Northern Bites

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While everybody is hunting fortunes in Srinagar, this automobile engineer went down north to give Baramulla its first fast-food shop. Shakir Mir reports

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Shouib Rashid

Unlike other budding entrepreneurs from small towns who come to Srinagar for realizing their dreams, Shouib Rashid, 29, decided to pull it off in his hometown Baramulla only.

A former employee of an automobile enterprise, Shouib grew dispirited with the monotony of daily regimen and decided to channelize his entrepreneurial zeal in a meaningful direction. Today, he presides over Baramulla town’s first and the only dedicated fast food restaurant: Hotwok.

Launched in the last leg of 2013, Hotwok became an instant hit in the town. Constructed along the contemporary lines, Shouib soon started courting who’s who of the Baramulla town in his restaurant.

From District commissioner to a tuition-goer, everyone turned up. “It was a proud moment for me,” he says.

A student of automobile engineering, Shouib secured a job at Peaks Automobiles as soon as he finished his studies. For years, he worked as a Pre /Post Delivery Inspection Manager.  In the following years he rose to become their Deputy General Manager at the Islamabad branch.

He had had a non-descript life until few years ago, when, at a marriage ceremony, an idea of setting up his own restaurant flashed his mind.

“I did not decide to go to Srinagar,” he says. “I thought I am from this place so why shouldn’t I cater to my own town people? And besides, there was no such restaurant in Baramulla.”

Curiously, Shouib’s family had shifted to Srinagar. And despite their insistence that he must continue with his current job in automobiles, he did not relent and went on to pursue his ambition with a dogged conviction.

“I went back to Baramulla even though it could have been easier for me to open the restaurant in Srinagar,” he says.

After months of brainstorming with friends, he finally decided to make the needful investment. “My friends greatly encouraged me,” he says.

In the following period, he encountered a litany of problems. “There were financial and labour problems. I hadn’t done this before. It wasn’t a smooth ride,” he explains.

Then finally, in 2013, he flagged off the Hotwok and soon started receiving visitors. Curiously, the name Hotwok is a Chinese term for a smoldering pan. “A friend from Kashmir University suggested this name to me.”

He registered positive reviews and witnessed the crowd swell with the each passing day. In little time, he accrued the success he was always yearning for.

Shouib also designed an idiosyncratic logo – a rooster gesturing with his thumbs up – which he ensured did not appear like a rip off of some famed fast food chain.

“My pizzas were instantly liked by the customers,” he says. “I was flooded by the orders.”

He also employs a workforce of around six persons including chefs and a manager. “Since they are not from Kashmir, so it is me who manages their stay here.”

Shouib had to move back to his ancestral home in the Baramulla town since the situation demanded his continuous presence at the restaurant. “I go to my home in Srinagar only during weekends,” he says.

Recently, when Ghalib, son of Afzal Guru scored impressive percentage in 10th class exams, Shouib invited him to his restaurant. Buoyed by his stellar success, he is also planning to expand his franchise and open up outlets in Sopore and Srinagar.

“We are going to retain our logo and brand identity,” he says. “That’s what must describe us.”

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