Aroma (2) restaurant’s promise to patrons in Bagan
It takes a bold restaurateur to put potential profits on the line by pledging “No good, no pay” for every meal served. Yet it’s also a clever marketing strategy that makes Aroma (2) stand out from the other restaurants in Bagan’s tourist hot spot of Nyaung U – which is no easy feat.
As Mizzima Business Weekly discovered, competition is fierce along Nyaung U’s ‘Restaurant Street’ (a.k.a. Yarrkinnthar Street) and consumer loyalty is difficult (if not impossible) to maintain, because most diners are tourists on quick visits to see Bagan’s majestic temples, likely never to be seen again.
This helps to understand the marketing strategy of Aroma (2)’s owner, Rajendura Kumar (known as ‘Mr Raju’): he believes his food is so good that his greatest challenge is getting people to try it. Asked why he believes it necessary to make such a commitment to his customers, he almost seemed surprised by the question.
“How else will people know that my food is good?” he said earnestly.
That’s why “No good, no pay” is written in large letters on the signs outside the restaurant, and has been translated into more than 50 languages on the back of the menu, just to be sure everyone understands the deal.
Only three diners have refused to pay for their meals at Aroma (2) since it opened in 2005. The first was a stingy backpacker who claimed to have left his wallet at his hotel, only to run off the next day when he encountered Mr Raju at the local market. One woman simply refused and left on the premise that the food contained MSG (it doesn’t), and a Myanmar woman claimed the next day that she got sick – and called the police. Mr Raju had to pay the woman a fine, despite describing in detail to the police how he maintains high standards of hygiene and that it simply wasn’t possible to have made someone sick. He looked pained at he described the encounter. Nonetheless, the fact that such incidents have been so rare is a stellar achievement for this family-run restaurant and proof that the food is made with love and served with pride. Further evidence of Aroma (2)’s reputation is that it remains Lonely Planet’s top choice for a meal in Nyaung U – it’s been recommended in every edition of the guidebook for the past nine years.
Aroma (2) is one of the few eateries in Nyaung U that doesn’t serve a variety of international cuisines; most other restaurant signboards proclaim a choice of Indian, Chinese, Thai, Western, Italian and of course, Myanmar fare. Depending on your perspective, these signboards could actually sow seeds of doubt in a potential diner’s mind about whether it’s a case of being “a jack of all trades but a master of none” type of place. So it was with some surprise that at two other restaurants along Restaurant Street, the Indian food was extremely good. The meals definitely didn’t lack authenticity – and one restaurant had the same delicious condiments, albeit offered in tiny serves, as at Aroma (2).
However Mr Raju is bitter about the other restaurants, one in particular, because he claims its owner dined at Aroma (2) every day for a week after it opened, expressing a professed interest in Indian cuisine. Mr Raju told the owner about the ingredients in his meals and how Indian food is prepared, and he was staggered to find his dishes replicated at the other restaurant soon afterwards.
“Another mistake I made was to close Aroma (2) to help out my wife with Aroma (1) in Inle Lake during the low tourist season in Bagan. By the time I came back, a bunch of places offering Indian had opened,” he said.
Nonetheless, Aroma (2) boldly claims to be “Number One” for Indian food in Myanmar, and it certainly outranks any Indian I’ve ever tasted outside India – even Yangon’s Coriander Leaf (where the prices are about double that of Aroma (2)). There’s no longer an Aroma at Inle Lake because the family closed it to be able to be together.
Customers who have fallen in love with Aroma 2 in days past have designed cartoons for the signboards and menus that depict the “before and after” eating experience. One such cartoon depicts a “normal” stick figure arriving for a meal and being carried out with a bulging belly in the back of a trishaw. I heard Mr Raju’s son, a waiter, gently telling another diner – with a definite twinkle in his eye – to “take it gently”.
Mr Raju said that other diners have helped to refine his initially very broad menu to include a selection of the great Indian classics, such as tandoori chicken. He is constantly on the lookout for suggestions to improve the dining experience and although busy, he’s clearly happy to chat with customers, including the balloon pilots, who are some of his regulars. And if you’re curious about what it’s like to live in Bagan, get the lowdown from Mr Raju’s bubbly daughter, Chadni, who waits on the tables (“It’s incredibly boring and there’s nothing to do without the tourists here in the low season…”)
This Article first appeared in the March 6, 2014 edition of Mizzima Business Weekly.
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