'Make offerings relevant for celebrations and festivities in the new normal'

In conversation with BW Hotelier, Ahmed Farid, Co-founder and Promoter, Hurrem’s, discusses the impact of COVID, the future of Turkish cuisine, Cloud Kitchens, and much more

As restaurants and food joints struggle to rework their business model amidst the definition of new normal in the post Covid world, Ahmed Farid, Co-founder and Promoter, Hurrem’s, the first authentic Turkish baklava confectionery of the country discusses the impact of COVID on the food and beverage industry, future of Turkish cuisine, cloud kitchens and much more.

How did you come up with the concept of a Turkish restaurant? How did you come up with the name Hurrem’s and what does it mean?

For over a year before we launched Hurrem’s, we observed the evolving needs of the Indian consumer, especially in the food and beverage industry. The demand for high quality products and authentic, global culinary experiences increased at a rapid pace. Today, consumers have increased awareness about global cuisines, they are well-travelled and have developed a more refined palette; they are seeking experiences out of the ordinary. Catering to this requirement without any compromise was the core to our enterprise, Hurrem’s, India’s first-ever Turkish Baklava store and café. 

The freshly baked baklava with its golden layers of pastry offers one a true essence of Turkish flavours. Over the years, it has become one of the world’s most loved desserts and we are delighted to bring to the country authentic, handcrafted Turkish baklava. To give guests a true taste of Turkey, our offerings at Hurrem’s are made using ingredients flown in from the country and are handcrafted by Turkish chefs who have mastered the art in Gaziantep. All our offerings at Hurrem’s, including the baklavas, are 100 per cent vegetarian and our chefs have carefully designed the recipes to ensure that the taste remains uncompromised. 

While you have heard people say, ‘What’s in a name?’ – We think it says a lot. Inspired by Hurrem Sultan, the queen of the Ottoman empire, this is a name that carries in itself a legacy of luxury and extravagance.  Recalled as one of the most renowned public figures of her time who lived her life with absolute panache, Queen Hurrem Sultan was known to host lavish parties in which she served Turkey’s most premium culinary delights and it has been said that she was the first to popularise baklava in Turkey. Moving forward to the present, the streets of Turkey are now dotted with baklava shops.

What parallels do you draw between Indian and Turkish palates?

Both, Indian and Turkish cuisines are immensely flavourful and bursting with the taste of numerous different spices and condiments. Both the countries are tea drinking nations; while the classic masala chai is almost an essential in every Indian household, Turkish tea is an essential part of their culture. The largest link that we see between the two palates is their love for food and more importantly desserts. Both Indians and Turks enjoy their sweets; where India is known for its mithai, the Turks have their renowned Turkish Baklava and Lokum. Owing to their love for all things sweet and scrumptious, we decided that authentic Turkish baklava would be a strong addition to the range of dessert offerings available in India. 

Instagram and other social media platforms were abuzz with people trying Shakshuka (Turkish egg-based dish). How do you see the future of Turkish cuisine in India? 

We do believe that there is a strong demand for authentic global culinary experiences in India. When we launched with Hurrem’s almost a year ago, we received a great positive response towards Turkish cuisine. Although baklava is our core offering, we also serve Turkish savouries and beverage. We decided to keep our offerings 100 per cent vegetarian, whilst ensuring that the authenticity and taste is remains uncompromised. Operating out of a single store in Mumbai, we have received an immense amount of appreciation from our guests who often ask if there is a possibility of expanding our menu to include other Turkish delicacies. Turkish cuisine is bursting with flavours, much like what our Indian palate enjoys, hence, it is my understanding that Turkish cuisine is here to stay.

It has been around 9 months since Hurrem’s debuted in Mumbai. What has the response been like?

We opened our doors to customers in November 2019 and have greatly enjoyed serving our guests ever since. Our guests have on several occasions visited the store and the response has been overwhelming. In less than six months, we became synonymous with Turkish baklava in the city and aim at making this positive impact on a national level.

Our objective has always been to take guests on a culinary journey through the lanes of Turkey. Our store, situated at Fort, was designed to give consumers a boutique experience – Guests could sit back in the café and enjoy the Turkish delicacies or go through the assortment of premium nuts we have to offer at the nut bar. We also have a beverage bar in-store to bring to our guests, authentic Turkish tea and coffee among other beverages. 

When we temporarily shut operations for a short period in March, messages regarding making Hurrem’s baklava available for delivery poured in. We quickly adapted to the situation and prepared ourselves to provide for what the consumer is most comfortable with in what we call ‘the new normal.’ Re-strategising our model, we have expedited our plan for offering home deliveries and our offering can now be ordered online on delivery platforms, including Zomato.

With no signs of Covid-19 subsiding anytime soon and people’s reluctance to eat from outside knowing that hygiene is more critical than it has ever been, when do you expect the restaurants to bounce back to normalcy?

In a country like ours, people are always looking forward to the festive season, which brings with it excitement and joy. After having missed out on celebrations for almost five months now, consumers are looking to get back to normalcy, keeping their safety in mind. The first step to gradually expand operations would be through the on-going festive season.

