28 outlets and Rs 26 Cr in turnover later, Burger Singh Founder is hungry for more
In an interaction with SMB Story Kabir Jeet Singh, Founder of Burger Singh takes us on the journey from his flipping burgers in the small UK stand to creating a burger empire in North India.
It was difficult for Kabir Jeet Singh to make ends meet when he was pursuing his MBA at the Birmingham Business School in 2007. And, what does a desi do in pardes to meet his needs? After his classes in the morning, he worked at a burger outlet on the night shift.
At the end of the evening shift, he got a free burger to feed himself. But being from the land of masalas, Kabir soon grew tired of eating the bland burgers and one day decided to give the firangi burger an Indian spicy twist.
I went to a nearby store and purchased some Shan masalas and tried mixing them in the patty. And to my surprise, it tasted awesome. From then onwards, I made it a habit and gradually started offering that Indo-British fusioned burger to my friends there,” says Kabir
Soon, the owner of the burger outlet got wind of the popularity of Kabir’s fusion burger and listed it on the menu, giving Kabir an artiste fee for the recipe. The love for Indian food among the English is legendary and they could not have enough of Kabir’s burger. He soon earned the moniker ‘Burger Singh’, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Understanding the Indian market
After completing his MBA Kabir got a job in standard commodity trading in the UK, but idea of Burger Singh never strayed far from his mind.
“It was not possible to sit in the UK and understand the Indian market,” says Kabir. So, in 2011, he returned to India and joined the Beer Cafe founding team to understand the retail landscape and quick service restaurant (QSR) format in the Indian market.
Kabir worked at Beer Cafe for a couple of years and, in November 2014, opened the first Burger Singh outlet with an investment of Rs 30 lakh in a 98sqft shop in Golf Course Road, Gurugram, with the help of friend Nitin Rana.
It was a humble beginning where I was making the burger patty myself. The value proposition which we were aiming at was delivery of burgers. At that time no one was doing burger delivery rigorously and we wanted to build a Dominos kind of delivery platform for our customers,” Kabir, Founder and CEO, Burger Singh, tells SMB Story.
Burger Singh was the first of its kind when Kabir set up operations. Burgers as a concept was still offered to Indians as an American thing, and the companies had not really adapted recipes to suit Indians’ taste buds. This was Burger Singh’s USP: offering Indian flavours in the attractive burger format.
Along came a slew of fun Indian flavours: Kabir’s Bihari Gosht Burger, Chana Burger, Rajma Burger, United States of Punjab Burger. Every recipe is designed, tested and approved by Kabir.
After perfecting his unique recipes, Kabir shifted focus to expand and reach out to as many customers as possible. He went about strengthening the delivery platform, but in the initial days, he delivered burgers to the customers in Gurugram himself. He says,
When we entered the market, there was no such burger player offering quick deliveries because burgers don’t do well in deliveries. McDonald's was the only big food chain but that was too building its delivery platform. Carl’s Jr., Wendy’s came after us and the industry was going through the same phase what pizza went through in 2004. We wanted to build a successful burger delivery platform.”
The journey of scaling up
“Our first outlet started doing cash break-even sales in 60 days,” says Kabir. The acceptance of their product was much higher among the customers than expected, and they had to shut their store before the stipulated time during weekends due to high demand.
We hit the unserviced spot of the customers. The customers were seeking a value for money product that we were serving to them at their doorstep,” Kabir adds.
Burger Singh spread its wings through word of mouth. Kabir says that the repeat rate of the customers was high and tickets went up by 60 transactions during the week from 25, and 100 transactions from 35 during the weekend within a span of two months.
“We were very confident about the product because it took us almost nine months to craft the recipes and select the right bread and ingredients for our burgers. And so, we were accepted very well,” Kabir says.
Seeing customer acceptance and the growing numbers Kabir was confident to expand operations. He raised Rs 1 crore in 2015 from friends and family and opened three more outlets in Gurugram in a span of six months since inception.
Kabir then sought another round of funding from Ashvin Chaddha and Avtar Monga (COO, IDFC Bank) and raised about Rs 2.5 crore. Burger Singh at this point was spread across Delhi-NCR with outlets in Greater Kailash, Connaught Place, and Dwarka.
By the end of 2017, Kabir raised more than Rs 8 crore and scaled up to 10 outlets and four franchises.
In 2018, Kabir raised another round of funding from the existing investors and brought in two more investors, Ashish Dhawan and Sanjeev Bikhchandani, to raise around Rs 20 crore.
At present, Burger Singh has 28 outlets, of which 20 are in Delhi/NCR, one in Pune, two in Dehradun, and two in Jaipur. The food chain has three franchises, including one in Nagpur and two in London. Burger Singh records an annual turnover of Rs 26 crore.
It is very easy to think about making your product reach a global level but it takes a lot of hard work. Indian cuisine is popular worldwide and I wanted to do a pilot franchise in London. We ran the experiment for a year and now it is doing exceptionally well,” Kabir says.
But all this growth does not come without challenges. And in Kabir’s case was adapting his menu to suit Indians’ demands.
“In India, customers are very demanding. It is not like abroad where 50-60 percent sales come from one main item in the menu list. Here, we need to have a larger menu. At Burger Singh, we had to create a large menu where we retire our products every quarterly and bring in new items.”
Taking a bigger bite
Despite Burger Singh’s popularity, Kabir takes competition seriously. “Anybody who is willing to serve customers instead of me is my competitor,” he adds.
And he takes every step to beat competition at their own game. Recently, the shutdown of McDonald’s outlets in North India proved to be a boon for other burger restaurants, and Burger Singh too saw a surge in its orders by upto 36 percent at most of the outlets located close to the McD’s.
Kabir and his team did aggressive advertising and promotions to draw this growth and new customers when the McDonald’s outlets were closed. He says,
When McDonald’s shut, everyone benefits; it’s just like when an elephant dies in the jungle. So, when we heard the news, we launched a campaign - ‘While McDonald’s is away, we are here’.”
Talking about the future plan, Kabir says that in the coming years, he is planning to open 75 outlets in North India. He is also in the process of signing the deed of opening 18 outlets in the UK in a span of three years.