The country’s employment sector, like most effected economies, took a paralysing hit when the pandemic rendered thousands jobless, while also putting careers on hold for many youths graduating in the thick of Covid-19.
However, even when most businesses were shutting stores and laying off employees, the food industry still managed to be among the relatively better-faring sectors. This was particularly true for road-side vendors, kiosks, food trucks and small fast-food businesses which could wiggle out of government-imposed restrictions and continue to operate during the most severe of lockdowns.
Resultantly, while big businesses struggled to stay afloat, the country’s food capital saw the emergence of hundreds of small-scale, low-investment fast-food outlets sprawling across the city. Many of these were startups by fresh graduates or those who’d been driven out of employment by the coronavirus pandemic, and were looking for a lucrative business to tap into.
These new businesses, unimpeded by competition from bigger outlets and fueled by the city’s love for fast-food, also thrived in the nick of time and found opportunities to significantly grow and expand in the last two years.
According to local food tycoon Rana Ikram, a fast-food business can be started with an invest of Rs200,000 to Rs500,000, depending on the type of fast-food and the scale of business. “Initially, most small-scale businesses start out with one or two hands, which are often partners in the business and then employ helpers, server and delivery boys as the business grows,” Ikram told.
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Speaking in the regard, Sajid Khan, a young man who recently launched a fast food centre in the Patel Para area of the city, said that despite securing graduate level education neither him nor his brother could find a decent enough job to cover their expenses. “So I decided to take a short course in the culinary arts, worked sometime at a local food centre and eventually rented a shop of my own, with my father’s help. It has been six months now, and our business has grown enough to afford hiring six to eight employees,” said the vendor whose outlet specialises in pizzas, burgers and desi items like tikka and a variety of kebabs.
Much like Ikram, Shakoor Ahmed, who despite holding a Master’s degree in Business Administration couldn’t find a decent-paying job, was also lured by all the opportunities in the food sector. The idea hit him on a balmy summer afternoon when the youth had stopped for at a stall near Pakistan Chowk for plate of biryani, after a draining job interview. “That is when I realized that this is one businesses that is truly pandemic-proof and can be started with the smallest of investments. I had some savings, took loan of Rs100,000 and started my own biryani stall in Liaquatabad, right next to my house. Today, I am able to earn a monthly profit of Rs30,000 to Rs40,000 a month from the same stall,” said Ahmed.
To a great extent, the recent development of e-commerce in Pakistan, has also supplemented the local food industry, offering business opportunities to hundreds if not thousands of stay-at-home men and women.
Per Shehnaz Akhtar, a housewife, almost every other house in her neighborhood orders food online, twice or thrice a week through various food delivery applications. “It’s much more convenient than going to a store, and one can easily browse tens of menus and choose a dish of their liking right from the comfort of his or her home. Plus, the frequent discounts and deals these apps offer make food much cheaper too,” the housewife explained.
The recent boon of mobile food-delivery applications has also created a local demand for delivery persons or riders, who can zip from one end of the city to another at a minute’s notice. One such rider is Rashid Sarfaraz, a resident of Hussainabad, who took up delivering food as a part-time job during the pandemic’s financial crunch. “I am signed up as a rider for multiple applications, and run these deliveries after my working hours. Doing so, I am able to earn Rs25,0000 to Rs30,000 a month,” he told, adding that the work is popular with many unemployed youths.
Speaking in the regard, local social worker Shahr Nadeem Khan applauded the people’s will to find fair means of income in the darkest of times. He said that the Federal and Sindh governments should provide interest-free loans from Rs200,000 to Rs300,000 on easy terms to encourage educated youths to open their business on a small scale and earn bread in a dignified manner. “This will not only reduce unemployment but also stabalise our young generation,” she told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2021.