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Published on: Feb. 7, 2021, 12:38 p.m.
Coming soon: a friendly Jack near you
  • A range of options

By Suman Tarafdar

Have you tried The Joe Biden? Not the US president, of course, but one of the slider options at Uncle Jack’s – a QSR chain from Chandigarh. Other slider options slant Democratic too – with the others named after the Kennedys and the Clintons! Tachos (a combo of potato tortes and nachos) are named J-Lo and Pit-Bull. Hot Dog options include The Pablo Escobar and Lord of the Rings, while pizza choices are as eclectic, ranging from Sheldon Cooper, The Joey Tribbiani, The Chandler Bing and The Oliver Twist among others. You get the gist.

In a year that saw so many food outlets shut shop, there were a brave few that expanded. Notable among the latter was the Chandigarh-headquartered QSR brand, Uncle Jack’s, which recently launched its first outlet in Delhi – with a timeline for opening more soon.

In a sector marked by high turnover, Uncle Jack’s is a relatively new entrant, making its debut in 2016. Inspired by the American casual dining menu, the chain offers similar dishes at affordable prices in usually upmarket locations, with eight operational outlets in Punjab and more in the pipeline.

Ankush Arora, founder, Uncle Jack’s, says the chain offers classic American, ‘instagrammable’ food. Menu highlights include burgers in various formats, fries – including cheesy ones, which have proven to be most popular, sandwiches, quesadillas, cheese melts, waffles, shakes, coolers, etc. He is quick to point out that he needed to decide who the TG for the chain would be, as he looked to expand beyond the first outlet. For him, ‘performing in’ the QSR (quick-service restaurant) format means “you come in without the liability of seating, or crockery, you come take the food and enjoy it there or take it away. It’s a very American concept of taking away meals in a box.” Yes, the food comes in trays, boxes and glass beakers. He says it’s everyone’s brand – a mother’s brand, or a child’s or grandmom's. “If a father wants a cheeseburger, we are there. If a child wants fries, we are there.”

According to a ResearchAndMarkets.com’s study released in March 2020, the QSR market in India is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 18 per cent during 2021-25. National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) in its 2019 report estimated the QSR market size to be worth Rs32,880 crore, with the foodservice sector growing at a CAGR of 11 per cent from 2015-16 to 2018-19. The impact of the pandemic may dampen the figures a bit, but the industry feels it will bounce back soon.

Food-inspired entrepreneur

Arora, who describes himself growing up as a ‘typical Chandigarh boy’, started the first outlet in the city’s Sector 8, with financial support from two friends. Time spent in the US helped expose him to American cuisine and was inspired enough to bring it back home. “We offer hearty food, that’s our USP. We make our food with a lot of love and effort using top-quality ingredients.” He counters the impression that American food, or at least the version served at his outlets, is not healthy. “We make our own cheese and marinades; we use fresh veggies and make our own sauces.”

The chain has a 20,000 sq ft base kitchen in Chandigarh, which feeds all of its outlets in north India. “We are evaluating a store in Jammu; so, from Jammu to Delhi, that facility will take care.” Arora says the average outlet is about 1,000 sq ft with an average of 40 covers, with deliveries and takeaways as an integral part of the model. All the stores are company owned, with no plans to franchise. The chain is aiming at 100 stores by 2025, while also considering Singapore, Dubai and Bangkok as future locations. Meanwhile, is The Barack Obama likely to be on the menu soon? Or will it be The Kamala Harris?

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