Journey to Give a Humble Mumbaiya Vadapav- A National Identity!
‘Why Vadapav can’t stand tall among Burger and Pizzas of the World?’, this was the question that rose in the mind of a finance professional- Venkatesh Srinivas Iyer. This awakened his foodies soul, the passion fired in him to take the uncharted path of making a simple, humble street food of Mumbai widely popular through his QSR chains- 'Goli Vadapav'. Both, Venkatesh Srinivas Iyer and his co-founder- Shivadas Menon through their venture succeeded in making vadapav- a national brand.
Soon, Venkatesh Iyer felt the need of penning down their adventurous entrepreneurial journey and thus was born a book- 'My Journey with Vadapav'. According to Venkatesh Iyer, “This book is not only a handbook for entrepreneurs in the food segment but an attempt to inspire entrepreneurs across the board. One could be planning to launch a tech or a B2B or a consumer facing business. The key is to not give up ever and take small failures in your stride because once you put your mind into anything; it will not be able to elude you for long. Your will power and ability to find a way out of any problem will make your business a success in due course and that’s what we set out to achieve and I hope this book will enable many more entrepreneurs in our country.”
1. First of all, there are myriad Indian finger food you could have plunged into. What made you choose Vadapav among all of them?
Venkatesh Iyer- Vadapav is a brand in itself but has always been a street food made in unhygienic conditions. The product has a major pull simply because its ingredients have a national appeal – besan, bread, potatoes and chutneys. On a hot afternoon, after I finished a meeting and reached CST Terminus in Mumbai via a local. I was starving and decided to grab a burger at a newly opened McDonald outside the station. While crossing the road towards the restaurant, I saw a 40 ft tall hoarding of the McDonald burger and under the hoarding, a vadapav vendor was dishing out hot and freshly made vadapavs to 20 odd people. It struck me how similar burger and vadapav are. It was a eureka moment for me and I said to myself, ‘Why Vadapav can’t stand tall among Burger and Pizzas of the World?’ It was at that moment, my co-founder Shivadas Menon and I decided to take a plunge and start a QSR chain selling hygienic vadapavs at competitive prices.
2. You and your partner were both into finance sector. What inspired both of you to plunge into food sector?
Venkatesh Iyer- In our previous avatar as corporate finance professionals, we helped many businesses raise funds. While my co-founder is a hardcore number guy, I’m more of a storyteller. So, I would sell the story of a brand and he would strengthen the case by presenting the facts and numbers to help banks and institutions make investment decisions. While we enjoyed our stint but both of us wanted to start our own venture in food space. Because we believed it is a largely untapped segment and dominated mostly by unorganized sector. When we zeroed in on the product idea, we dedicated ourselves full time to set up Goli Vadapav.
3. Food sector is a path of challenges as Indians are loyal to their taste buds. What sorts of challenges did you face?
Venkatesh Iyer- We understand the Indian taste palate. We knew that in order to succeed, we couldn’t go away from the Indian taste and that’s why we chose to open a pan India chain, which would sell vadapavs in many variants. However, our set of challenges were different. When we started, we had a central kitchen from where the product was prepared by number of chefs and dispatched to the neighbouring stores. In no time, we were flooded with calls and franchise inquiries but the challenge was expansion. If we continue to service from a manually run central kitchen then capex would increase with number of stores going up, logistics will be a challenge too. Thus, we needed different partners on board. We also wanted to put in a place a uniform process of preparing the vadapavs so that taste is standardized and pilferage and wastage can be removed from the system. We reached out to a large MNC which was already doing back end product preparation work for an American QSR chain in India. After a few round of meetings and presentations, our proposal was accepted and the MNC came on board to prepare Goli Vadapav in their factory on a separate belt. Next, we signed on a logistics partner to ensure timely delivery to our stores. This helped us expanding fast at pan India level.
4. What is the reason behind keeping the brand name 'Goli'? Are you planning to establish this brand in International arena?
Venkatesh Iyer- Vadapav is a Mumbai thing and word Goli is a slang word. If you will overhear a friendly banter in this city, you are most likely to hear ‘Kya Goli de raha hai yaar’. Since, we set out to create a Mumbaiya brand for the country, it was only natural that our product, brand, store aesthetics and everything else should represent Mumbai and its spirit.
5. Which Vadapav from your menu is an all time favourite and sells the most?
Venkatesh Iyer- We sell close to 10 different variants of vadapav. Our all time favourite is classic Vadapav while others like Masala Vadapav and Spinach Corn Vadapav are famous in different regions as per taste palate of the region.
6. Dominos and McDonals are trying to Indianize their menu that suits Indian taste buds. What is your take on it? Does 'Goli Vadapav' sees them as potential competitors?
Venkatesh Iyer- Every QSR brand is a competition. India is a price sensitive market. However, over the last decade, Goli has carved its niche as an ethnic fast food chain selling authentic spicy Indian vadapav across the country.