In this series of light-hearted interviews, BiTES celebrates homegrown food companies headed by their next generation of family members. We get a glimpse of the stories behind the brands and the personalities in the boss’ seat.
What’s your role in the business?
I’m still learning the ropes from my dad. One of my first tasks was managing our online presence as well as forming partnerships with online food delivery services. My dad always says he is in charge of the kitchen, while I do everything else. I don’t like cooking, but dad has assured my younger brother (he just finished NS and will be going to university) and I that the necessary procedures have been taken so that succession will be easy.
How is it like working for the family business as compared to the corporate world?
I did three years in a Dutch creative studio, where I dabbled in social media, photography and content creation. I wouldn’t say I have experience working in the corporate world, as the studio was small and my colleagues were like family. There are pros and cons to working with your blood family. It’s nice that we all have a common goal and everyone is in it together, but there’s no clear line between work and life. Even when we are at home, we are working. During family dinners my dad is constantly talking about ways to improve the business.
You mentioned you were initially resistant to joining the food industry. Why?
I’ve always done design and prefer creating visuals. In fact, I’m a bit of an addict. There was a period when we were doing our taxes; I felt like I was going to malfunction! (laughs) Plus, when I was 15 years old, I used to help out at our Jumbo Coffee Shop stall after school. I thought that F&B life was horrible—hot, long hours, and constantly smelling like food. I’ve since grown to love it.
What are your goals for Bismillah Biryani?
Acquiring more shop fronts is one of our focus areas. We have a huge customer base, and while we may have four stores—Jalan Besar, Dunlop, Simei and One- North—we hope to be even more accessible to our loyal patrons.
How is Bismillah Biryani different from the rest?
We specialise in North Indian dum biryani. Everything is cooked together and it’s served with a side of raita. Singaporeans are more exposed to Malay biryani, which is served with a side of curry. This is why some locals feel that our curry can be a bit dry, but that’s only because they are used to dousing the curry over the rice. Our biryani is prepared in a combi oven to ensure standardisation. (Psst…we’ve tried the biryani first hand and the rice was fluffy, moist and bursting with flavour, thanks to succulent lamb chunks.)
What do you do during the weekends?
Working in a family business is a 24/7 affair. So on the weekends, I try to have a balance. I either spend time with my family or catch up with friends. In between that, I read the billion e-mails my dad sends me.
What was the last movie you watched?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I love Groot!
If you were described as food, what dish you would be?
I’m feisty, but ironically, I can’t take spice. Maybe spaghetti because I love pasta (ponders). I guess I will be a fusion dish, because of my family background— dad’s Pakistani and mom’s Chinese. We are a mix of everything.
How is your relationship with your dad?
While I was close to my dad, I grew up not knowing him very well as he was always busy with work. Now that we work together, our relationship has definitely grown. He is extremely calm and patient when it comes to teaching me.
BRIEF TIMELINE OF BISMILLAH BRIYANI
Former computer hardware businessman and journalist Arif Salahuddin was motivated to open his own biryani stall after being disappointed with the variants served in Singapore. He took over a naan stall in Jumbo Coffee Shop along Commonwealth Road to sell his biryani.
Arif moved the stall to a full service restaurant at 50 Dunlop Street and named it Bismillah Biryani.
Anthony Bourdain featured Bismillah in his Travel Channel series, The Layover.
Bismillah Biryani opened a second full-service restaurant at One-North Nexus, and a food court outlet at NTUC Simei under the name Biryani HQ to remain accessible to his customer base. This was also the year they were awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand. Daughter Zara joined the business to help her parents.
Islandwide expansion is in their books. To help ensure quality supply of meat going forward, they have put in place plans for Bismillah Halal: The Meat Shop, a butchery to buy and sell the meats used in their restaurants.
Bismillah Biryani opened another restaurant at 53 Jalan Besar.