SMASH is a new burger-chain that’s winning over beef-lovers and taking Lahore by storm. The quickly growing burger-chain recently opened its fourth store in Johar Town, and our editor sat down with its 17-year old founder, Ali Haroon (AH) to talk about his passion for burgers and his plans for the future.
Q:How did you come up with the idea for SMASH?
ALI: I’ve been a fan of excellent beef burgers for a long time, and I have been fortunate to have traveled and tasted burgers all over the world. When my family moved to Lahore in 2018 (from Dubai), we missed tasty, accessible beef burgers like those found at Shake Shack, In-n-out, and Five Guys. After talking about this craving with our friends and family, we realized they also craved a kind of burger that just could not be found in Lahore. While our city has lots of good fried chicken burgers, we felt a good beef burger was missing. I started making burgers for my family—experimenting with different beef options, buns, seasonings, and cheeses as the basic ingredients. My family was happy to taste test each different version until I found a combination that we all agreed was a world-class burger. Unfortunately, when COVID hit in 2020, I was no longer able to buy beef for my burgers in small quantities, I had to buy a whole cow! Not wanting to give up on the delicious beef burgers I had just perfected, I began discussing logistics with my family on how to make and sell enough burgers out of our home to use a whole cow’s worth of beef.
Q:Tell us about how you started the business? How old were you at the time?
ALI: During the COVID-summer of August 2020, my whole family was at home with nothing to do. Fortunately, this gave us plenty of time to discuss how we could sell burgers and to whom. My parents helped me buy a commercial grill and fryer to cook burgers for our friends and family. The first few days of the trial run were so successful that we set up an Instagram account and opened our business up to anyone who could pick up burgers from our home. We cooked for 2 hours a day and consistently sold out everyday! Cooking, packaging and delivering burgers was a truly family event with everyone from my grandmother, parents, and brother involved in different roles. I was only 15 at the time, but I had countless jobs as the head chef, social media manager, supervisor of all client-interactions, and the face of our small business!
Q:What makes SMASH different?
ALI: I still don’t consider SMASH to be a business. It’s both a hobby and passion for me. We picked out our first store location because it was close to our home. No other reason. Despite having no marketing or advertising strategy, people found us. And kept coming back. We grew by word-of-mouth, first at Cantt and then outside. My friends told their families, who told others and so on, and that’s how people came to know about SMASH. While I’m no longer directly making the burgers, I consider my single most important task as the owner/founder to be ensuring that all of our locations serve consistent burgers with the same great taste.
So I’m paranoid about quality, ingredients, our cooking process, and kitchen hygiene. We bake our own buns, source only the finest quality beef, and top it off with a “secret” special sauce that I created back when I was first developing the perfect burger. We also train our grill-masters rigorously so that every SMASH Burger is cooked to perfection! Finally, we want to make sure that our burgers are safe to eat and cooked in pristine conditions. This is extremely important to me, as I believe hygiene is an essential part to our success.
Q:What is your favorite burger?
Hahaha I love all our burgers – I personally think SMASH’s options have become even better than the burgers that inspired me in the first place! These days, I like the “double-skinny-sheikh” – it’s a lettuce burger with two patties of signature-beef, cheese, onions and pickles. It helps with my fitness goals as well!
Q:You now have four locations in Lahore. What are your plans for the future?
I’d love to see a SMASH in every city in Pakistan, and hopefully one day to even expand outside of the country. I’ve pictured a SMASH nestled right beside the burger giants in Dubai that ignited my own passion. But we are continuing to grow with our own cash, and want to maintain control over quality. Because of these stipulations, I have resisted the many offers to franchise and grow faster. As I mentioned, this is still a hobby for me and I need to balance it with my studies.
Q:What is your advice for other startups in Lahore/Pakistan?
I think businesses do well if they have a great product. So I feel all businesses should focus on their products & services before marketing them to consumers. If you have a truly great product, it sells itself and will create repeat customers. I think it’s also important to give back to society. I set up a charity initiative, SMASH FEEDS, to give back 10% of our profits in the form of free food for the needy throughout Lahore. This initiative not only provides delicious burgers for those who would usually not have access to them, but it ingrains us further into the community of Lahore.