Young descendants of the founder think the 89-year-old enterprise should be modernised while the older generation don’t want the business to spread beyond the family’s control so that quality remains uncompromised
It is not often that you come across two different outlets of the same bakery on a single stretch of a road. Come to Johnson Road in Old Dhaka, you will be welcomed with two shops of Yousuf Bakery and Confectionery in a cheek by jowl distance.
Their proximity however matters little to the loyal customers who visit both the outlets in numbers to indulge in their goodies.
Heaps of biscuit, bread, plain cake, ovaltine cake, fruit cake, birthday cake, butter bun, fruit bun, cream roll, mutton patties, chicken patties, chili patties, burger, sandwich, and khasta paratha are inviting not just potential customers but also onlookers to pay a visit inside the shops that donned a trusted brand name for the last 89 years.
Yousuf's two adjoining outlets are however not to manage the crowds of its customers, rather it has something to do with the ownerships. The ownership of the brand, which was started by the late Mohammad Yousuf in 1932, is now shared by two groups of his successors.
Mohammad Yousuf died in December 1990, leaving behind 11 sons, two daughters and a total of 39 grandchildren. The Johnson's road outlet which has a blue sign board that reads: An enterprise since the British India period-- is now managed by Yameen Rahman, son of Yakub--the sixth son of Mohammad Yousuf. Yakub died in January last year.
On the other hand, Md Elieas, a nearly 60-year-old man, manages the outlet that has a white signboard. He is the youngest among Mohammad Yousuf's children.
The story behind the entrepreneurship
Mohammad Yousuf was the eldest among five sons of Abdul Hamid Bepari. Hailing from Goalghat of Dholaikhal, an ancient business hub in Old Dhaka, he joined the family business when he was very young.
Back then, the family had multiple businesses, including a ration shop and a boarding house- The New Dhaka Boarding House. Mohammad Yousuf once was involved in the business of taking ghats of the River Buriganga on lease.
Due to the growing demand for fast food surrounding the administrative and business establishments in Old Dhaka, Mohammad Yousuf started a side business selling bakery items in Dholaikhal in 1932. Initially, he would resell bakery items.
After a few years, he hired prominent bakers and launched a full-fledged bakery in his name. He was then a 25-year-old youth.
He did not study beyond the primary level but knew the basics of running a business. He also successfully taught his sons – Yunus, Ibrahim, Israfil, Ismail, Israil, Yakub, Eyasin, Ishaq, Iqbal, Iftekhar, and Elieas – how to run a business with principles.
Dhaka had witnessed many political changes under three different regimes – British, Pakistan, and independent Bangladesh – in the last 89 years since Yousuf Bakery was founded. But the business still survives as a joint venture.
Yousuf Confectionery opened its first outlet at 36/1, Johnson Road in old Dhaka. Later it opened several outlets, including in Dhanmondi, Bangla Motor, Gulshan, Rampura, and Dholaikhal areas, while Yousuf Grandsons operate three branches in Moghbazar, Malibagh, and Dhanmondi.
Mohammad Yousuf and his 11 sons jointly managed the business until 1988 when the elder son, Yunus, launched a separate venture named Yousuf Grandsons Bakery and Confectionery. His objective remained the same – producing and selling quality bakery items.
Currently, Yousuf Bakery products come from three factories but most of the items are produced at the oldest one – a tin-roofed facility on Court House Street in Old Dhaka.
Quality is the key
Elieas, who manages one of the Johnson Road's outlets told The Business Standard, "Since the beginning, we never compromised on the quality of our products. We do not sell anything substandard and expired. This is the legacy we uphold till now for the survival of this business."
Mohammad Yousuf's second son Ibrahim, who runs the Bangla Motor outlet, said, "Quality can be ensured because all the outlets sell products made in our factory."
"We collect quality ingredients from the best sources in Dhaka," he added.
The eight-katha factory on Court House Street houses the manager's office, workers' dining room, parking space for covered vans, warehouses, mixture machines, long stainless tables, and two large tandoors.
On average, 300 pounds of bread and 160 kilogrammes of biscuits are produced in the factory every day. Cakes and other items are prepared as per orders.
"No excess food is prepared here. Hence, wastage is almost zero," said a baker preferring anonymity.
The products usually have a shelf life ranging from three to 30 days. This is because the owners produce less so that they can sell everything and do not have to store old products.
The factory opens at 7am. In the evening, food orders come from the outlets. Bakers and their assistants work in two shifts every day. Usually, the delivery of products starts in the afternoon.
On average, 1,500-2,000 eggs, 2,000 kilogrammes of flour, 50 litres of soybean oil, 50 kilogrammes of sugar, five kilogrammes of salt, one kilogramme of baking powder and other ingredients are used in the factory every day.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, around 50 workers used to work in the factory. As production fell during the pandemic, half of the workforce are now furloughed and everyday sales at the outlets have decreased by 50 percent.
Tradition vs innovation
Depending on the size of an outlet, 25-30 percent of the income from product sales at the outlets is kept aside to arrange management costs, and the rest is sent to the factory.
"Now, only the loyal customers who have been consuming our products for many years purchase from us," said Ahsanullah Bhutto, manager of the Bangla Motor outlet. He is the oldest among the Yousuf Bakery employees.
This correspondent talked to several employees who all said the current owners are not greedy.
"They are not aggressive. That is why Yousuf Bakery has not been expanded as much as was expected despite having many scopes," said an employee.
Elieas agreed with the statement, saying they did not open even a single branch outside the Dhaka metropolitan area despite having opportunities.
"This has been a business jointly operated by biological brothers. If we open a branch on a contractual basis outside Dhaka, who would ensure the quality of products as well as the brand value? Moreover, there is a shortage of skilled bakers. We should not go beyond our capacity."
Mohammad Yousuf's young descendants, however, think the enterprise should be modernised. Particularly, food packaging and marketing policies need changes.
"My younger son, Tanveer, who is now a ninth-grader, often says if he takes charge, he will renovate the outlets and modernise the business. But the reality is that most of our kids, nephews and nieces did not take up baking as their profession after completing their higher studies," Elieas said.
Mohammad Yousuf's granddaughter Ishrat Jahan, one of the owners of the Johnson Road outlet and also the only female who runs the business among his daughters and grandchildren, told this correspondent she has a plan to relocate the Court House Street factory to a bigger place in Jinjira.
That would be a replacement of the old facility, she said.
She has already suggested the addition of trendy snacks to the menu.
"But our uncles prefer running the business in a way as simple as it was before. As long as it remains a joint venture, an individual owner cannot bring many changes," Ishrat concluded.