Armed with a three-decade old Maruti 800 and a desire to make things work, Parthiv Thakkar (47), fondly known as Fakiraa Burger Wala, started his food business in May 2020. Born and brought up in Ahmedabad, he moved to the United Kingdom when he turned 21, and went on to spend over ten years in the country.
While Parthiv is a professional drummer and singer who has worked at places across the UK & US, he had to return to India in 2020 when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Speaking to The Better India, he says, “Given the nature of my work, I was busy with my shows only in the evenings, and that is how I started working at pubs and learnt how to make burgers, hotdogs and other food that was popular there.”
It was this learning that came to good use when Parthiv returned to India and started looking for work. “It was an unfortunate time – my wife was going through treatment, COVID-19 cases were on the rise, international travel was banned, and here in India, my savings were slowly depleting. It was my daughter, who is a regular at the food stalls lined up outside the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, who suggested I start a food business and it came as an anchor at a time when I felt I was losing everything,” he says.
‘COVID-19 put a brake on my life’
“As a performer, COVID-19 hit me really hard. Since there was a ban on social gatherings, there were no shows happening, which in turn meant no income for a long while. This, coupled with me being in India and the mounting medical expenses, left me in a terrible position,” he recalls.
“Before I started this business, I did my own research of the food stalls in the area and found that no one was selling burgers. I found paratha and chaat stalls in plenty, so rather than doing something that others were already doing, I chose Mexican and American fast food. It was also a novelty and something that isn’t easily available in the area,” he adds. For close to three months after launching the business, Parthiv says that he saw no profit and hardly any footfall.
“Thankfully I did not have to put in too much investment to begin with. I decided to get the car we had serviced and use that to ferry all the things to and fro. This saved a lot of money that I would have had to pay as rent for a space,” he says.
He had all the seats except one removed, and with that he was set to begin. “I spent close to Rs 18,000 to get the car refurbished and ready to double as a moving kitchen. It takes me all of five minutes every morning to set it up and a few extra minutes every evening when I am packing up,” he says.
Parthiv can be found outside the IIM-A campus (old gate) every day from 9 am to 10 pm, and one can order a Mexican burrito, tacos, tortilla, sandwiches and burgers.
The cost of a vegetable burger begins at Rs 60 and a jumbo burger is priced up to Rs 250.
“Earlier, I would buy the cheese, butter and the buns and had to take it all back home for three months in the beginning. Instead of making money I was pumping in my own personal savings into the business to keep it going,” he says. “However, I continued to run the shop every day in the hope that things would turn for the better soon. Very gradually, things started to pick up and as word spread, by September 2020 people started coming in large numbers.”
Parthiv attributes a lot of the success that he has achieved to social media and says that a number of his customers would make videos of his stall and upload them on their individual pages. “That gave me a lot of visibility, and soon, people started having conversations with me and trying to find out more about why I was doing what I was,” he says.
He says that he gets 100 burger buns each day and on most days, is able to sell them all.
“I do not intend to go beyond 100 at any point. I am happy with this kind of sales. My motto is to ensure that each burger that I sell is of the same quality and I do not compromise on that,” he says.
Pathiv starts his prep work the night before and wakes up at 7.30 every morning to finish the prep work for the day. He says, “By 9 am, the car is parked outside the IIM-A gate and ready for the day. I have hired help who is at the venue each morning and that gives me time to get my bank work and other household chores sorted. I am back at the venue by 2 pm and we wrap up at 10 pm every night.”
When asked what kind of change he sees in India, he is quick to respond, “The youngsters are so well-spoken and have so much respect for the work I am doing. I have only seen them encouraging me and helping me grow the business.”
He says that today, the business makes enough money for him to plough some back into the food cart and live a comfortable life. “While I cannot compare it to the life I was leading in the US and UK, I am happy with what I have managed to make here. I was there for my family,” he says.
“I am grateful I was able to reinvent myself and find a way to survive. I never want to get greedy and am content with the amount of sales I do each day,” he says in conclusion.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)