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Pune’s bhel barons: Success stories of a street trade

Pune’s Ganesh Bhel and Kalyan Bhel started out by selling their popular mixes on borrowed and rented handcarts. Today, the owners run a business that not only sells bhel at their outlets but is also shipped to as many as 10 states in the country and six countries across the Globe.

pune Updated: Mar 10, 2018 23:47 IST
Anjali Shetty
Ramesh Kondhare, owner of Kalyan Bhel.
Ramesh Kondhare, owner of Kalyan Bhel.(Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)

Ganesh Bhel

As a young boy, Ramesh Gudmewar would bunk school in Nanded and travel to Pune to be with his maternal uncle. He would help him with odd jobs and eventually shifted here. In 1978, he rented a hand cart and started selling bhel (dry snack). He ran the business on the cart by selling bhel and pani puri till 1998. The second generation entrepreneur, Dinesh Gudmewar shared, “In 1996, my father started his first bhel shop in Karvenagar. The third outlet was formed in 2000. Today, we have 13 shops. As a family, we were keen on bringing a brand value to bhel and chat. When we started out, people did not look at it as a business. Today, I can proudly say that we have turned a small idea into a full-fledged business. In fact, we are working on automated bhel vending machines which should be out in a year. We have been conducting research on it for two years now.”

The second generation now completely looks into the operation of the business and has a dedicated staff that handles the outlets. “When we started branching out, we first gave our franchisees to our own employees. This way we ensured that the taste and quality would be maintained. We followed the same pattern for outsourcing of farsan and other supplements. We opened production units for our chefs and asked them to produce the same. They have the liberty of making more than required and selling it under their brand name too. This way we built entrepreneurs within the company too,” added Dinesh.

Ganesh Bhel and Chaat Products received its ISO 9001:2008 in 2012 and started their own website way back in 2004. “The idea was to start more outlets back then, but we were able to find the right manpower and were not ready to trust so soon. So, we ventured into retail. Today, they produce 1,000 packaged units on a daily basis for the retail unit. The regular outlets see a footfall of 300 to 400 every weekend. And, I can surely say that we produce around 80,000 to one lakh puris every day (all outlets inclusive).”

Gudmewar brothers want the brand to be an international name and be able to cater to every country possible. Dinesh added, “In 2009, we received our first big international order from Dubai. However, after the entire shipment was ready, we realised that we were being duped. My brother had invested Rs.50,000 from his fixed deposit in it and trusted me with it. I was completely depressed after this incident. But my family supported me and then in 2012, I clubbed my honeymoon and business trip to Singapore and that’s when our first international order happened.”

Today, the brand sends around 5,000 packets on a monthly basis to international stores.

Kalyan Bhel

For 37 years now, Ramesh Kondhare has been diligently serving his customers with one of Pune’s most popular snack items, bhel. It was in the early 80s, when as a teenager, Ramesh would accompany his mother Muktabai to sell vegetables in Kothrud. They slowly included farsan at the stall too. “My mother would mix thecha (green chilli chutney) and coriander in the farsan and sell in it packs of quarter and half kg. This soon became a daily practice and people would specifically come to the stall for the mixture. She would grind the chutney on a stone, which I still believe gives out the best flavour. We then started selling only bhel at Re.1 and Rs.2. Today, 37 years later, I sell it at Rs.60, but I can assure you that the taste and love with which it is prepared is still the same,” says Ramesh, who makes it a point to supervise the centralised kitchen every single day.

His son Girish, has taken over the operations and retail section that started in 2012. “I handle the outdoor orders and packaging for outstation orders. My father is still very active with the business and it is his goodwill that we are still standing strong. He handles the staff with elan and they all love him,” says Girish as he prepares an order that is being shipped to Aurangabad.

The brand has around 25 varieties of chat and ready-to-eat items on sale in the retail section. “We prepare around 1,000 packets for retail every day, and on an average, we sell around 60 per cent over the counter. Our walk-in crowd is around 400 to 500 people. With their suggestions, I have included items such as pizza, pulao, sandwiches, but out best selling remains the bhel and pani puri.”

Kailas Bhel

In 1975, Kishan Anant Mithare noticed the lack of food outlets for travellers on the Pune-Satara Highway. This got him thinking and he started selling dry bhel on the Shivapur road. From a roadside stall, Kailas Bhel today stands as a one-stop hotel for passengers on the Pune-Bengaluru highway. Shivraj Mithare, 30, currently mans the business with help from his parents Subhash and Shobha Mithare. “We have just one outlet for now, however, we are in the planning process of launching two more in a year. We were sceptical of expanding because we do not want to compromise on taste, hygiene or quality. Having said this, we got into retail in 2010 where we package our products and sell an average of 600 packets daily in the retail section. Our footfall is generally 500 people on weekdays and around 700 on weekends.”

A B Com graduate, Shivraj took up the business in 2008 and also introduced the line of online products. “We have a website where people can reach out to us and place an order. The increasing demand and growing trends pushed us to enter retail. Our centralised kitchen ensures there is no issue with the product quality or quantity. For us, customer satisfaction and hygiene is top priority.”

The brand sends their retails products across the country and families take along packets abroad too. “We are working on getting our international export licenses, and will soon be able to send products abroad ourselves. As of now, customers take our packets along with them across the globe.”

Shivraj owes the brand’s success to his parents’ hard work and dedication. “My grandfather started the place with an intention to serve passers-by, while my parents took forth the vision and brought about a revolutionary change in the way bhel and pani puri is sold. Today, the third generation is aiming at maintaining their legacy by bringing in automation, branding and several other essentials. With all this, our basic aim of serving customers remains intact.”