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Kashmir boy wheels Gurugram food truck to Valley



It was in 2013 that Srinagar-born Mujeeb Shah first came to Gurugram to pursue a corporate job. Little did he know that the city would instead make him the owner of the only operational food truck in Kashmir.
Shah opened What The Fork – Kashmir’s only operational food truck – last year, but the truck’s first pit stop was in the Millennium City. “I lived in NCR for several years. I did my MBA in Noida, and then worked in an MNC in Gurugram. But I was always passionate about food and wanted to do something with it,” Shah recounts, “My brother, who lives in Australia, sent me pictures of food trucks there, and I had seen a couple in Gurugram’s Sector 29. That’s how the dream began and What The Fork became operational in Sector 29 three years ago.”

Although Mujeeb started his food truck in Gurugram, where it was running successfully, fate had other plans for him. Personal problems and administrative hassles in Gurugram forced Mujeeb to drive back home. “In 2017, my father fell ill and I had to be home. And, around the same time, a number of food trucks in Gurugram closed because of parking issues in Sector 29. I’m not a local, so I had no contacts or ways to convince corporates to let me park my truck in their premises. That’s when I decided to take the food truck to Srinagar,” he tells us.

However, even back home, Mujeeb faced several speed bumps as Kashmir is quite alien to the concept of food trucks and his idea got stuck in red tape. Mujeeb explains, “From January to August 2018, I had to run from pillar to post trying to obtain permits for my food truck. Then, I had to find someone who would customise and modify it into a food truck, but people in Kashmir just didn’t understand. I had no place to park it, and given the security issues in the Valley, I couldn’t simply park it on the road.” He was afraid that the truck might never take off since another food truck that started briefly in Srinagar was seized by the authorities. “For the longest time, nobody could figure out what paperwork was necessary, it was much easier in Gurugram,” says Mujeeb.

Eventually, Mujeeb found a patron in a private educational institute on the outskirts of Srinagar, and the truck began operations in December 2017. “I initially went to the Kashmir University, but even after six months I couldn’t convince them to set up a committee to look into my request. So, I settled for SSM College of Engineering in Pattan,” says Mujeeb.

In Gurugram, his target crowd were the corporate employees, but in Kashmir, the MBA grad had to modify his strategies for a new target audience – college goers. “The older crowd in Kashmir have a different, more leisurely attitude towards food. The youngsters are more open to experimenting. Also, Kashmiris are very curious, so when I was transporting the truck from Srinagar to Pattan, at every red light, a crowd of 15-20 people gathered to enquire about it. That’s when I realised I could milk that initial curiosity,” Mujeeb tells us.

Talking about how he did it, Mujeeb says, “I first opened a restaurant in the suburbs where I popularised my fusion food – things like chocolate pizzas and roomali tacos. I used my restaurant to tell diners about the truck. We introduced several schemes at the truck, like a ‘create-your-own-bill’ scheme wherein people could pay what they wanted for the food. We gave discounts to people if they had odd things like yellow socks, or orange caps, or even old Nokia phones. I was trying to get people habituated to the truck.” And Mujeeb’s plan worked. Today, the food truck is a hangout spot for youngsters, particularly college students.

Now that What The Fork has taken off in the Kashmir, does Mujeeb have plans of bringing it back to its birthplace, Gurugram? “I have taken a concept from Gurugram to Kashmir and I’m confident it will work here. I don’t know if I will be able to bring this back to Gurugram, but I will hopefully expand it within the Valley,” he says.

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