According to a recent survey published by Restaurants Canada, the Canadian foodservice sector faced a massive blow, with over 800,000 people being laid off in March 2020. Furthermore, the survey quotes 10 percent of the country’s 97,500 restaurants, bars and cafes have already closed, and another 18 percent said they would be forced to close if situations remain the same. Amidst such troubled times, friends Zulfiqar Tharani and Irfan Mayani decided to start up their foodie venture, KarachiXpress. In a candid conversation, the friends share their entrepreneurial journey, their success story with us.
How did you start KarachiXpress?
We have been friends for more than two decades now. Cricket and food are the two things that kept us going all the time. We played together in Karachi and still play here. In 2012 I (Zulfiqar) moved to Canada, and in 2017, Irfan moved to Toronto. When we met in Toronto again after Cricket, we used to have fun and eat out often with our families in different GTA restaurants (Greater Toronto Area). However, we always felt we missed the real taste of Karachi’s Biryani and Barbecue food.
We both were doing great in our respective careers. I (Zulfiqar) worked in Quality Assurance for IT projects and Irfan was happily managing my hospitality business and a manufacturing and milling setup back home in Karachi. However, when we met, we always discussed the missing Karachi taste in the food around us and how we could bring that here. During some of our casual dinners and get-togethers, we wore our chef hats and dished out plates that our friends and guests very highly appreciated. Many of them asked us to start something on a commercial level because all will highly savor it!
Last spring, during Covid, when we all started working from home and got much time to think back on what we want to achieve from our lives, things got serious. It was the two of us with our life partners Annie and Hina sitting over coffee on a late-night that we just decided let’s do it. We already had our recipes and were aware of the methods. We went to Pakistan to get ourselves professionally trained, completed our food handling certificates, got the license to make it all legal.
Initially, we started catering with small focussed Pakistani Groups and then started our private catering business on July 11, 2020, with a part-time commercial catering kitchen and delivering food to all GTA parts. Soon in December 2020, five months from our setup, with more people ordering from us, we started our restaurant in Etobicoke and are serving full time now.
According to you, what is the specialty of KarachiXpress against the numerous desi food chains in Toronto?
Toronto, a multicultural city, hosts numerous desi restaurants catering Indian and Pakistani food to the crowd around. However, we believe our unique selling point is we take the word “authentic” very seriously. Many restaurants here serve a fusion food or induce the North American flare in the food, which tastes so different from our authentic style of food. Our entire cooking methodology is based on replicating the same procedures followed in kitchens and restaurants in Karachi.
Like our Biryani is made in the famous “Daigi” style, our barbeque is done only on slow natural charcoal as we believe if it’s not done on charcoal, then it’s not Karachi style. Even our chefs are trained in some of the best street style restaurants in Karachi to bring Karachi’s real taste to Toronto. We do not compromise on spice to make the food milder or less spicy to cater to large market size. Our mission is to cater to Karachi’s real taste in Toronto and Karachi food is never mild to the tongue!
How is KarachiXpress doing in this pandemic when the food industry received a big hit?
It is true that COVID had a significant impact on the overall food industry and closed many restaurants. Newcomers like us who started in the pandemic and couldn’t show a proven income stream from the previous year did not even have access to the numerous grants given by the federal and state government to protect businesses during this situation. While we have had a difficult time due to the ongoing restrictions and lockdown, we received great support from our communities.
Our new and returning customers drove by to pick up their orders consistently. On the other hand, we have been trying to stay flexible with the hours and kind of services we can offer. While dine-in is still restricted take-out, pickups and deliveries are getting us going!
What steps are you taking to fare in this COVID situation?
We believe flexibility is the key. When COVID came, nobody knew how we would all survive. But we did survive for the past year and are still battling it! There are restrictions and limitations around for the betterment of all, but we need to see how we can best adapt to this situation and work it to our advantage. We have set up our delivery service to increase our reach. We are also focusing more on online marketing than traditional ones, as events and promotional activities these days are impossible.
Also, we have changed things like having sanitizers in place for customers at all times, wearing masks on the premises all the time. While all these changes have added to regular expenses, it has created a safer environment for our customers to pick up. We are continually following the Health Canada guidelines and always prepared to adjust accordingly during these times.
How big is your team?
Irfan and Zulfiqar are the directors and founding partners of KarachiXpress. Our better halves- Hina takes care of customer service and logistics, while Annie takes charge of the restaurant’s PR and Marketing side. Besides this core team, we have an excellent support staff consisting of chefs, line cooks and assistants. Together, we all share our commitment to delivering quality Karachi-style food to all our customers.
What are your plans for expansion?
Our focus is currently on our first location in Etobicoke, as we are eagerly waiting to offer the same food with a dine-In experience soon to our customers. We are working on a QSR model (Quick-Service Restaurants), and we do believe the KX brand and cuisine have a lot of potentials. With a huge demand for authentic Karachi-style food growing in GTA and all over North America, we have plans to expand to more areas of the GTA and go further.
Any words of wisdom for the entrepreneurs and new start-ups?
Zulfiqar: I would say believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of trying new things. It’s true, sometimes people around you may not approve of your plans but follow your passion.
Irfan: I believe there are no shortcuts to success; stay focused and keep working hard towards your dream; there is always enough room in the market for quality products. JUST START if you THINK you CAN DO IT; you CAN!
Located in West Mall, Etobicoke, Karachi Express offers a flare of Biryanis, kebabs and on-the-go wraps, tortillas, and more. Apart from regular take-out, deliveries, and pickup, KarachiXpress also offers private catering services. Furthermore, you can also use their gift card section to treat your friends to Karachi cuisine while keeping your social distance and maintaining the stay-at-home order in effect!
For more information on Karachi Express: https://karachixpress.com/
Author: Debarati Mukherjee, for The Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have any stories or comments, kindly email: – [email protected]