When athletes are injured, their lives turn upside-down in an instant. Most end up as coaches or referees, but once in a while someone lands a 360 kick and turns into a successful entrepreneur. That is the story of Harishwor Pokharel, once an international-level Taekwondo player and now the proprietor of four businesses from tyre repairs to momo restaurants.
In the early 1980s, an 18-year old Pokharel was among the earliest batches of Nepali Taekwondo champions. Pokharel was coached by Deep Raj Gurung to become a 4th don. He graduated to the international stage during the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. But an ankle injury in 1988 put a question mark over his career. He then went to Germany where he trained fellow players till 1992.
“At that time I was earning well and I could have easily stayed on in Europe. But I thought it through, and decided to return to my home country and start something of my own,” recalls Pokharel, with no trace of regret. That ‘something’ was a tyre resoling company, Gandaki Group, which now has 12 outlets across Nepal.
The business of resoling tyres brought Pokharel great fortune, enabling him and his siblings to provide good education to their children. But when his three sons got stuck in America, he decided to initiate another plan. Four years ago, he and his family came up with Classic Mo:Mo, a restaurant chain that has become an international brand.
Self-service, momos cooked in olive oil and without MSG, added fats, preservatives, artificial coloring or flavor enhancers, complimentary offer of mineral water, popcorn, vegetable or chicken soup and a hand sanitiser at every table made Classic Mo:Mo popular in Kathmandu.
The winning formula was wholesome, hygienic food at an affordable price. Currently serving through online delivery system Bhoj Deal and outlets in New Road, Thamel, Naxal in Nepal and Bangalore in India, Pokharel is planning to open 5-6 more franchises by the end of this year. Among his three sons, one has already returned to Nepal and is handling the company along with the online vegetable delivery Mero Store, and another plans to return next year.
Despite the gradual growth of the ventures and a busy schedule, Pokharel has not left Taekwando, and says he never will. He is vice president of the Nepal Taekwondo Association, responsible for making guidelines and conditions for international participation of Nepali participants, coaches and referees.
“Taekwondo in Nepal reached its peak in the 80s, but went downhill during the political transition due to lack of financial support for training. We want to take the sport back to its glory days,” says Pokharel, who continuously encourages children and parents to take up a sport.
Pokharel handles sportsmanship and entrepreneurship seamlessly, often coaching little dabblers at his sports club Arjun Fitness. He brings the same discipline, team spirit, and passion for the sport into his other enterprises. Diet and nutrition overlap in both his sports and food businesses. From helping out at his kitchens to making tough strategic decisions for his companies, Pokharel has to be fast on his feet — a trait early training in Taekwondo prepared him well for.