Merzi, the Washington, D.C.–based fast casual that has been compared to an Indian version of Chipotle, has been so successful that founder Qaiser Kazmi says it is finally prepared to open unit No. 2—and many, many more.
“We think by the end of this year we should have another three or four units opening, and then next year the growth really kicks in,” Kazmi says, adding that the company is still looking for real estate for its second unit.
“I think we could go for another 10, 15 stores next year, and then after that we should be doing at least 25 stores every year.”
Kazmi says Merzi has resonated with consumers in the nation’s capital with its complex Indian flavors and fresh, healthier fare, and that its first unit has seen “incredible amounts of enthusiasm.” The fast casual lets patrons customize their dishes and choose among traditional Indian ingredients, like naan, chaat, samosa, and chutney.
“What’s happening in America is there’s a desire, especially with some of these younger kids … to try something different than what they’re used to,” Kazmi says.
The main challenge, Kazmi says, is getting people to come in the doors for the first time to try the product. He says that when the concept has multiple units, he will rely on operators to encourage reluctant passersby to sample the food—something he’s been doing himself in the first unit.
“The only thing now is how to sell it to America in a way in which America is comfortable,” he says. “Right now, especially in the metropolitan areas, I don’t think it should be too much of a hard job.”
Kazmi says he believes Merzi can eventually reach 1,000 units across the U.S. and be the leader in Indian quick service.
“Once it kicks off and we’re showing people a couple stores working the way this store is working, after that it should attract so much attention from investors that we should be able to grow fast,” he says.
By Sam Oches