Rajat Jaiswal, a commercial airline pilot, and his friend Farman Beig launched Wat-a-Burger in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, in 2016. Today, the franchise has its presence in 16 cities with 60 outlets.
Rajat Jaiswal started flying in 2009 and has enjoyed every bit of his 7,000 plus hours operating airbuses. A resident of Noida, Uttar Pradesh, he is a commercial airline pilot working as a senior commander. However, when he is not flying over clouds, he grounds himself to an activity that brings out the foodie in him.
He is usually spotted hanging around Wat-a-Burger outlets, if the city he flies to has one, not because of his love for food but also to check on his franchise. The venture, started in February 2016 with his childhood friend, Farman Beig, has its own line of unique burgers with a desi twist.
Flavours include Chicken Makhani, Tandoori, Aloo Achari, Double-Decker, among others, which are offered with shakes and fries. The business, with 60 outlets, is spread across 16 cities and 11 states, earning a revenue of Rs 13 crore a year.
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A Flying Start
Apart from following his passion for food, Rajat wanted to build his own venture due to the vagaries of the airline industry.
“I have witnessed the ups and downs in the aviation industry. In the past 12 years, three major airlines have sunk or shut shop. The industry is volatile. Besides, a lot of health factors determine the length of one’s career. So, it is always safe to have an alternate source of income,” the 35-year-old tells The Better India.
Asked about choosing the food sector as an alternative career, Rajat replies, “Food is a lucrative venture and will never sink. Besides, it is also about following my passion. I always wanted to enter the food industry and discussed plans with Farman over the years. So, when the time was right, we launched Wat-a-Burger.”
The business has faced turbulent times. When the first outlet took off, the brand was unknown and unconventional. Moreover, big brands, including the international burger chains such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King, were direct competitors. But Rajat boldly navigated his way through it all.
“We stood outside these outlets and offered the burgers to potential customers. We marketed the food item with a payback guarantee. We assured repayments for customers who did not like them. Fortunately, such an occasion never occurred in the initial three months when the campaign was running. People loved us for our uniqueness,” he adds.
Farman, the CEO of the venture, owned another business before he quit and decided to join Rajat. He entered the burger venture to fulfil their childhood dream. “Rajat always discussed business ideas with me, and one day we narrowed it down to burgers but we did not want to be another burger outlet in the market. With some research, we decided to offer fusion burgers,” he says.
He adds that the fusion gave a unique value in the market and offered a safety cushion for the business. Farman explains, “We all know that Butter Chicken is a popular dish that almost 80 per cent of chicken lovers are familiar with. The customer risks less by ordering this food item because they know the taste of Butter Chicken. So what could go wrong? Same goes for Kadai Paneer.”
Shubham Chaudhary, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, says that he has been frequenting the burger outlet near his house for three years. “I was tempted to try their burgers after I came across the branding. Their taste is their USP. It is outstanding compared to other burger outlets in the market,” he says, adding that offering night time deliveries for those who work late or catering to the party crowd makes the burger chain a hit.
Farman adds that merging popular Indian food with burgers played the trick. “We offer 20 varieties of burgers that start at Rs 49 and go up to Rs 189. Most of them, including the Veg Street Style, Peri-Peri Chicken, Chicken Crispy, Chicken Makhani, fall in our best-sellers category,” he says, adding that the outlets are small and smartly designed to lower the recurring costs. The customers also enjoy the benefits of affordable quality burgers.
He says that the food is prepared with fresh ingredients, unlike the pre-processed frozen items that travel hundreds of kilometres via cold chain.
“We have established local food supply chains that deliver fresh produce giving us an added edge,” he adds.
During the first financial year, in 2017, the company clocked revenues to the tune of Rs 1 crore and grew steadily to generate Rs 29.55 crore by 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lag, resulting in a drop in revenues to Rs 13 crore in the last fiscal year.
Rajat says that he is planning new strategies to sail through choppy waters. “We are trying to increase the food variety and introduce a biryani brand for the customers. The youngsters prefer burgers, but preferences change for the age group 35 to 40. We found that biryani is more preferred for these age groups. The move ensures that the cost of infrastructure remains the same and achieves a wider range of customer reach at the same time,” he adds.
Currently, with outlets in New Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Assam, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Bihar, the pilot says that he plans to have over 500 outlets in the next five years. “The upcoming states on the list to increase brand presence include Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra. We plan to have 100 stores by the end of the year and also target Tier II and Tier III cities,” says Rajat.
Speaking about balancing two jobs, Rajat says that he does not need to fly every day and has plenty of time in hand after his flights. “We get a monthly schedule, so I know the days and timings of my flights. I focus on the business during my off days. I do not carry my work home. So, when I am flying, the burgers are out of focus. Once on the ground, my role changes,” he adds.
Rajat believes that Indian businesses can compete and succeed against international brands. “Our decision to bank on desi palates and serve fresh food demonstrates that the Indian business can do better and stand out in the market,” he says.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)