From an eatery run by an enterprising undergraduate to a successful businessman having a catering service, Sylhet city is now bustling with restaurants.
Even though there weren't enough fine dines and restaurants just a few years ago, metropolitan Sylhet has seen a boom in the restaurant business recently.
With evolving customer preferences and rapidly changing trends, the foodservice industry is burgeoning across the country. Sylhet is no exception.
Take the case of FoodHolic, a small restaurant in Sylhet city. Taif Arham, an undergraduate student of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), the man behind the successful venture, expressed his delight at how quickly his small food cart turned into a restaurant.
"With the dream of being a successful businessman, I started my entrepreneurial journey with a food cart in an unoccupied space close to my house. Things went so well that it became an instant hit among the students and middle-income city dwellers, we rolled it into a diner in late 2018."
"Initially (when the lockdown began), things tough for us. However, after the reopening and ensuring all safety precautions are in effect, we are having more guests than ever before!"
Taif gave a very good picture of Sylhet’s restaurant business. Even though the pandemic is yet to go away, the industry has seen a fast rebound with the ease of lockdown as people here love to dine.
While most of the fresh graduates look for employment in the highly competitive job market, the food industry remains a good option for them to do something on their own.
Farabi Ahmed, a 23-year-old computer science graduate, started his venture during the pandemic. Breaking out of his niche, he is doing quite well.
"I have always been intrigued by the craftsmanship of bakery and patisserie. The mystery of how readily available ingredients – flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar – are transformed into bread or cake has always fascinated me. I began focusing on baking in late 2016 and finally opened an online page of my own."
With the support of his family, Farabi recently launched Bake n Cheese, a coffee and pastry shop in the bustling street of Kumarpara, Sylhet.
"Although it’s hard work, it’s a lot of fun, and you don't have to answer to a boss," he said.
The catering services are also experiencing fast growth in the city, according to Nafiz Ahmed, 29-year-old culinary expert and co-owner of Sufi Catering House.
"We're very passionate about food and that's the key reason we're in this business. The pandemic was the catalyst here. As people are more health-conscious than before, we keep the highest level of hygiene and quality.”
Sylhet is encircled with scenic subtropical hills, myriad rivers, swampy areas and lush tea gardens. The district has some of Bangladesh's best-known tourist attractions. The recent renovation of Dhaka-Sylhet Highway and the ongoing Sylhet City Corporation’s (SCC) large digitalisation drive in the metropolitan area has increased the number of tourists. The rising number of visitors has propelled food services in the city.
"The trend of outing with friends and enjoying weekends has increased the number of tourists in this area. So investors and entrepreneurs are capitalising on this opportunity,” said Farhan Ahmed, an investor and the owner of The Royal Cuisine.
After surveying around 200 restaurants in Zindabazar, Chowhatta, Kumarpara and Naiorpool, it was found that more than 140 eateries have opened since late 2019.
Among them, 56 per cent are fast food restaurants, 34 per cent are mainly family-oriented eateries and the rest 10 per cent are pastry and coffee shops.
More than half of these restaurants are owned by people under 27 years.
Due to the rising number of restaurants, well-known food delivery services have started their operations in Sylhet city. From international food delivery marketplace Foodpanda to local enterprises such as E-food, Pathao Food etc. has already launched their food delivery services in the city.
Besides, a Sylhet-based food delivery service Khani Dani recently started its operation in the metropolitan area, said its co-founder and CEO Jahidul Abedin Sajon.
“My friend Tanjil and I started Khani Dani in late 2018. Although we started it with a website, we would receive most of the orders via phone calls. In July 2020, we launched a smartphone app,” said Sajon.
Consumers in Sylhet are mostly comprised of tourists, millennials and Generation Z. As they are the prime catalyst for the industry, their behavioural pattern has shaped the sector in this area.
The restaurant industry is one of the most important sectors contributing to the country's economic growth. Being a major city, the surge of the restaurant business in Sylhet will positively impact the country’s economy.
Nayeem Chowdhury is a final year student, pursuing his major in Finance from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.