Tajik restaurant chain shows resilience during coronavirus pandemic

By Turarbek  Bekbolotov

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The EBRD and EU helped FoodMaster improve financial reporting

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, an established chain restaurant company in Tajikistan demonstrated resilience by prioritizing food delivery, adopting even stricter food and public health safety controls and feeding the medics fighting Covid-19.

Tajikistan is one of the Central Asian countries heavily dependent on remittances from labour migrants and its economy has been suffering major losses in the past few months.

As the country finds its way through the crisis, its leading companies are rapidly reorganising their business operations. FoodMaster LLC is the enterprise behind the local franchises of well-known international brands.

The EBRD and the European Union (EU) helped with business advice that allowed FoodMaster to introduce International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for better management and future investment opportunities.

Olimjon Orifov, the founder of FoodMaster, is no stranger to the restaurant industry in Tajikistan. Even though he worked at various times as head of a trading cooperative, warehouse manager and sales manager at a supermarket chain, his first job was chef apprentice at one of the chaikhanas, or traditional teahouses, popular across Central Asia.

Olimjon always dreamed of his own restaurant and wanted to raise the bar in this sphere. As he travelled the world and tasted major cuisines, he became interested in bringing international brands to Tajikistan.

In 2006, he established the FoodMaster limited company, which opened the first international food franchise in Tajikistan of a popular UK brand, Southern Fried Chicken. Dushanbe residents loved the new restaurant and, to meet demand, the company opened three more SFC restaurants.

Over the years, FoodMaster opened other franchises including Baskin Robbins, Roll House, Tea Funny and Sait Efendi to become a chain of eight international brands and national restaurants with 16 facilities, 285 employees and 6000+ customers per day.

However, in the last few months, Tajik food businesses have suffered disproportionately more than other industries, and FoodMaster saw a 30-40 per cent shortfall in profit.

“Due to declining incomes and people preferring to stay home, we saw a drop in the number of visits. We even had to temporarily close some of our facilities,” says Olimjon.

Despite the challenges, shortly after the pandemic started, FoodMaster joined in with charity efforts, initiating a new tradition at the company of regularly delivering free lunches to first responders at medical facilities and families in need. As Olimjon states, the company will only do well if society does well, and owes much to its customers.

The decline in revenues also prompted Olimjon’s entrepreneurial mindset to look for effective responses to the situation. His answer was to focus on the food delivery service, both as a survival strategy and a measure to reduce public health risks for the customers.

“To do so we employed more delivery persons, increased the number of vehicles and expanded payment options to include mobile wallets,” remembers Olimjon.   

In addition, the company prioritised greater attention to food safety and public health safety protocols. Even though, as a franchise business, FoodMaster already ensured its restaurants followed best international practices, the company took additional measures to minimise risks for its employees, visitors and customers.

These adjustments have been very helpful in keeping Olimjon’s businesses afloat, stabilising the financial situation.

Another major improvement that helped the company stay resilient was in the area of financial management. With help of the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses programme supported by the EU, FoodMaster adopted IFRS international accounting standards, which help its businesses expand access to finance by using better financial reporting.

“The new international financial and accounting system allowed me as an owner to see the whole financial picture, the dynamics of development, financial forecasts and risks, for full control of the company operations,” says Olimjon.

He is hopeful that new standards and added financial transparency will attract new financing opportunities from potential investors, which is especially important for the growth of the company in times of uncertainty.

The company plans to keep its customers happy through further improvements, adding new franchise brands and also expand its business beyond Tajikistan.

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