Side hustle to success: An ‘egg’-citing journey

January 30, 2024 | By Rupkatha B

Nakul Meherish, Owner, Raju Omlet

It’s a decade of one of the UAE’s much-loved homegrown restaurants, Raju Omlet. It’s a restaurant that egg lovers in the city, including royalties, would have visited at least once, some even 1,800 times over the years. Having served 6 million eggs in a decade and a Harvard Business Review study under its belt, Raju Omlet’s recipe for success is nothing less egg-citing.

But who is Raju, anyway?

“That’s our best kept secret,” said Nakul Meherish, Owner of Raju Omlet during an exclusive interview with IMAGES RetailME Editor, Rupkatha Bhowmick. “Raju is a very common name in India – short and sweet with a great recall, one of the reasons why we chose the name so it would resonate with UAE’s multicultural diners.”

Yet another secret we learnt is that Raju Omlet started by chance. Both Meherish, with a real estate background, and his father Rajiv Meherish with a media background, didn’t have much understanding about the art and science of running a food business.

“Will we sell eggs” was Meherish’s reaction when his father talked about a food cart that he had chanced upon during one of his trips to India and asked, “Can we start this kind of a concept in Dubai, but in a nicer ambience?”

“Looking back, I can say that Raju Omlet started as an accident, at best as a side hustle,” Meherish admitted. A decade on, Raju Omlet isn’t just a business, it’s a brand which has gained a mass appeal.
“It’s also the hardest business I’ve run,” Meherish added.

Raju Omlet at a glance

  • 8 branches in the UAE.
  • 6 million eggs served since launch.
  • 85 dishes on the menu.
  • 70,000+ cups of tea served per month.
  • 80,000+ eggs served per month.

Over to three key lessons from Raju Omlet’s success.

#1 Well thought-out diversification strategy

Raju Omlet started as a small 18-seater restaurant spanning 480 square feet in Dubai’s Karama. From Dubai’s Crown Prince and Head of Police to residents from across nationalities, the restaurant started gaining traction with the humble egg as the centrepiece. From sunny side up and stuffed omlets to Indian specialities such as bhurjis and best seller to date ‘Eggs Kejriwal’ – the menu that started with 9 items gradually increased to 85.

“We saw something click and realised that this business had to be taken more seriously,” Meherish recollected.

So, what clicked?

“I think it was combination of factors. First of all, we focused on creating a community around Raju Omlet that remains a priority to date. Second, we invested in advertising – around 2015-16 we did 52 spots on radio every day for a year and a half – with content that was intriguing. We didn’t offer discount, we didn’t talk about new menu launches, we only spoke about the benefits of consuming eggs. Interestingly that led to the HBR study, which in turn led to global acclaim for Raju Omlet.”

A central question in the HBR study was whether Raju Omlet would pursue product diversification bearing in mind factors such as high real estate cost and sustaining a business with a single product. That question has been answered; Raju Omlet has undertaken product diversification.

But did Meherish fear the risk of diluting a concept that was working well. Are there enough takers for the other dishes, versus eggs, available on the menu?

“Of the 85 dishes that we have on the menu, majority of them are egg based. We sell 80,000-86,000 eggs every month. But items like our ‘chai’ [tea] are also very popular. We sell a lot of chai and that’s why we introduced the flask concept for takeaway. We’re selling around 70,000 cups of tea every month, which is a large number for eight outlets. Now, the reason why we’ve introduced more items on the menu – such as chicken rolls, biryani, Kuttu parathas – is because we have loyal diners who have visited us at least 1,500 times since we opened. We want to offer them something new along with their firm favourites,” he explained.

Food for thought: “What we’ve also learnt along the way is the importance of maintaining high quality, be that product or service, and strong relationship with customers.”

#2 Slow and strategic growth

Raju Omlet is a self-funded business. Every branch of the restaurant has broken even within a year, and some outlets within the first six-seven months depending on the cost of real estate. “In most cases, we’ve been profitable from month one,” Meherish shared.

Asked if there’s a secret behind the brand’s success, he said, “We have expanded strategically. We’ve opened eight outlets in 10 years with an aim to not cannibalize the business. Our goal was to build the brand as opposed to opening an ‘X’ number of restaurants. We wanted each outlet to be successful individually.”

Looking ahead, Raju Omlet is on a growth path. The restaurant will open its first outlet in Abu Dhabi in the summer of 2024 (May-June) and two more branches in Dubai during the year. Following the franchise route, Raju Omlet will open its first outlets in Oman and Bahrain within the next two-three years.

Food for thought: “Growth will be slow and steady as and when we find the right locations, and beyond the UAE the right partners.”

#3 The ‘P’ factor

Good people first is a philosophy that Raju Omlet lives and breathes. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, my father was quite firm about not reducing salaries of our people. In fact, he asked us to find ways to support them wherever possible. Our philosophy has been different from the start. We are not running just a restaurant. We are running a brand that’s close to our hearts, and our people play a key role in our success. That’s why even on our busiest days we seldom get a complaint. And when we do, I personally reach out to customers to assure them that it won’t happen again,” Meherish emphasised.

Pricing is another key factor behind Raju Omlet’s success. “Dining with us won’t hurt your pocket and that’s why people keep coming back,” Meherish said. “Think about it, we have customers who visit us thrice a week, ever since we opened our Al Quoz branch.”

Food for thought: “It’s simple – treat your people well and they will treat your customers well.”

Fun fact: The famous Wellington Sports Club in Mumbai had among its members a Marwari gentleman called Mr Devi Prasad Kejriwal. Hailing from a strict vegetarian family he wouldn’t get to eat eggs at home. When he visited the Wellington club, he would order eggs. Eventually that dish came to be popularly known as ‘Eggs Kejriwal’ at the club. It has topped the list of 10 dishes compiled by New York Times and is a bestseller at Raju Omlet too.

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