Celebrity restaurant owners are happy on being back!

by Asif Ali
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Life may be coming back to normal for some with shops conducting business, restaurants opening for dine-in and food delivery resuming operations, but for restaurant owners, the light at the end of the tunnel is near.

They were locked down during peak COVID-19, couldn’t conduct businesses for at least four months, and even had to bear losses during what is considered their peak time – the summer vacations for parents and their kids.

However, celebrity restaurant owners are happy to be back in business, the food one. They might have ventured into the eatery business to use their clout as famous personalities, got busy once their restaurant became popular, and now feel that the worst is over.

These celebrities might be actors, actresses, news anchors, producers, directors, or even models who tried their hand at acting; Spotlight decided to ask some of them about their businesses, their return post- COVID-19, and how they are handling the resumption.

The first one to venture into the field and succeed is popular actor Syed Jibran, who currently features in both Tarap and Dil Ruba. Not only he is the proud owner of multiple restaurants in the capital city Islamabad, both his outlets are extremely well maintained, well managed, and serve excellent food.

Like all restaurant owners, he wasn’t much happy with the way things were progressing during Lockdown but ever since the reopening of restaurants, he is over the moon. His 1969 Time Goes On at Shakar Parian is an elite restaurant where dining takes you back in time (to 1969 precisely), hence the name whereas BLT – Beef Lettuce Tomato is known for its quality food and ambiance. Both are doing well since resumption, and Syed Jibran ‘thanks’ the ‘lockdown break’ for that.

The amount of people thronging at my restaurants is an absolute stampede.’ Syed Jibran said when he was asked about how business is doing post-COVID-19. ‘It seems like people who have been homebound for so long are going full throttle to make up for all the lost dine-out activity, they used to do. In such a scenario where I am happy that the sales are skyrocketing, at the same time my management is more cautious than ever to make sure that the SOPs are followed to the max as the safety of every individual is still the top priority. Even if it means taking in less number of people and compromising on our profits. So I am happy that things are getting back on track but my team will be on their toes to make sure that the safety measures are in place for everyone.’

And his restaurants deserve to be thronged as well, after all, where else would you get a Karachi-styled Paratha Roll in the Capital city! Moving on while staying back in Islamabad, one must mention film director Yasir Jaswal’s Jessie’s which became a must-visit place when it was opened a handful of years back. He not only extended his business to Lahore and Nathia Gali but is even contemplating bringing it to Karachi, once things get settled in the country.

‘I think people were tired of being at home, eating at home, and trying to be chefs at home during Lockdown’ Yasir Jaswal announced when asked whether COVID-19 made his customer base forget the taste of Jessie’s. ‘So far the response has been good and even though we haven’t targeted our ‘Student’ customer base – since the schools and colleges are closed –the response in the first week was amazing. In order to lure people in, we gave them a Welcome Back discount of about 30% (through a service) and that really helped in spreading the word around. After that we didn’t have to focus much on the sales as people did the rest; it seems they just wanted to go and dine in at restaurants. We are currently open for 12 hours (from noon to midnight) and everyone is happy to be back at work. It was a very difficult time for all of us and since we don’t want to overcrowd our restaurants, we are back with 80% of our workforce, and plan to bring back the remaining 20% once things get better.’

While talking about the precautions, the SOPs, and other COVID related things, Yasir Jaswal was quite happy with the way things are shaping up. ‘The SOPs provided by the Government are very simple to follow. Every staff member dons gloves, wear masks, and protective gear while we ensure that the customers who walk in are wearing masks. What is difficult is to ensure that after dining in, these customers don’t wear the mask back, and we can’t seem to force them, which is sad. At a time when we are making sure that hand sanitizers are made available on every table, a QR code is made accessible for customers to make ordering easy through their phones (we provide free Wi-Fi too), it should be their responsibility to wear their masks when leaving the restaurants.’

Jessie’s has undoubtedly the best burger in Islamabad and since the Jaswal Brothers are friends with most of the showbiz stars in Islamabad, don’t be surprised if you cross paths with one of your favorite celebrities in town. They not just sell delicious burgers but also scrumptious sandwiches, lip-smacking steaks, and yummy shakes, in an environment that is both soothing for adults and enjoyable for kids, who even have a separate place in the menu.

And then there are many restaurants in Karachi where owners are well-known outside the food business. While TV producer Jerjees Seja’s Nobby and his younger brother Abdullah Seja’s Social Hub are gearing for a relaunch in some better location, model turned actor Sikander Rizvi’s Xander’s and Evergreen Cafe are hangout places for those who value good food and a cool environment. His own mother’s Café Flo has been setting the bar high for a long time, and it was natural for ‘Xander’ to branch out on his own. These restaurants are considered high-end and guaranteed to impress if you want to treat some special guests from abroad to authentic and amazing food.

However, the husband-wife duo of anchorpersons Farah Yousaf and Iqrar ul Hasan’s Pak Cuisine is going great in every way. Not only are theirs the only place in entire Karachi that offers Lahore’s famous delicacy Butt Karahi but also other items that include authentic Tawa Chicken, and ‘Desi Murghi cooked in Desi Ghee’so that it doesn’t prove to be ‘heavy’ on the consumer. It is also placed in an ideal location that caters to people from Defence, Clifton, and those visiting Sea View as per their weekly habit, whereas has recently started delivery of lunch for those who have rejoined offices after being stuck at home during COVID-19.

They are not the latest entrants to the food business though; actor turned director Yasir Nawaz ventured into the restaurant business with The Forest quite recently. The Wrong No director and his wife actress turned morning show host Nida Yasir seems to believe in ‘the shortest way to a man’s heart, is through his stomach.’ However, first due to COVID-19 and later due to the heavy rainfall in Karachi, their restaurant hasn’t been able to achieve the desired results. When asked, Yasir Nawaz had a logical answer and an announcement that would guarantee crowds.

‘Due to Corona, the public is scared to leave their house and visit restaurants, a trend that is not just followed in Pakistan, but everywhere around the world.’ Yasir Nawaz explained when asked why his restaurant hasn’t been able to attain a place on everyone’s list. ‘We’re giving many discounts and inviting many celebrities so the guests can meet and interact with them. And most importantly we’re taking care of the hygiene and taste so that the customer comes back every time.’

One hopes that Yasir Nawaz’s restaurant becomes the next big thing in the city where fans can meet their favorite celebrities, and foodies can have their favorite dishes at the same time. It is located in the posh area of Clifton, very near the always busy Bar B Q Tonight, but the chance of meeting someone you have always seen on TV is another kind of feeling that will propel many to change the venue of their dinner plans. Celebrity’s managing restaurants may be a new thing in Pakistan but if Hollywood stars can do it, so can we. Our celebrities will have to defeat COVID-19 first, and after that, everything will become smooth, tasty, and delicious. Best of luck!

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