In April 2015, a few months into his home-dining experience, The Bohri Kitchen (TBK), 28-year-old Munaf Kapadia received a text from a top boss at Google India, his employer then. The executive learnt of Kapadia’s venture from an in-flight magazine and was impressed by the cultural insights one could draw from the culinary offering. “That’s when I realised that my little home experiment is no longer a pet project,” says Munaf, who gave up his lucrative job in August last year to expand TBK. “In my four-and-a-half-year stint at Google, I never got the kind of recognition that TBK got me in a short period of time.”
The Bohri Kitchen, a pop-up that invites guests to sample the best of Bohri cuisine at Kapadia’s Colaba home, launched 15 months ago. Its popularity caught the fancy of foodies looking for something out of the ordinary, and serious restaurateurs, notably Riyaaz Amlani of Impresario, who went on to include their kheema samosas in the menu of his eatery, Social. TBK’s latest milestone is a soon-to-be-launched first outlet at a suburban mall (in Inorbit Mall, Malad, on July 6).
“We won the retail space in a competition for women entrepreneurs, called Pink Power, hosted by Inorbit Mall. We would’ve never been able to afford the rent at this stage otherwise,” says Munaf. When a judge asked Munaf’s mother and head chef of the enterprise, Nafisa, if she was aware of another Worli-based namesake, she told them that it was their central kitchen. Her response was greeted with applause.
Munaf had been toying with the idea of showcasing Nafisa’s cooking skills for years before his venture even took shape. “I wanted her to stop watching TV and put her culinary skills to good use. Once her children grew up, she had too much idle time,” says the 28-year old, who began his venture by emailing 50 friends on a Saturday afternoon in December 2014, calling them over for a paid meal. “Within four hours, we were sold out. The three-course Sunday lunch was a hit, and my mother’s Kaju chicken and paratha won praises,” he recalls.
This is also when Munaf taught his mother to stalk prospective guests on Facebook. “Inviting strangers over for a meal can be tricky. So we devised a way to moderate who gets to come with our ‘no serial killer policy’.” The plan was simple: the lunch would be announced on TBK’s Facebook page, those interested would RSVP with their name, number and a short bio. Kapadia’s mother would then run an online background check and satisfactory profiles would be confirmed.
For the 58-year-old Nafisa, cooking for a big group is no big deal. Born into a large family in Byculla’s Bohri Mohalla and married into a joint family, churning out a meal for 14 to 15 people was routine. “I started cooking when I was 15. My mother was a very good cook, and I picked up the recipe for her special dal gosht. After I got married, my mother-in-law taught me to scour for the best ingredients from the Byculla market,” says Nafisa. She also credits her mother-in-law for her mutton undhiyu (vegetables and mutton slow-cooked with spices) and mutton chikoli (multiple pulses, mutton and vegetables with shreds of roti). While Nafisa was confident of her craft, she wasn’t sure if her house favourites would fly with guests — many of whom had never sampled Bohri food. “When a guest actually hugged her after a meal out of gratitude, her insecurities were put to rest,” says Munaf. He also credits his father, Turab Kapadia, for sourcing ingredients from carefully vetted vendors in Colaba and Crawford Market. Over time, Turab’s exhaustive market research, in the literal sense, has resulted in knowledge of where to source the best lamb, for instance, especially if it was to be turned into Nafisa’s star attraction, Raan in kaju masala.
TBK slowly forayed into delivery, but the execution was initially riddled with glitches. Nafisa tried training cooks, but failed, and the quality suffered. “That’s when I realised that I am good at marketing, but when it comes to operations, which is 80 per cent of the business, I’m an amateur,” admits Munaf. The answer to his problems came in the form of angel investor, Gurmeet Kochhar. The two met at NH7 Weekender in Pune last year and, within a month, Kochhar helped TBK launch its delivery service and set up a kitchen in Worli.
But replicating Nafisa’s delectable dishes on a large scale remained a challenge. “The first time we got a one-star rating on a delivery app, Munaf was so upset he shut the site down,” says Kochhar. He asked for a sit-down meeting with Nafisa, and went over the recipes meticulously. Installing cameras in the kitchen to allow Nafisa monitor operations from her Colaba home helped. But to retain her magic touch, the first batch of every dish is sent to her for tasting every day and, only after her approval is TBK open for order.
To crack the delivery business, Munaf is following food trends, and working on giving his menu a healthier twist. “My parents belong to a generation that appreciates rich food, but my siblings and I are health-conscious. So, we will soon introduce a healthier but equally tasty menu. We are also working towards introducing a version of our Thaal-in-a-Box for weight watchers,”
Follow the Bohri Kitchen on facebook.com/thebohrikitchen; or visit thebohrikitchen.com; The Bohri Kitchen’s first outlet will open at Inorbit Mall, Malad (W)
5 home chefs to know in Mumbai
1) Gitika’s Pakghor
Gitika Saikia is an Assamese food evangelist, promoting mostly tribal dishes through pop up lunches.
2) The Bawi Bride
Parsi specials By Perzen Patel who is on mission to make Parsi food accessible around India.
3) Ananya Banerjee
Banerjee specialties include Bengali and Ethiopian pop-ups.
Contact: email@example.com, 98204 00222
4) Aparna Surte
Surte specializes in Korean kitchen dining experience.
5) Grandma Mookerjee’s Kitchen
Auroni Mookerjee serves Bengali food with a European twist.
Contact: 99309 62938