When it comes to fast-food businesses, particularly burgers, the role of Mr. Burger – a Karachi-based chain of outlets and the first player to introduce the concept of gourmet burgers in Pakistan back in 1979 – cannot be ignored.
Despite the presence of international burger chains including KFC and McDonalds, the market has developed only recently.
Pioneer in the business, Mr. Burger entered the market when majority of Karachiites were not even familiar with the concept of fast-food and the burger was termed a ‘bun kebab.’
Mr. Burger, which currently runs eight outlets in the city, according to industry sources, has been among those who developed the concept of fast food but remained on the path of a steady decline for years and could not fully cash-in on the ongoing consumer boom.
With dozens of new outlets opening every year – excluding international chains such as Burger King, Hardee’s, Fat Burger and Johnny Rockets that also entered the market during last couple of years – the market has expanded manifold.
However, the oldest burger chain, which, by most accounts, still has the best local burger, has lost the fame and charm it once had. Even notable food portals, EatOye and Foodpanda, have stopped working with the city’s oldest burger chain.
Critics say Mr. Burger compromised on quality of service while some of their trained workforce was hired by international chains that entered the market later. They did not react to the growing demand and rising competition.
“Mr. Burger didn’t improve their overall quality of service,” said an official who requested not to be quoted. “They didn’t have adequate number of riders thus, orders were not delivered on time. We, therefore, stopped doing business with them.”
Majority of sources The Express Tribune spoke to said the quality of service has gone down and the business is not growing.
Mr. Burger says otherwise.
“The business is growing and our transactions are improving constantly,” Mr. Burger’s General Manager Agha Muazzam Husain said, pushing aside the market gossip that the business is struggling.
Husain, who has been with the company for 16 years and looks after operations of all outlets, says they are soon opening an outlet in Islamabad. “We are also expanding internationally by opening out first outlet in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia next year,” he said.
He also informed about the recent increase in the number of riders in response to the growing demand for takeaway orders. “Our Tariq Road outlet has 15 riders now. It had just one.”
Responding to a question, Husain said, “So far, we have closed only one branch that was in Gulshan-e-Iqbal near NIPA roundabout. The reason was the growing extortion demands.”
He added that they would be opening the Gulshan branch in Lucky One Mall once it was operational. “You are safer from extortionists in malls compared to roadside shops,” he added. Hussain, acknowledging the latest trend of ordering food from home or work, said that one can cover greater geographical area from existing network by hiring more riders. “We still have a fair share in the city’s burger market.”
Asked if they are planning to expand to populated neighborhoods, Husain said, “Will think about expanding if we feel customers are out of reach.”
The GM said the competition was not a worry since the market is huge.
“Mr. Burger still offers value for money and I think they still have the best burger in Pakistan compared to others,” said Nauman Mirza, CEO of EatOye.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2014.
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