This year, the festivities will surely be celebrated differently, from within one’s home as well as virtually. We do see F&B experiences being at the core of celebrations in the new normal as well. Numerous individuals may not be able to celebrate with their friends and family on a scale that they would have liked to, hence we believe that gifting too will see a rapid rise. We still anticipate a further increase in takeaways and deliveries, giving our guests that much-needed break from cooking. 

Cloud Kitchens have now become the most viable option, how do you see the future of the same? Will delivery play a larger role in your business?

With concerns of safety and social distancing norms, people will prefer deliveries and take-aways as opposed to dine-ins. Hence, cloud kitchens are a viable option for those restaurants whose models are built solely home deliveries. Deliveries are already playing a major role for us too. With travel plans coming to a sudden halt, we wanted to ensure that our customers still get to enjoy the taste of Turkey in Mumbai. Our core offering lies in the fact that we take our guests on a culinary journey through the streets of Turkey right from the comfort of their own home and we’re the first Indian brand to provide authentic Turkish baklava in the country. While deliveries will remain a key focus for us, we will continue working on newer ways of reaching our audiences, not only in Mumbai but also across the country.

As new hygiene norms and standards have come into play, what training model did Hurrem’s devise to instill the same in the staff for their everyday working?

The safety, health and wellness of our customers and employees will always be of paramount concern and a top priority for us. Here at Hurrem’s, we are following the government and FSSAI directives and have micro-sanitized our premises to ensure that all hygiene and safety standards are met. Our premises have been virtually audited by Equinox Labs –  leading FSSAI Approved & NABL Accredited Food, Water & Air Testing Lab with 14+ years of experience – and we have been awarded a hygiene rating of 92.86 per cent, enabling us to secure one of the top positions in the city in terms of safety and hygiene. 

All our members of staff have been specially trained to maintain the highest level of hygiene at all times. We have also ensured that there is minimum staff at the kitchen, and that they are equipped with masks and gloves in order to further ensure their safety and wellness. Our team members have undergone training to also ensure that a mandatory six feet distance is maintained on the premises at all times and to ensure the frequent practice of hand-washing and use of sanitizer. We also monitor and register the temperature of our staff on a daily basis. As advised by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the temperature at our café will be set between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius.

In addition to this, the baklava making process at Hurrem’s has always maintained exceptional hygiene and safety standards. Our baklava is baked at 180 degrees Celsius – a temperature that no life form can withstand. The baking process is followed by an entirely contactless packaging and delivery process ensuring that the only person in direct contact with the baklava once it is out of the ovens, is the customer. Our store is not open for pick-ups and we’re only facilitating deliveries, to limit the number of people visiting our store.

There were massive supply chain disruptions after the sudden announcement of lockdown, how did Hurrem’s tackle it?

Our store temporarily shut-in March due to the national lockdown. We utilized this downtime to re-strategise, plan and prepare for home deliveries, which was made available towards the end of June. Since then, we have seen the supply chain gradually open up. 

How has the landscape of the F&B industry changed due to Covid-19? 

Although the pandemic has impacted businesses across industries, we are seeing companies gradually resuming operations. One cannot deny that the F&B industry too has been adversely impacted. 

With the pandemic induced lockdown in place, restaurants have altered their offerings to better cater to their customers. This has resulted in restaurants finding new and innovative ways to ensure their signature offerings are made available to guests at their doorstep. There has been a rise in popularity for signature beverage mixes as well as DIY kits. In order to adapt to the ever-evolving situation, restaurants have also had to minimise their offerings with smaller menus and limited offerings.

Additionally, consumers are celebrating festivities at home and virtually. Catering to at-home celebrations and occasions will be a focus area across the F&B industry. We understand that festivals and weddings might be more intimate now. However, guests are going to go the extra mile to ensure that those joining their celebrations virtually feel special and remain engaged; the focus on wedding favours and gifting is only going to increase, especially in the coming months. Hurrem’s has introduced luxe gift hampers to help guests ‘Unlock Celebrations’ at home in the new normal.

What is your advice to food enthusiasts planning to open an eatery amidst a pandemic?

As we cautiously tread into the new normal, we see numerous industries gradually picking up pace. My piece of advice for food enthusiasts planning to open an eatery at this time would be:

Go the extra mile to rebuild consumer confidence

The new normal will bring with it a new consumer – one that lays extreme emphasis on safety and hygiene. Although now an unsaid rule, ensuring adequate safety and hygiene measures is of utmost importance to any business working towards gaining consumer confidence. Communicating your practices will enable to build further consumer trust and confidence.

Do not undermine the power of a digital-first approach

The importance of having a digital presence has been realised by businesses across industries due to the nationwide lockdown. Almost always seen as an ‘additional’ channel initially, having an online presence is the need of the hour today. With the restrictions in place to ensure the safety of our country, it is vital that businesses stay in touch with their consumers using a digital-first approach.

Make your offerings relevant for celebrations and festivities in the new normal

One of the core philosophies we believe in at Hurrem’s is that food acts as a device of social technology, bringing people together, and we do see F&B experiences being at the core of celebrations in the new normal as well. Since a lot of individuals may not be able to celebrate occasions, weddings and festivities as they normally would have, gifting is going to see a huge rise.

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Hurrem’s Turkish restaurant F&B Sector Cloud Kitchens


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