Iran by rail

Iran smells the coffee

May 09, 2017

Trail-blazing Austrian caterer, Josef Donhauser, led a new rail-catering development in Iran which won him a coveted Most Innovative Caterer Award for 2016. Roger Williams reports

A start-up business in Iran might seem like ‘mission impossible’ but that didn’t stopped Donhauser Group (DoN) giving it a try.

DoN has developed a ground-breaking service with Iranian rail operator Fadak Trains which, having bought 133 carriages from Deutsche Bahn, planned a new long-distance rail service.

DoN, based in Vienna, caters hotels, offices, lounges, cafes and restaurants, including one at the Linz Opera House. It has supplied OBB (Austrian Railways) too but with Tehran over 4000km from Vienna, this was a different challenge all together!

Amazingly, in only six months, a fully-functioning catering company (DoNA Catering) was created in Tehran. With a new production kitchen, work force and supply chain, as well as designs for a new train galley, service equipment and logistics, DoN quickly established its catering operation.

“The supply chain was probably the most difficult,” says DoN coo Christian Hoelbl. “When you start-up in a new territory everything is different – pricing, suppliers and commercials. You can’t take product availability for granted and you need to build relationships with suppliers. Sometimes this literally means choosing fresh food directly from the local markets.”

Respectful of Persian cuisine, DoNA’s cook-chill recipes newly interpret regional dishes, and include a range of F&B for three different classes travelling over two routes from Tehran – east to Mashad and south to Shiraz. It also introduced an authentic Viennese Coffee House service onboard.

Artistic menus explain how the coffee house concept is intrinsically linked to the history of the Silk Road via Turkey – who knew! In fact, travel across Iran is steeped in history, lying on the crossroads of the East and West Silk Roads. Iran’s transport minister Abbas Akhoundi wants to develop this theme and said recently: “We seek to revive the history of the Silk Road in a modern form with our railways by expanding our rail network to 25,000km by the year 2025.”

With passenger numbers growing (nationally 29 million journeys in 2015) and an average journey time of 12 hours including overnight travel, typically there is a full meal service onboard.

With this in mind, DoNA has had the foresight to design its Tehran production unit so it can expand from the current 6,000 meals per day up to 40,000 if required.

In recognition of DoNA’s start-up success, industry peers at IRCG’s Madrid General Assembly voted unanimously to award the caterer the Most Innovative Caterer Award 2016. This is the second time the DoN has won.