More than bread and butter

These entrepreneurs have identified niches in the city’s food market that they believe will thrive even in a slowing economy, says Pankti Mehta.

mumbai Updated: Oct 19, 2012 00:43 IST
Pankti Mehta
Pankti Mehta
Hindustan Times

These entrepreneurs have identified niches in the city’s food market that they believe will thrive even in a slowing economy.

Bagelwala! is an eatery in Bandra that says it serves authentic New York-style bagels. The café seats 12 people indoors and 14 outdoors. The menu includes a variety of bagels—plain and with sun-dried tomato, poppy seed and onion, with cream cheese and a range of vegetable and meat fillings. The simplest version costs Rs 90. Bagelwala! also delivers a Baker’s dozen, a selection of 13 bagels, across the city.

Who: Sanal Nair, 28, Who worked as a brand manager in an advertising firm for five years, and three friends Who live abroad founded the business, using their own money. His friends helped Nair set up the operations, which he now manages on his own.

He is completely hands-on, even helping to make the bagel sandwiches and taking orders at the Bandra eatery. Nair holds a bachelor of management studies degree from Mithibai College.

When: Nair first set up a stall at the NH7 music festival in Pune last November to test his bagels. Then in January, he began a home-delivery service, finally opening the café in August.

How: Nair and his friends spent eight months from April last year analysing bagels in New York and comparing them with those available in Mumbai to identify the differences. Nair took a sabbatical from work, during which he decided to start Bagelwala!. They then experimented with the recipe to get the consistency they wanted. Nair says the technique they chose involves poaching the dough before baking it to make it crunchy outside and chewy inside. Nair says it was a challenge to find the high-protein flour required to achieve this texture. Right now, Bagelwala! uses imported cream cheese but eventually, plans to make it themselves.

Because the Jewish community runs most bagel houses in New York, Nair asked his American Jewish friends in Mumbai to taste different versions before zeroing in on a recipe. He then rented a place he liked. Nair says he and his partners do plan to look for venture funding in the future.

Why: Nair and his friends noticed that the US had many specialist eateries, but not India. They initially thought of setting up a franchise of an existing brand, but that was turning out to be expensive. They decided to create their own product, zeroing in on bagels because most of the ones available in Mumbai were bun-like and closer to pav-bread.

‘Throwing parties outside has become very expensive’
BombayBelly is a catering service for house parties. For large gatherings, it offers options from Indian, Chinese, Thai and Mexican cuisines, including dessert. For smaller get-togethers, people can order by the kilo. It delivers its food in insulated packages anywhere in the city so that it remains hot. It allows people to place orders online or over the phone

Who: The founder, Gautam Gupta, 45, moved back to Mumbai in April from Hong Kong, where he had been a running a business that exported household appliances, motorcycles, motorcycle parts and tyres, since 1996.

When: After doing three months of groundwork, Gupta launched the service last month.

How: Gupta had no experience in the food business, but his wife, Who manages events for the banking industry, did. She helped him ensure the food was of good quality and that it was priced appropriately. Using her help, Gupta set up a kitchen in Malad (E) and hired cooks. He then conducted tastings with friends and family to finalise his menus. Finally, he selected packaging for the food so that it could be delivered piping hot. When the economy improves, he hopes to open eateries.

Why: Gupta found his business becoming riskier over the past two years, having to increasingly chase clients abroad to make payments. At the same time, on his trips to his home in Mumbai, he noticed that although the economy was slowing down, it was still doing better than other international markets he was dealing with from Hong Kong. He also saw that the Indian food industry was growing robustly at this time.

‘I want people to learn about regional cultures’
Samaas delivers home-cooked regional cuisine. Right now, it uses chefs Who cook Malvani and Bengali food in the traditional style at their homes. It plans to add Puneri vegetarian Maharashtrian cuisine to its menu. It delivers free of charge to customers from Bandra to Vile Parle, charging a fee for other areas in the city. People can call in to order.

Who: Tanmay Degwekar, 29, founded the company. He worked with a management consulting firm for four years before quitting to start his venture. Degwekar holds an engineering degree from the University of Mumbai and an MBA from Symbiosis, Pune.

When: He started the service last month.

How: Degwekar was always interested in food. At his previous job, he had worked with a few clients in the food sector, and through this, he got some idea of How things worked. Before setting Samaas up, he conducted market research to see if his idea had takers.

After deciding it did, Degwekar made a detailed business plan, tested many home cooks before zeroing in on the two he has on board. He tried their food on friends and family before launching the service.

Why: Degwekar found that while there are many home chefs Who cook authentic dishes, the city appeared to not have an umbrella service for a variety of regional fare. “You always remember that superb mustard-rich fish you ate at your Bengali neighbour’s house or that patrani macchi your Parsi friend’s mother cooked for you,” he says. “You may scour restaurants to find those tastes again, but mostly the food isn’t as authentic as What someone Who has grown up eating and cooking that dish can make.”

Degwekar says he makes absolutely no changes to the original recipes in a bid to cater to local taste buds. For instance, restaurants usually serve a sweet version of the Begali chingri malaikari, a prawn curry, while the traditional recipe, which Samaas serves, is pungent. He also wants to keep the food fresh, so nothing is pre-cooked.

Degwekar wants to use food as a way help people learn about different cultures. Samaas has one menu that changes weekly, and a daily one that he uploads, depending on the ingredients that the cooks can buy fresh on that day.

First Published: Oct 19, 2012 00:40 IST