We catch up with Reza Ashtarian to talk about career, culinary ethos and restaurant development in the GCC region.
Could you please tell us about Biryaniwalla and Co. and how the brand started?
Ans. We began Biryaniwalla and Co. (BWCO) as a modest café in 1980 in Hyderabad, India; an idea that my father was passionate about, he initiated and brought it to fruition on his own. Our Hyderabadi style Dum Biryanis and related Indian cuisine are derived from original royal recipes kept very close to our hearts. Over the last four decades, it has grown into one of the most admired restaurant chains in India and internationally. Renowned as The most authentic Hyderabadi cuisine. Nonetheless, let the name not deceive you; we also offer a wide range of mouth-watering grills, special Indian curries, and a Chinese menu as well.
In Dubai, the way we started is quite amusing. I was on a visit and craving biryani. You wouldn’t believe that I couldn’t find even one place that could satisfy my palate! That’s when it was decided to bring BWCO to Dubai and delight the public here.
What can diners expect when dining at Biryaniwalla and Co.?
They expect the world’s favourite biryani for sure. The most satisfying, succulent, and sumptuous meal ever! We pride ourselves on tantalising taste buds and invoking home nostalgia. Our award-winning cuisine is loved for its purity and taste, true in each mouthful to its royal origins.
What do you think it is specifically about the cuisine at Biryaniwalla and Co. that has resonated with diners in Dubai?
I believe BWCO has become a permanent fixture in Dubai’s cultural scene within only three years. In fact, we have just celebrated our third anniversary. People consider a trip to Dubai incomplete without a visit to one of our restaurants. It’s just the simplicity of our original flavour, the authenticity of our cuisine, our zest to gratify each palate, and our commitment to the pursuit of culinary and service excellence. This has really charmed its way into the hearts of the UAE residents and visitors alike. We are really grateful for the way we have been welcomed by the public here, especially the Arab fraternity.
What are the signature dishes at Biryaniwalla & Co. and which is your personal favourite?
Well, the list is endless… All Biryanis of course, Chicken 65, Talawa Gosht (Mutton Fry), Khatti Daal (Sour Lentils), and Pathar ka Gosht (Mutton cooked on stones). We try to cater to everyone; meatatarians, vegetarians, and seafood lovers alike.
My personal favourite is Pathar Ka Gosht (chunks of meat cooked on stones), primarily due to its ethnicity. The recipe is traditional, pure, and unchanged from the olden times, originating from our roots when there were no cookers and people used to cook on stones. It is most tender and luscious. I strongly recommend it to all.
With several branches across Dubai, what are your expansion plans for the UAE and wider GCC?
By the Grace of God, in a short span of three years, we have opened seven outlets all over Dubai, with two more coming up shortly. The idea is to have a footprint from Nahda to Jebel Ali, spanning each nook and corner. There is no area in Dubai where we do not deliver. We have been quite ambitious with our expansion plans, despite tough COVID times in between. The next stage is to expand all over the UAE and eventually beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the hospitality scene in the UAE. Do you think the industry is beginning to bounce back?
Absolutely! The challenges, the changing dynamics, and the pain has been undeniable. I’m certain our entire industry echoes my sentiments. Thankfully, since the last few months, things are changing for the better, life is normalising, the eating out scene is bouncing back, and the apprehension to step out and mingle is diminishing. Tourism has also opened up, and travel is on the rise. To complement this, the icing on the cake has been the Dubai Government’s efforts to support our business scene. Expo 2020 Dubai has proven to be a major boost to us as well.
Do you think customers’ dining habits have changed in light of the pandemic?
Oh yes. The entire paradigm had shifted to eating in and home deliveries. Rightly so, the fear factor and the precautions were foremost on the list, leading to very different eating habits. Now, as we talked earlier, things are reverting to the original dining habits.
What do you believe restaurants have to do to stay relevant and ensure success during these unprecedented times for the industry?
We have had to remain really grounded and focused. Not to forget our roots, our essence, not to get disheartened. To improvise, adjust, and find exciting alternatives to engage and delight our customers. The key is not to give up. For instance, I was totally averse to food aggregators and third-party deliveries, but the last 1.5 years totally changed that for me, I had to compromise and give in, and that shift provided a massive boost to our business.
What would you say sets Biryaniwalla and Co. apart from your competitors in the marketplace?
I would say it is our originality in recipes, purity, consistency in taste, and service excellence; focusing on a complete end-to-end customer-centric experience. We value our customers’ feedback and strive for continuous enhancement in our food and service delivery, maintaining and honouring the trust placed in us by our customers. We simply love delighting the Dubai crowd and thrive on them enjoying our food.
How did you start your career with food and beverage and what is it about the industry that inspires you?
It runs in the family and it happened to me. I am inspired by creativity, purity and perfection. Not to forget that I am a foodie and absolutely relish good food. That’s what attracted me to BWCO. It was my personal choice to join the family business. I started from the basics to learn the ropes, and my father made me perform all kinds of roles in our restaurants, at all levels, to train me thoroughly. I can confidently say today I know the core, ins and outs of what each area, each role, each iota of my restaurants’ entail.
Please tell us about yourself, the man behind the brand?
I was always a very creative and inquisitive individual. Creativity in every shape and form attracts me. It brings out the best in me. I belong to the creative arts field; I am an actor by passion, a computer engineer by education, and a restauranter by profession. I know these don’t go hand in hand, but life happens, one thing led to another and here I am. I am continuing my family’s legacy in India and internationally and trying to do justice to it by cultivating the heritage.
Could you please tell us about your day-to-day role and what keeps it challenging and exciting?
I believe in leading from the front. The fact that I work shoulder to shoulder with all my teams at different locations, in the kitchens, with the guests, and in the back office; keeps me motivated and excited. We are not know-it-alls, we learn every day, share it, and implement it. My typical day is extremely busy, full of activity; there are just not enough hours in the 24 hours in a day to perform! It is my priority to know the pulse of our restaurants, our teams, and our customers. That is what keeps me charged and I thrive on results.
What can we expect to see from the Biryaniwalla and Co. brand in the coming months?
For that I would say, we are on a super exhilarating journey so why don’t you let us surprise you. Keep on watching this space for more!
GO: Visit https://biryaniwallaandco.com for more information.