‘Food businesses in Kashmir ripe with opportunities for exponential growth’

‘Food businesses in Kashmir ripe with opportunities for exponential growth’
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Arsalan Kamil started his entrepreneurial journey with the construction business in 2008 as a contractor for various government projects. Later he decided to dive into his passion for quality food and baked goods and came up with his own brand ‘Ovenfresh’.

“If you look at the modern fast-food and eatery business in Srinagar, there is room for exponential growth as the market is under-served in terms of options and price brackets. Srinagar is traditionally a food-loving city, with a history of varied gastronomic experiences integrated within our culture linked to either the time of the day or an occasion or in as is the norm globally, seasons. Be it a rich and exquisite culinary experience such as Wazwan or street-side food like Nader-monji, traditionally there has always been a broad and deep palette of food experiences within our culture,” Arsalan said.

“However, that is not the case with the more recent phenomenon of offering food options that are non-traditional and offer the customers a choice to explore and widen the modern taste palette. And if there are a few options already available, most are not economical for a vast majority of the population.”

Arsalan said that sensing a gap in the market, I decided to commit myself full-time to establishing a bakery of consistent quality with an economical pricing strategy - christening the brand as Ovenfresh.

“Ovenfresh as a brand name embodies the excitement one feels when taking a freshly baked cake out of the oven, it represents the anticipation for the first bite of a slightly warm cookie that you dip in a glass of milk, or a hot loaf of bread that fills up the room with its aroma. I want the customers we serve to witness the passion we have for baking and share it with them through great quality products. No-one wants to spend money on lesser quality products - should enough good options exist - and that is what Ovenfresh strives for - consistent good quality.”

Arsalan said that he has witnessed bakery and confectionery business in growing up years within the family but had very limited exposure to the elements that constitute the whole process of food-products manufacturing.

“So when I decided to pursue this as a long-term commitment, the first thing I did was fly to New Delhi and take a course in baking and chocolate-making with a 5-Star hotel chef for 3 months. I used my downtime during the course to visit various manufacturers and suppliers of modern equipment for bakery production and persistently negotiated and procured the best in class equipment to be delivered to Srinagar for setting up the workshop for Ovenfresh.”

Speaking about his biggest challenges, Arsalan says “It takes a lot of consolidated effort in putting together a business that is producing eatable products at scale - and equipment is just one part of it. My biggest challenge was to impart the knowledge I gathered in my baking course about sourcing raw materials and preparation processes and baking methods for various products to the team I was putting in place, and to make sure that the mission for good quality was being adhered to by the team in the workshop. I have been lucky to find people that care about the Ovenfresh brand at its objectives as much as I do, if not more. And I see the drive in my team to make Ovenfresh an impactful and significant food-products brand in the days to come.”

Having received great customer feedback on quality coupled with word-of-mouth, evident in the orders that now come from all corners of Srinagar, Arsalan was emboldened to double-down on his commitment and secure a second and recently a third location for a store-front. We are opening our third branch in Srinagar opposite Amar Singh Club at Sonwar, and plan to extend to other districts in the state in the coming months and years.

Arsalan also speaks of his franchising plans with great passion “I strongly believe that franchising is more about abstracting yourself to the very best of what you have to offer and only then can you recreate the magic formula, and I don’t think we are there yet and to retain the onus for consistent quality we are still going with the branch formula as compared to franchising. But I see that in our roadmap as we establish our strengths and prioritise our signature produce that only we can do best.”

Speaking of the current product offering, Arsalan says “We have a unique product line of Ovenfresh Signature Cakes which are very popular with customers -we do these in 14 different flavours. We also serve Tarts, Pies, Patties, Pure Butter Cookies, Desi-Ghee Kulchas, and of course Pastries. I am also glad that we offer variety in bread - White, Brown, Wholemeal and Multigrain and plan to offer more taking inspiration from European bread-making. Word-of-mouth has led to people from all around Srinagar placing orders for a specialised birthday, wedding and occasion cakes and mostly we get bulk orders for special or customized arrangements for wedding majmas. We also serve products that are more traditional to the local bakery scene for our customer’s day-to-day bakery needs. Beyond bakery, we are experimenting with fast-food options such as pizzas and wraps and also serve one of the best coffees you will find in the city - always made with freshly-ground beans.”

When asked about his plans ahead, Arsalan says “I believe more than ever before customers are willing to explore options and varieties in the food and eatables market, and we are trying our best to expand offerings and make Ovenfresh products available to as many customers as we possibly can - to have them experience great quality food at economical prices. The rest will follow!”

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