Oscar Wilde has said in one of his works, “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” That is the beauty of a good meal, perfectly balanced like a masterpiece on your palate! With the current situation in the world, it is no wonder that more and more people are turning to food for comfort. In the city of Mumbai, the online food ordering business is providing the necessary succour to people who are either too tired to cook or just want to eat good food for some semblance of hope in the current crisis. One such entity “Goila Butter Chicken” and its Co-Founder Vivek Sahani are changing the way people look at ‘butter chicken’ in their lives.
Vivek speaks about his journey so far, the challenges of being a food-entrepreneur and how to overcome those to serve good food to his customers daily -
Q 1 – Why did you choose to be a chef? Tell us about your passion for food.
Being born in a Punjabi joint family, food was always a significant part of my daily life. My mother prepared meals catering to everybody’s liking and, therefore, we always had a plenty of choices to make around the dining table. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that each meal felt like a feast in itself. It is this close association with food that ignited in me the passion to make a career out of it. That led me to join the Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad and here I am.
Q 2 – What was life like before Goila Butter Chicken (GBC)?
I come from Indore, where my family is into the hospitality business. So, I had been involved with my family business for quite some time. That is where I learned the basics of becoming a successful entrepreneur. After my marriage in 2015, we moved to Mumbai and ran her bakery business together here.
Q 3 –What is the story behind Goila Butter Chicken?
Saransh Goila and I were college-mates at IHM. He was already a celebrity chef in Mumbai. When I shifted here, we reconnected. During our hostel days, Saransh used to do cooking experiments with a traditional butter-chicken recipe. In Mumbai, Saransh used to invite friends to his home and cook this special butter chicken recipe for all. This recipe became quite popular and from there the idea to take it further germinated. We conducted research for a product profile for 8 months. During this time, we also studied the challenges of running a delivery-based business. After due diligence, we opened the first outlet of Goila Butter Chicken (GBC) in 2016 at Andheri. We haven’t looked back since then and now, we own a Central Kitchen set up spread over 1500 sq ft area from where we cater to all our customers.
Q 4 –How involved are you at GBC? Your day-to-day role?
I am completely involved in the day-to-day operations of GBC. From the back-end operations of the brand – like purchase of raw materials & supply-chain management – to the end product, which goes out for delivery, I look into everything. Though the task is challenging but we have managed to build a robust business model and it is an interesting day-to-day journey.
Q 5 – What are the advantages of running a food delivery business in Mumbai?
First and foremost, you don’t require a large space to operate, since we don’t need the seating space. That also brings down the investment required to begin this journey. In fact considering the exorbitant rentals in a city like Mumbai, operating a cloud kitchen makes sense. Moreover, there is a huge population of immigrants, from other cities, who are either living alone, so get bored with cooking, or are too busy with their work to cook. In that case too, online food delivery is a suitable business proposition. You can start with a smaller set-up and then think of expansion once your brand is established.
Q 6 – What are the challenges of running an online food delivery business during Covid-19?
Well, the online food delivery business has its own challenges, and those just got compounded because of Covid-19. No doubt that these are challenging times to be a businessman, especially in the field of online food delivery business, where trust and quality matter the most. The main impact of the pandemic has been that the supply was broken due to the lockdown, which also increased the cost of raw material. Another major issue was of staffing as a large number of our staff members left for their home-towns and villages. With the fear of virus, people were not too keen to order takeaways either. So, there has been 50-60% decrease in sales during the present crisis. The supply costs are also at an all time high, which is something we can do nothing about because we cannot compromise on our raw material. It has to be the best quality and we continue to pay a premium for that. Last, but not the least, our rental charges continue to be the same even though our income has come down. So, that is one more gap we are unable to bridge. Till recently, we were operating only half of our outlets but the fixed expenses on all our facilities are the same. Moreover, continuing to serve the same quality of food at the same price is a challenge which we cannot afford to lose.
Q 7–How is GBC different from other food delivery businesses? What is your USP?
GBC is an innovative venture led by two professional chefs – both with an astute business acumen and a burning desire to serve food that is drool-worthy. Our food is cooked from high-quality ingredients with taste being the most critical factor. Our cooking style is different, to the extent of being eccentric. As a result, our customers get served crazy flavours to rock their palate. For instance, our “Naan Bomb” is a really popular item and a category in itself on our menu. Our highly effective communication and branding process is spearheaded by Saransh. No wonder then that our business has grown with the most valuable PR, i.e., word-of-mouth publicity.
Q 8 – Where do you see GBC 5 years from now?
We will soon complete 4 years of GBC and there are some major announcements in the pipeline. Now, we are looking to launch a new delivery brand with which we will expand our presence to different parts of the country. It is our dream to build an international restaurant brand. We will also go into retail, for which we are planning products like packaged butter chicken & spice blends under a new name ‘Goila.’ Our initial target is to open outlets in at least 8 more cities by 2022. These cities are Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata, Delhi, Dubai, Melbourne & London.
Q 9 – What is the future of gourmet food business in India in view of Covid-19 pandemic?
The food business is already undergoing a major shift, even since before Covid-19 hit us. Now, with the fear of virus, the focus on hygiene and food quality will be even more imperative. It is going to be the duty of business owners to convince the customers of the quality of meal. Customers need to be convinced that it is safe to order from outside but that trust is sacred and we need to ensure that nothing breaks that trust. In this time of crisis, since people will order only from a familiar business, the goodwill generated during pre-Covid days is going to be helpful in maintaining client loyalty.
Q 10 - How do you unwind after a long day at work?
I usually don’t have fixed working hours and that is normal in the business that I am in.
My working hours are usually erratic and for me, a working day stretches far into the night. However, in my free time, I like to be with my family. I also love to spend time with my friends occasionally. During leisure time, I love to binge-watch on whatever catches my fancy on Netflix. Also, due to the current situation of home-confinement, I have also started paying attention to physical fitness, which is something I wasn’t really keen to do before lockdown. I try my best to include regular exercise and healthy eating into my daily routine. That has made my wife happy, at least!
Q 11 – What would you say to aspiring food entrepreneurs? Any wise words?
Today, we see a number of young, energetic people entering as entrepreneurs in the food industry and they are already creating waves. With drastic changes in the average Indian family’s lifestyle, home-cooked, good quality meals will continue to be in demand. So, everyone, from a small start-up to a big business has a chance to be successful in this area. My only advice to them would be to follow your passion. You need to be on your toes always. As George Bernard Shaw has said, “There is no love sincerer than love of food.” This is my guiding principle in my journey as an entrepreneur. I wish that other foodies out there, who are making efforts to turn their passion into their career, would follow this advice and stay true to themselves.
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.