This is the story of Luqman Afzal, a LUMS BSc grad from 2002 whose entrepreneurial ambitions took an impossible idea for a restaurant and made it into a workable, community-driven and world-class culinary pièce de résistance.
But we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves. As all feel-good and invigorating stories go, let’s start at the beginning.
It All Started with an Idea to Buy The Khokha
The Khokha Inc. was LUMS very own snack bar in the days preceding the year 2002. Luqman Afzal wanted it to be much more. He asked his father for the money to buy the shares of the snack bar.
He had plans, and by plans he meant turning it into an elaborate café for the students plus become one of the city’s premier dine-in destination for ready-to-serve and gourmet meals. He even got a phone line extension installed to start delivery services for all the hostels nearby.
By the time he graduated, the shares of Khokha Inc. had grown five-fold in the 18 months that he operated the place.
Luqman Afzal (left) and The Monal at Night (right)
And That was the Start of a Grand Entrepreneurial Journey
After graduating, Luqman put his business and entrepreneurial acumen to work. He applied for a lease for a family recreational area at Saint Mary’s Park, Gulberg, Lahore in October 2002, hoping to turn a previously nondescript park into a full-fledged entertainment and recreational spot.
And surely, the dining out spot grew to include racing car tracks for all ages courtesy of F-1 Traxx. There were now circuits for all ages – remote control car tracks, battery operated cars for kids, petrol quad-bikes and e-scooters for the teenagers, and many more facilities that are part and parcel of a well-rounded amusement park.
But really, no recreational spot is ever complete without a defining restaurant beside it. And Mr. Afzal had just the determination to see to that. He took that traditional Lahori village theme and built a signature restaurant for the same. There was top-quality clay crockery to serve premium-quality Pakistani gourmet cuisine, plus fast food, BBQ and pizza to perfectly round up the menu. Even before a decade later when Ayesha Mumtaz and the Punjab Food Authority went into action, Luqman Afzal’s establishment was always one where hygiene and sanitation-wise, best practices were followed in the kitchen.
Another restaurant was soon to follow this one in August 2004 in the same area. But it was one year later that a project that Luqman had bid for in Islamabad could serve to highlight the entrepreneurial genius in him.
The Tale of How The Monal Came About
The Monal is rightly credited as Mr. Afzal’s testament to anything-is-possible-once-you-put-your-mind-to-it philosophy. Because here, he succeeded in opening a globally-renowned restaurant in the Margallas, a feat that many thought as illogical and unattainable.
Because really, who in their right minds could come all this way following a perilous mountain climb, with no access to potable water resources, much less for dining in like a royal?
Insurmountable challenges were sort of the thing that didn’t exist in Luqman Afzal’s vocabulary. Here’s how he tackled each issue.
After getting official possession of the land once his bid was accepted from the original 12 parties, the first task was to set up the kitchen that could serve top-notch culinary delights to visitors from all over the world. The first challenge was that of water. Getting mineral water for cooking purposes was fine and dandy, but it was tap water for sanitation purposes that was becoming a big issue since it wasn’t available. The solution? Getting that from the Gokina Village situated 4km downhill.
Next up came the issue of gas. For this, a multinational company was tasked to provide liquid LPG cylinders in bulk. It costed 6x times than the usual Sui gas but apparently that was the only choice. But that didn’t derail the plans and ambitions of The Monal. Projecting Pakistan’s ‘soft power’ was more important than financial considerations here.
The nearby villages and their communities were also made stakeholders in this project. Approximately 150 people from there were given jobs. This way the economic and social benefits could reach to the community. Many other indirect services were also availed from the village communities such as laundry, etc, thus empowering local communities more. The people directly recruited to work at the Monal were trained and groomed in many disciplines.
There were other serious challenges too. In 2008, when Islamabad was under serious terrorist threats (the Marriot Hotel blast), The Monal suffered losses. However, the restaurant and the region bounced back after 2010 once the security situation improved.
Today The Monal is considered as an ambassador of Pakistan. Many diplomats and foreign dignitaries dine there. Government officials are quick to fete this destination as one which presents a positive face of the Pakistan that people miss out on.
One would assume that an operation that employs 900 people and caters to people worldwide would be elitist and exclusive to a large percentage of ordinary Pakistanis. But apparently, affordability was and still remains the central plank behind Afzal’s most towering achievement as well. After all, many of the people that managed Khokha for him, are now managing The Monal!