The rise and rise of, “Dalle”

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The rise and rise of, “Dalle”

Dalle is a derogatory term used to denote stunted growth in colloquial Nepali. The rise of Dalle- a comfort food outlet for the residents of Kathmandu, named after the small round red chillies abundant in the Himalayas - on the contrary is a story of anything but. Good food, consistent quality and quick service are keys to Dalle’s rise to a fast-food chain within a few years of its fateful start in October, 2011. Dalle started small as a khaja-ghar around the corner in the busy streets of Kamaladi with six employees. Today, it has three operational outlets (Labim Mall and Bhatbhateni along with Kamaladi), a central kitchen and two more under construction, and further two under consideration. It employs more than 70 people today and is on line to hit a century of employees soon.  

 

The Early Idea and some wait

Alok Yonzan and Subash Gauchan, the two cofounders of Dalle were childhood friends. “Subash was amused by the food in our home and talked about bringing the unique Darjeeling flavor out to the market”, says Yonjan reminiscing the early days of their youth. But, the idea remained on hold for some time as both the co-founders went abroad to pursue their careers abroad.

Yonjan came back to Kathmandu in 2007 after almost 10 years in Hong Kong. His father requested one of the two sons abroad to come home and, Yonjan, for his proximity compared to farway UK where his brother resided, was the one to return.  

 

A little here and there

Back in Hong Kong, Yonjan had been a part of the flourishing hospitality industry. Starting from a simple waiter job, he went on to become a restaurant manager of a boutique hotel there. He got an opportunity to witness first-hand how the restaurant industry was changing from food and beverage to service and hospitality. He brought back industry knowledge and experience from the 10 years he spent in Hong Kong.

As soon as he came back to Kathmandu, he invested in Tamas, a restaurant in Gairidhara. But he took back his shares after a fallout between some of the partners. Then, Yonjan partnered with another friend to open a fine-dine called Jardin in Jhamsikhel that they couldn’t market well. “The idea of a fine-dine probably came 5 to 10 years before time”, states Yonjan.

 

Just Before Dalle

The Dalle story looks more fateful than planned. Ahimsha (a cousin of Yonjan) and Subash had designed the logo of Dalle back in 2004. The design was an accident as per say but later used as the logo that today resembles Dalle, as a brand. Yonjan and Gauchan discussed the idea of a mo:mo: chain on a day of Nepal Bandh in 2009. They decided to open mo:mo: outlets at 10 different places at the same time and called on 10 people to invest in the idea. The idea was discussed over several long and tedious meetings, without reaching any conclusion. They later scrapped the idea.

 

The Fateful beginning

Then, Yonjan and Gauchan decided to do things themselves. On a fateful day in October 2011, Gauchan, then working in an office at Gaushala, called Yonjan to talk about their business. For some reason, Yonjan decided to go through Kamaladi and saw a space available at the current location of Dalle in Kamaladi. So, instead of going to Gaushala, he called Gauchan there.

They discussed for some time and paid advance for space. Within 2 days, they started furnishing, hired some employees and started working for the restaurant. They had a normal opening of Dalle, as a limited menu fast-food in December 23, 2011. Yonjan says, “I guess, when it’s meant to happen, it just happens.” Scraping through the pages of Dalle’s short history, it looks like he couldn’t be more right.

 

The Initial Hiccups   

The initial six months of Dalle didn’t go as planned. The part of Kamaladi, where Dalle started out was secluded during the winter and attracting customers became an initial hiccup. But the number of offices surrounding the immediate vicinity was large and made both the co-founders hopeful.

After an initial waiting game, Dalle started garnering interests from its customers. The business started growing in terms of sales. But for some reason, after almost six months of operation, Dalle found itself cash-strapped. They weren’t making enough money to pay rent and salaries to their employees.

The founders then studied their competitors to realize that the cost of food that they were serving was comparatively higher owing to better quality and larger servings. The founders faced quite a dilemma. Either they had to raise the price to stick with the quality or reduce the quality to tackle pricing issues. Dalle chose to the first option and looking back, perhaps, that’s what made all the difference.

 

The Business Secret

Dalle today stands out from other eateries in Kathmandu. It is quite interesting to know that almost staple food for Nepali Khaja hungry people, Mo:Mo: itself has been the differentiating element. When asked about their business secret, Yonjan says, “We simply worked to bring different taste and flavors compared to local taste and, after that everything has been about our keen focus on quality and consistency.”

Maintaining quality and consistency in this industry though, is easier said than done. A pinch of salt or a pint of malt is all it takes for two plates of Mo:Mo: to differ in taste. On the other hand, the employee turnover in this industry is quite high resulting in variety of tastes with every changing cook. But, Dalle has been able to satisfy and retain its key employees over the years. “The key to Dalle’s success has been its ability to keep its key employees satisfied and happy. Others come and go, and probably it’s good that way, but retaining your key employees is a must in this industry.”

 

 

The Investors Interest

Yonjan and Gauchan were not traditional business people and Dalle wasn’t a traditional business. The dream was to grow big and grow fast, and not remain confined at Kamaladi for life. The initial days had shown positive signs of market existence. And now they were looking to open outlets of Dalle in different places.

Fortunately, the entrepreneurial scene in Kathmandu was slowly changing with investors looking for opportunities to invest in good businesses. Dalle garnered attention from some of them within a year of operation. But, they were waiting for the right investor. And late 2013 saw International Finance Corporation (IFC) interested in funding Dalle. For some reason, the investment management party hired then couldn’t manage the fund. They have recently been funded by International Finance Corporation (IFC) with Business Oxygen (BO2) as the investment manager. And this investment has helped Dalle to accelerate its initial dream of being a fast-food chain with only changed a little bit of vision.

 

Way Forward

Today, Dalle is looking at the bigger picture.The Initial dream of becoming a fast-food chain around Kathmandu has changed into becoming a comfort-food chain in response to the market. Having stood out in the market in their own terms, Dalle is trying to get still ahead with technical assistance from PUM. PUM is a Dutch organization that helps its partner organization get ahead in their business.

Dalle has been using the experience and expertise from the PUM experts to learn the nuts and bolts of making a dream of comfort food chain possible. They are also eyeing Hazard Analysis and Critical  Control Points (HACCP) certification to further solidify their quality at every step of their food production from procuring food products, to storing and processing the finished product. These regulations and safety standards will be assisted by use of latest technology that Dalle is currently investing in.

According to Yonzan, “ The next big dream of Dalle is to venture into a franchise.” And looking at the accelerated progress Dalle has made in these few years of operation, this big dream for Dalle might not be so far.   

 

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Guest Monday, 23 October 2017