Young people have taken the lead in the food and restaurant business in Chattogram, thanks to a blend of innovation, enthusiasm, confidence, and joint ventures.
In the last 20 years, at least 100 young entrepreneurs have joined the growing dining and restaurant business in the port city, offering both local and foreign cuisine.
Youth participation in the industry has diversified the menu as more and more friends and family groups now dine out on their days off. Even a couple of years ago, dining out together at a restaurant was not a thing.
Chattogram's stadium area, GEC, Prabartak intersection, New Market and the Agrabad area now have at least 100 new eateries offering Thai, Bangla, Chinese, and Indian dishes. Aside from winter, when most larger social occasions like weddings and parties take place, sales at restaurants throughout the rest of the year now often amount to Tk1 lakh daily.
"I used to sell burgers from a food cart in front of the Shilpakala Academy. Later, I gained confidence to start a restaurant aspiring to international standards," said Abrar Shahriar, entrepreneur and owner of Regalo restaurant.
"Like me, most other entrepreneurs who have recently entered the food and restaurant business are young," he added.
With young entrepreneurs, restaurants that have earned a name quickly for their innovative ideas include Little Asia, Handi, Pavilion, Café Milano, Bell Pepper, Dawat, Impala, Thai and Pai, La Aristocracy, Eat N Treat, and Terracotta.
Take for example, Wind of Change – Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge that arranges musical parties on weekends and special occasions.
"Besides good food, aesthetics and a family atmosphere are important at restaurants," said Syed Jalal Ahmed Rumman, owner of the restaurant.
This young entrepreneur believes the restaurant business will see revolutionary changes in the future.
Appreciating the advent of young people in the food business, Segafredo Espresso Chattogram owner Raisul Uddin Saikat, says many young entrepreneurs are gaining skills after joining the restaurant business, while some are coming to the sector with prior experience.
"These youths will help the sector advance in future," he noted.
Young entrepreneurs said many of them availed bank loans to start their food establishments, and most restaurants had joint investments rather than one-man funding.
In terms of bank loans, TEN 11 LOUNGE was an exception, until the pandemic hit Bangladesh in 2020.
"Not with a bank loan, but rather, we four friends started out on on our own," said Saiful Islam Talukder, one of the owners of TEN 11 LOUNGE in Chattogram's Kazir Dewri that launched in 2018.
With a capacity to serve 180 guests at a time, the restaurant offers Italian, Mexican, and Indian cuisines.
Saiful said, though starting the restaurant did not require any borrowing, they had to avail a bank loan last year to deal with the pandemic fallout.
"We will be able to pay our loan instalments if the virus situation does not deteriorate," Saiful added.
Restaurants typically take five to ten years to pay off their loans. "The thriving food industry needs government support," said Riyad Hasan, owner of a Chattogram restaurant.
Riyad said young restaurant owners have to engage in bank borrowing since there has been no policy support from the authorities.
According to the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association, there are 261 restaurants and eateries in Chattogram. However, Chattogram district administration data shows the number to be 264.
Apart from the official registered data, there are 170 food establishments awaiting registration that suggest the number of total restaurants in Chattogram is around 400-450.
As per the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, there are around 4.36 lakh restaurants and eateries in Bangladesh which was around 2.75 lakh even a decade ago. The thriving sector has generated 22.83 lakh jobs in the last ten years.