Mahabir Dai’s Restaurant: More Than Just a Restaurant

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Mahabir’s Centre for Nepal Connection in Thamel is not only a place for eating good food but also a place for sharing ideas on development issues and staying connected with Nepal. This cafe has been initiated by Dr. Mahabir Pun who is a well known Nepalese teacher, development activist and social entrepreneur who has done extensive work in developing remote areas of Nepal. 

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Let us see what Dr. Pun, who has been in the social business for 26 years, has to say about the famous Mahabir Dai’s Restaurant in Mandala Street.

1. What exactly is Mahabir Dai’s Restaurant?
Mahabir’s Centre for Nepal Connection, or generally known as Mahabir Dai’s Restaurant, is a non-profit company which has been opened up to support the community development and connect people interested in rural community development projects. The sole motive of this restaurant is to help the community with the profit earned especially in the sector of education and health in rural lands of Nepal. 

2. What is the social problem that you are trying to solve?
A lot of social organizations in Nepal rely on donations to run their operations. I believe that if our motive is good then we can sustain on our own and help the community. So, I’m trying to change the mindset of people about donations by sustaining this restaurant and helping the needy with the profits.  

3. What social changes do you see your product bring in society?
All the proceeds from this restaurant go to support the education and health programs in rural areas. In addition to that, a lot of like-minded people who support the same cause get to connect with each other. So, I believe that this restaurant has definitely brought about some positive changes in society. 

4. Can you share your journey with Mahabir Dai’s Restaurant?
Actually, I wanted to start this type of restaurant a long time back in America when I was pursuing my studies. I always had a dream of opening up a small business whose profits get used to run a school for the needy. However, because of various issues, nothing could be done before 2012. We started a community ecotourism program in the Himalayas and thought of having a connecting point here in Kathmandu for everyone who wanted to do some social work in rural areas.

5. What is the legal status of the company and when was it registered? What stage do you think the company is in right now?
We were registered in 2012 as a Not for Profit Sharing Company under The Company Act of Government of Nepal. It has been 7 years since this restaurant started to operate so I guess we’re in the growth stage as of now. 

6. When you first started out with Mahabir Dai’s Restaurant, how many employees did you start with and what is your employee strength now?
At that time, we had one manager, three kitchen staff and some volunteers who helped us during the initial phase of this restaurant. Space here is really small so we cannot hire more staff. As of now, there are two people working in the kitchen, two staffs and one manager. 

7. How did you raise funds to start your company?
Back in 2012, I had visited Japan for some work and saw that Nepali Restaurants were doing really good. This made me think about my own idea but I did not have enough money to start the restaurant. Therefore, I made a Facebook post asking my friends to support me in this venture by providing the loan. 

Within a couple of weeks, I had received around fifteen thousand dollars from my friends to start up the restaurant. That’s how the seed fund was generated for this restaurant. 

8. Were there any challenges you faced while starting up this business? What are the challenges that you’re still facing?
When I started this business, I didn’t have a single idea about running a business, as I had never been involved in profit-making businesses before. So, I took some ideas from my friends in the initial phase who knew how to run a business. I also got help to stabilize the business from four BOD members. Hence, it was my connections that helped me to overcome the challenges and are still helping me out now. 

9. Could you talk to us about your operating profit?
It’s actually a seasonal business. During the offseason, the profits are just enough to run the business but during the season, depending on the years, the monetary return is not that huge. Nevertheless, the main return is the connection, right?

10. What do you think is the market potential of this place?
I actually do not know. It’s hard to say as I haven’t seen any other business running on a model like ours. I think you need to be totally dedicated to society to successfully run a business like this. We value meaningful connections over money and that’s what we’re seeking through this business. This restaurant is just a medium to make that happen.  

11. Can you give us an estimation of your investment until date?
Well, we started out with fifteen thousand dollars and I do not think there have been any huge investments after that. After the earthquake, we went through some repair works and changed our interiors. 

12. Whom do you see as your target customers?
As I said, this place is not just for eating and drinking. Those who only want to eat and drink are not our target customers but those who have some feeling of social responsibility and help the society in what small ways they can.

13. How many customers do you have on a monthly basis?
I’m not sure about the numbers of customers but I guess, it’s like any other restaurants in Thamel; someday it’s full and the other days it’s just normal. 

14. Can you talk to us about your profit-making model?
We sell food, beverages just like others do but we also have some local products from rural areas on display, which brings more customers here. This place also books the tickets for those people who want to go to the rural areas and the income from all these are not ours but the income of those people in the village areas. So, I guess that is all.

15. What do you think are the key needs of your company?
Well, it definitely is the human resource. Since most of the people working here are beginners and students, we do not have stability when it boils down to the staff. So, the biggest need is to find the right kind of staff.

16. Do you have any future plans with your restaurant?
So far, I just want to keep it as it is and connect to more people but yes, I am planning to open up one such place in the Silicon Valley of America. For this, a lot needs to be done so we still are not sure about anything but yes, definitely in the bucket list.

17. Do you consider yourself as a social entrepreneur?
Well, to be honest, I had never heard of something like social entrepreneurs until a few years ago but people say I am one. I never worked to become a social entrepreneur but what I have been doing made me one.

18. Do you measure the impact of your product in society?
I do not measure anything, not just this restaurant’s but I do not measure the impact of any businesses I am involved with. But I guess, people do that which is why I believe they have awarded me with various awards and recognition.

If you would like to know more about the wonderful work this restaurant is doing then contact Mr. Mahabir Pun at mahabir@himanchal.org

Interviewed and article by Ashmita Rai.