Home Chennai Rise of the foodpreneur

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    Taking the leap of faith in their 20s, these ambitious culinary retailers have created brands that are redefining gourmet in the city

    Youngsters managing ubiquitous and popular food brands and products are among the top movers and shakers in the city today, and many of them haven’t even turned 30. Abhinandan B, 31, who founded Brown Tree, the now-mighty empire when he was all of 25 quips, “It’s all about being in the zone and staying committed once you have taken the leap of faith. Having competition has only ensured that I don’t get complacent!” Japtej Ahluwalia, 28, is already a successful restaurateur with three branches of Double Roti under his belt and aiming to launch 15 across the country in the next two years. About success, Ahluwalia enthusiastically says, “It’s about the essentials — think big right from the get-go, create a scalable idea, invest in providing a value proposition to your target customers and have a clear execution plan. This mantra is assured to bring you success everytime.” His six-month-old restaurant already has a following for its burgers.

    Text: Preeti GT

    Pics: R. Satish Babu

    Narmada Krishnaswamy | 27
    Goal setting: To introduce calorie-counted meal and snack options through subscription and home delivery — a concept that has been a proven winner in the West — and venture into vitamin water

    Credited as the first person to introduce gourmet popcorn in Chennai, Krishnaswamy’s Zea Popcorns, with its cheerful green stall, is a sight for sore eyes. Started last October, this 27-year-old ventured confidently into schools, carnivals, colleges and now boast four stores in the city, besides catering to fans at Indian Football League matches and the IPL too. “Inspired by our travels and the legendary Garett Popcorn from Singapore, my husband Vinodh Kumar and I knew it was time to bring gourmet popcorn into Chennai and out of movie theatres,” she says. Today, the company imports good quality corn kernels and produces 3,000 kilos a year; nearly triple the quantity since the company’s conception. “Our online marketing campaigns and ecommerce website have ensured that our crunchy popcorn now reaches Bengaluru, Mumbai and beyond. With our success and growth potential, my husband is now ready to quit his job of 13 years with an IT giant. Next up, is to launch in more cities and redesign our packaging, making it retail friendly too,” she smiles.Details: zeapops.com
    Gibran Osman | 30
    Goal setting: To completely grow all the ingredients required to create our range of products, including rice and sugarcane, and to retail my mum’s epic Ginger Pop drinkPICTRUES OF GIBRAN FOR INDULGE. EXPRESS / R.SATISH BABU

    While operating a popular bespoke menswear studio, this theatre artiste and VJ-turned-actor is also making waves with another successful venture. For the last five years, 30-year-old Osman has been redefining health foods with his brand of Splendid Foods’ Health Mix and more recently with their granola bars, which he accepts is the fruit of the hard work put in by his lovely wife Sadia Osman (25). “Growing up watching my mom operate a legendary biryani catering business, plus my own battles with weight, resulted in Splendid Foods. It has stemmed purely out of my passion to promote fitness and well being. It is only this spirit that has taken our products to over 30 stores, numerous fitness clubs and even in the pantries of the Madras Riding School, with our production volume increasing by the day,” exclaims Osman, who makes around 1,500 granola bars a month. He further adds, “Chennaiites are well read, health conscious and early risers too, which made my hometown the ideal city to launch an exciting product. And thanks to our sampling initiatives at various stores, our brand clicked amongst city dwellers.” With a motto to churn out more tasty foods that will keep your mind and body happy, Osman’s Splendid Foods is a promise well kept. Details: splendidfoodcompany.com

     

    Aditi Mammen Gupta | 30

    Goal setting: A swanky world-class production facility to create a complete line of packaged organic, Indian baby foodPICTRUES OF ADITI MAMMEN, FOR INDULGE. EXPRESS / R.SATISH BABU

    We have all drooled over Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver’s food shows. But it’s only a few like Aditi Mammen Gupta who got off the couch and crafted something equally delectable. “Posh Nosh sauces is a classic representation of that lovely home made indulgence in a bottle, that is neither imported nor exorbitantly priced, and this is the connect with the people of Chennai,” says this 30-year-old. It took Posh Nosh sauces almost two years to come to life with umpteen trials before cautiously turning up at a store near you. “I quickly realised that product and price was only half the battle and equally important are marketing, distribution and packaging, along with learning the complexities of demand and supply, while dealing with chain stores.” It was this market awareness that landed Posh Nosh in 40 stores in Chennai, with doubled production volume since December to over 175 kilos a month. What’s next, we ask? “Simple. Just more variety! Expect pasta sauces and sandwich spreads, while we identify distributors to take this to the next level,” she shares. Details: poshnoshfoods.in

     

    Karthyayini | 28 Sidharthan Vijaykumaran | 28
    Goal setting: To manufacture homemade organic beer with sorghum seedsPICTURES OF KARTHYAYINI AND SIDHARTH FOR INDULGE. EXPRESS / R.SATISH BABU

