Namgyal T. Lama, founder of Bagels Kathmandu lived in New York for 12 years. He went to US after his high school and joined his family business of exporting handmade carpets after completing his undergrad studies. He fell in love with the city and food among which bagels were one of his favorite. During summer, he also worked in bagels shop in America to learn the ways of making bagel. This is how he got the idea to start Bagels Kathmandu targeting expats in Nepal when he returned to Nepal in 2012.
He continued the family business of exporting handmade carpets from Nepal. However, he also wanted to do something new and different. He says, “I always wanted to do something different and don’t want to be monotonous. I want to discover more and work on new ideas.”
Namgyal used make bagels while he was in home for his daily need. He was fascinated by the environment of the farmers market in le Sherpa Restaurant. He then thought if he could sell making bagels in the market. “We wanted to test the idea first in the market before opening a bagels restaurant, so the farmers market seemed like the best choice to target expats.” He shares.
He took the first step by starting a bagel stall. Before, he used to make 3-4 bagels only for his personal consumption. However, he now had to make more bagels to sell which also required a bigger oven. In order to make the bigger oven, he repaired the old oven of the house which was used as newspaper stand.
Bagels Kathmandu now sell 200 bagels a day, every Saturday in the same farmers market.
He also opened a café, targeting tourists in Thamel. However, the café was not a big success so it was closed down. The founder then decided to distribute bagels in wholesale instead of selling as a retail. They have made almost 10 outlets where they supply bagels including Himalayan Java, farmer’s mart and Coffee chain. “This model of wholesale was stronger as ever and originated when I took the step back and closed down the Thamel café.”
“I always wanted to do something new and try new things. Being back here after long time in New York feels phenomenal. I feel its a good time to be here in Nepal and this excites me to do something new and more.”
“When I returned back to Nepal, I was making bagels only for myself. I thought there could be many expats as me who would want the flavor and food here in Nepal. This was my initial motive to start and when I tested it, it was a success. However, while I knew the market, there were many students who would come Nepal from the U.S, and I had many customers who would want bagels here in Nepal which they were used to having in the U.S.”
He shared his experience of making and selling the first bagel batch. “I made 12 bagels in one batch. In twelve hours we made 75 bagels, slept only for 1 hour and went for the market. I was so nervous the first day as I had no previous experience. When the first customer came and appreciated the taste, it was the most satisfying thing ever. I sold all bagels in one and half hour. I then really found hope that this thing will work and then Kathmandu Bagels started.”
The founder shares how the customers have been loving the bagels, “I get a lot of positive feedback from our customers, and they find our bagels chewy and fresh. They’re happy to get the same quality bagels as they would in New York.”
The food culture of Nepal is not Bagel friendly and finding the ingredient to make New York style bagel here in Kathmandu is a huge challenge as per founder.
Cream cheese is the integral part of a bagel and at the same time very expensive here in Nepal. While the cost was more of a challenge, the quality needs to be maintained as well. For the solution, the team started making cream cheese themselves.
To improve the quality of the bagels, the founder started working for a week without any pay in Black Seed bagels in New York to learn more about the business. When he came back, the business picked up double than before after the improvisation and his learning. “That one week of work was very fruitful. We started making cream cheese ourselves and it boosted the business by 50%. ” He says.
After two years of their journey since April 16, 2016. The team has added the flavors and improved quality of their food for better customer satisfaction. The founder says, “The major focus is to improve the quality of bagels, increase bagels with more varieties, increase our outlets and working on supplying more bagels for our customers.”
Message to youths
The owner wants people to know that Nepal is very fertile for starting a new business, that it is like a breeding ground for enterprises to bloom. He mentioned, “It a good time to be here in Nepal. Whatever you do, the first thing is to do it. When you are doing it, be willing to do everything and learn at first. Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty. Whatever situation come along, be willing to face it.”
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