When Toufiq Hasan came to his home in Jashore for a vacation in 2019 from Oman, where he worked, he never thought his life would change forever. But it did. He was a fan of ordering food online and in those days, ordering food items online was not convenient for someone living in Jashore.
He found that having his food delivered to his home all the way from Dhaka was a massive hassle. The fact that Jashore lacked a convenient food delivery service in this age of technology bugged him.
This presented him with a question: If nobody else would provide such a service, why can it not be him? Hence, Toufiq, along with one of his friends, founded "Food Mama". Since Toufiq knew very little about sanctioning bank loans, he had to finance his own business.
Though licensed as a general delivery service, Food Mama specialised in delivering food. But the young entrepreneurs soon faced multiple hurdles as the idea of delivering food as a business was not quite popular at that time in Jashore.
"Why would I pay you to deliver my dishes?" the restaurant owners asked Toufiq, who took some convincing before getting on board. Then there was the problem of spreading the word. And even if people got the hang of buying food from the comfort of their homes, how would Toufiq deliver the food on time in a fairly large and a traffic-congested city such as Jashore?
Luckily, the young founder was a local and thanks to social media, the word was spread via Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms. The 'riders', or delivery men, would solve the next stage of problems as well.
Just like that, Food Mama started its journey and very soon the residents of Jashore started liking the idea of someone cooking and delivering any kind of food they fancy right to their doorsteps.
The business shot up. Food Mama began delivering food to dozens and soon hundreds of customers in and around the city. Soon, they reached beyond the city limits and reached as far as Jashore University of Science and Technology, which is situated more than 20 kilometers outside the city centre.
Food from over a hundred hotels and restaurants began to be distributed as over a hundred orders a day kept Toufiq and his colleagues busy. From hot pepperoni pizza from Zabeer International to Ilish Mustard Curry of Hotel City Plaza - Food Mama carried everything Jashorians liked.
"Soon we were receiving hundreds of orders. We never disappointed the customers. When they asked for a particular food which wasn't available in any of our partner restaurants, we would simply buy it from somewhere else and deliver it to the customer. We used to receive over a hundred thousand orders a day," Toufiq recalled.
Food Mama became such a big success that Toufiq quit his plans to return to Oman.
"I originally studied at Magura Polytechnic Institute and went to the Middle East to work in a company. At first Food Mama was just a fun project I started during my vacation. But then it became big and I extended my leave for six more months. Finally, I abandoned my plans to go back to Oman and began concentrating on my business full time," the young entrepreneur detailed.
Just when things started looking rosy, Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Infection, death and mass panic pushed Food Mama to the brink and Toufiq realised what it is like to run a business during a health and financial crisis the hard way. He had to close down Food Mama operations in March last year for three months.
But Food Mama did not falter. One thing Toufiq did right during his early business days is that he built trust among his customers. People trusted him and as soon as things began to normalise, people began calling him to resume his business; which he did.
Although things have not returned to the pre-pandemic conditions, Toufiq still has a burgeoning business going on. Food Mama's ever expanding customer base has stuck with it since its inception. Another thing that helped Food Mama solidify its reputation during the pandemic is delivering medicines on-demand.
Eventually, as initial fear of the pandemic died down, the eternal rule of economics brought more competitors to Food Mama as the demand for online food platforms expanded across Jashore. Foodpanda, the renowned and much loved food delivery service, opened its branch in Jashore. Many other local entrepreneurs jumped for a slice of the pie, too.
"The competition has become fierce and we are receiving 30 percent of the online food orders now which was once 100 percent. But then again, the customer base has expanded and many people are getting used to this. Since the demand has significantly increased, every business is doing okay," Toufiq said, sounding optimistic.
Laughing, he added, "It's the age of technology and people are getting lazier. So more and more people are ordering online."
Food Mama's loyal customer base which has served them well for so long has been helpful as well.
Toufiq said, "Nowadays, many food delivery platforms are providing good services. Foodpanda, with its huge investment and reputation, has offers such as 50 percent discounts which we don't. Yet, people order from us at regular prices along with a delivery fee of Tk30 inside Jashore. It's because they trust Food Mama."
An easy and a more accessible banking system could help businesses such as Food Mama function better. Toufiq's aim of developing, maintaining and enhancing Food Mama's online presence through a website, specialized app as well as by expanding beyond Jashore would require loans or investments worth a hundred thousand taka.
When all is said and done, Food Mama's story is an inspirational one and the thriving delivery service has certainly not reached the end of its journey yet.
On the contrary, it has plans to expand beyond Jashore and serve even more customers in the future. With its founder's, workers' and riders' hard work combined, as well as the trust it has built in the communities it has served, it sure seems that Food Mama's best days are not behind it.