    Founders of the trending Madras Milk and The Farm, this 28-year-old husband-wife duo have got Chennaiites addicted to farm fresh produce with its elevated taste and aroma. Inspired by the food purists Karthyayini met during her Culinary Arts education in Italy, and by the latter’s grandmother who still makes her food entirely from the ingredients that she cultivates in her backyard in Malayalipatti village, the ecommerce portal was launched last December. “The website is a platform of over 130 products sourced directly from 100 farms and includes pure cow and buffalo ghee, free range eggs, cold-pressed oils and even forgotten millets and rice like Thooyamalli rice, Moongil rice and Poongar rice. Raw cow and buffalo milk is also available on subscription in glass bottles,” she says. With over 8,000 orders and a customer database of 5,000, the couple owe their success to the good old marketing strategy of handing out newspaper flyers and word of mouth publicity. “Considering the response we have received so far from the local knowledgeable market, our immediate plans are to get going with national and international shipping, as the demand seems to be higher, particularly in the neighbouring states,” says Karthyayini. Details: thefarm.in, madrasmilk.com

    Tharun Dharam | 30
    Goal setting: To create a talent pool of artists/performers and bring them together on a common platform, for easy access and visibility to those who are looking to hire them for an event. And, start selling bottled payasamPICTURE OF THARUN,FLUFFY TUBS FOR INDULGE. EXPRESS / R.SATISH BABU

    Tharun Dharam’s evening tea is always by the beach. This is where he frequently spotted cotton candy vendors. The idea to take this universally loved treat to accessible locations seemed like an option that would bring a lot of cheer, and thus was born Fluffy Tubs. “Creating fun flavours like bubble gum and blueberry, the response was simply overwhelming to say the least, during our launch at the By Hand, From The Heart fair. It was a revelation to see even adults gorging on this nostalgic snack!” Now a few months down, Fluffy Tubs produces close to 2,000 tubs of organic cotton candy, in natural colours, to stock at 30 stores in the city, each month. “We deliver to stores directly sans any distributors and this has helped us receive first hand feedback and market reactions of our product, which in turn aids in product improvisation and satisfaction. The product has also filled a void of finding exciting foods in various organic stores,” Dharam explains. Details: fluffytubs.com

     

    Samia Sait | 24
    Goal setting: Create my own line of ice creams and cheese. Also, create and bottle seductively good chocolate fudge to top said ice creamsPICTURS OF SAMIA AT CRYST CAFE FOR INDULGE. EXPRESS / R.SATISH BABU

    Owner of brand Tryst, known for its exemplary range of breads, cakes, biscuits and more, Sait, 24, has been managing her empire for four years now. What started off as the Tryst restaurant on ECR, has branched into a gourmet hub with multiple pickup points located inside the city. “Coming from a food obsessed family, to get into this field was only a natural progression, even though I have no formal training in the food industry. Working hard, along with a team of artisan bakers, our quality speaks volumes which today translates to over 700 items coming out of our kitchens just during the weekend. Growing as per the demand of the city, we have quadrupled our turnover since we launched in 2010 and being one of the first entrants, I would like to believe that Tryst enjoys a fairly large chunk of the market share,” beams Sait, who has barely done any advertising or marketing. Business is flourishing through word of mouth. Tryst also retails out of Nilgiris and shortly from their gourmet store that will open in December, near the restaurant on ECR. The focus is on high-teas and coffee mornings that include a wide range of danishes, and croissants, breads, muffins and snacks for children, using whole wheat, organic grains and millets. Details: 7299155222

    What the experts say

    ‘Invest quality time’,

    says Srinath Raghavan
    In the food industry for almost two decades, Raghavan has been associated with projects like Cream Centre and the F&B at Chennai’s airport. “Once you have identified your passion, invest quality time — however little — to realise your dream. Be focussed and create a pathway for gradual progress. Always ensure that you continue to strive for perfection,” he advises.
    ‘Play it safe’,
    says AD Singh
    The Mumbai-based hospitalilty veteran, known for restaurants like Olive, Monkey Bar and SodaBottleOpenerWala, insists that it pays to be conservative when you start out. ‘‘Bring in a partner or someone with an F&B business background. Alternatively, take up a franchise as they will do all the training and offer support,’’ says the restaurateur who works with young chefs-turned-partners to remain relevant in the current food landscape. ‘‘It is a good marriage,’’ he assures, ‘‘for we have the experience and they bring in the freshness.’’

    ‘Don’t ride the wave’,
    says Sandesh Reddy
    “While getting into the food industry, it would be wise to rethink the age-old advice of following your heart. Instead, go with your mind and palate,” says the man behind brands like Sandy’s and GoGo Ramen. With consumers being open to change and new experiences, Reddy finds merit in going against the grain to create your own brand of food that you believe in and love, instead of simply picking up a franchise. “This is what I did, especially with The Old Madras Baking Company,” he says.
    ‘Get the six ‘M’s right’, PROFILE OF CHEF KAUSHIK FOR RYAN STORY-EXPRESS/P.RAVIKUMAR
    says Koushik Shankar
    “Seven out of 10 restaurants shut within a year due to lack of knowledge of the basics. Research your brand for Menu, Manpower, Material, Machinery, Marketing and Management — revisit this as often as possible and improvise,” is the advice of the founder of Eatitude Gourmet Technologies, the brain behind food design and concept of over 40 brands and 150 outlets over 18 years.
    ‘Dream big’,
    says Aasife Ahmed
    The owner of Aasife Biryanis, Ahmed advocates, “To achieve your big dream, take positive baby steps.” How, you ask? “If you have to drive a 1,000 miles, and you don’t keep a check on the small details — lights, or the air pressure in your vehicles tyres — you are bound to be left behind,” says Ahmed, who has spent 15 successful years in the industry.

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