From Rags to the Richness of Biryani – the story of a Bengali Chartered Accountant’s passion for Food, Football and the Creation of Wealth.
Only Alibaba does an Open Sesame!
Aniruddha Guha Roy had all the reasons to be happy … way back in 2011. Jesuit Education – from the city’s premier institutions, St. Lawrance School and St. Xavier’s College, followed by a Fellowship of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a roaring business as a provider of back office support to Banks. His hard work was paying rich dividends and GuhaRoy and Associates – the Accounts and Tax firm he had floated in 1992 was already Numero Uno in East India (ranked second across India) in the niche of its choice. The job of verifying and providing CPA services for credit cards and other personal loans to Banks, including, among others, Standard Chartered, SBI, ICICI, HDFC, too required neither the knowledge of rocket science, nor the ability to take disproportionate risks.
But, Aniruddha was not happy. “The business had max-ed out and while the returns were steady, it left a lot to be desired, so far as arresting my attention was concerned” reminisces Aniruddha. “It was like being a parasite, eking out a living off others and I genuinely wanted to do something off the beaten track; create, as opposed to merely report. Yes, conventional wisdom did dictate that I continue doing what I was doing. The ship is always safe in the harbor. But that is not what it is meant for, isn’t it?”
Not that taking the plunge was easy, considering the fact that he hailed from a middle-class, service-above-self Bengali stock. “My family and friends were aghast” laughs Aniruddha, almost apologetic to this day. “There I was, apparently chucking away all that I had achieved in search of a chimera. My mother had even sought divine intervention through the good offices of a Holy Man to cure me of what she considered sheer lunacy” he chuckles.
Not that the black magic worked and Aniruddha exited the cushy back-office business in 2011. He had good reason to, for Only Alibaba – his one off foray gastronomic, set up in September 2008, was by then, a raging hit! Here was a risk-averse Bengali Bhodrolok, an accountant by training, taking on the well-entrenched, brand-name Biryani makers of the city – some who could even trace their lineage and legacy to the famed royal cook who had originally rustled up the dish for the ousted Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah (yes, to him goes the credit of introducing the famed potato in Kolkattaiya Biryani that we all relish) and winning. Sounds like a fairytale, right?
Aniruddha breaks into a smile “The facts are stranger than fiction, my friend. I had three compelling reasons that I knew would accord me with the winning edge and help create the niche I sought. For starters, Alibaba Biryani is cooked without animal fat and (or) vanaspati which makes it the preferred choice for the health conscious who still want to partake of the flavor and the taste. Secondly, we invested in a hot chain and offered home delivery, anywhere in Kolkata. And finally, we took the route of incubating small outlets around the city to grow organically.
We were the first in our domain in all three and the rest, like they say, is history.”
And what a history. Today Only Alibaba has 22 units across 2 states in Eastern India and has mind boggling expansion plans in the anvil. Oh yes, it also thrives as one of the very few food chains that continues to flourish in the black, a reason why it was able to attract private equity in 2014. Yes, that too was a first of its kind.
Only Alibaba has since then gone the family way. In 2012 it unveiled FishFish – the only restaurant in the city dedicated to catering all dishes fishy and in 2014 followed it up with Baked and Fried. “I wanted to prove that we Indians too can toss up Fried Chickens and Submariners. Yes, the machines are all imported, the ingredients identified from around the world and the palette distinctly global, but the spread continues to be Made in India” says a proud Aniruddha.
While the names Alibaba and Aniruddha are almost synonymous, what is not widely known is that this publicity-averse achiever is also associated with a host of unique ventures, each having scaled to the top of its domain; each in search of excellence in its own indomitable way. GreyMind media – the television content creation and production company has enriched the media space with runaway success stories like Dadagiri, ExtraTime and Ke Hobe Biggest Fan. It is now readying for the next leap forward – plans about which Aniruddha is obviously tightlipped.
Hangla Hneshel – the first Bengali glossy dedicated to all things gastronomic – is already a generic name in Bengal along with Maach-er Jhol and Roshogolla . The good news is that here too, Aniruddha has chalked out impressive plans for the future to build on his prime mover advantage.
In the final analysis then, how does it all add up? How lip smacking are the figures that this Master Chef of Accountancy has concocted? “It is neither about your top-line, nor about the bottom-line. Least of all the published figures, rather, far from it” says Aniruddha, philosophical for the first time. “It is about giving your customers value for money and in the process, the creation of wealth. Your contribution should not be judged by the number of outlets that you have, or the number of covers that you serve, rather, the number of lives you have touched, and hopefully, transformed.
Today, we are proud because of the fact that we have created employment opportunities for 260 people directly. If one were to consider our suppliers and other associates, there will be another 75 gainfully employed persons. Even considering 4 dependents per head will give you a magic figure of 1340. No mean achievement, for a first generation entrepreneur, that too in less than a decade. A satisfied customer, a contended co-worker and the happiness that rubs off to their families – that, is my ROI, if you consider my blood, sweat and tears as the investment.”
And with that he asks the quintessential Bong question: What would you like to have now? A Roll or a Biryani? A Submariner,with the works, perhaps?
May a million Biryani’s Bloom. May your tribe increase.