, Malaysia and Macau among others.
The company has also hired experts to help expand the business in every possible manner. Besides increasing its count on number of outlets, it plans to start selling ready-to-eat, frozen as well as ready-to-cook marinated sekuwa from its outlets and various department stores. The business is also mulling over launching ‘Bajeko Masala’ (spices). “The idea is to cash the brand name as much as possible and reach success levels that I had envisaged and was confident about even as a young student long time ago,” Chetan concludes.