All through the pandemic last year, Ahad Anaikar, Mohammed Samee, Zeeshan Anees and Mohammed Faraaz, cousins and co-founders of Puffalope Productions, a Chennai-based entertainment company, found themselves ordering a lot of desserts. “The food used to take a long time to come,” remembers Anaikar. “We would joke that we should open our own dessert parlour.”
In time though, the joke became a more serious discussion and in April, the four cousins and their friend Pooja Reddy founded Sweet Spot, a dessert shop, just before the second wave hit. Their space acts as an aggregator for home bakers, many of whom had started taking orders during the pandemic but were facing issues in delivery.
“We faced a lot of challenges initially,” Anaikar says, adding that they had to pivot quickly from a physical store to a delivery-only option to stay relevant. “The second wave really hit the food industry.” Despite that, their delivery service took off as people preferred to order from a home baker instead of going to a restaurant. Customers assumed that a home baker was safer than a chain “because it was made in someone’s house,” he says. While the business is still in its early stages, Sweet Spot has continued to see considerable growth every month, says Anaikar.
Sweet Spot operates in a small format model with minimal seating. It was a conscious decision and one they intend to stick to. Part of the reason covid hit the industry so severely, he says, is because most restaurants couldn’t cover their overheads with the revenue. “The rentals do catch up and take their toll,” he says, adding that Sweet Spot’s focus is on delivery and takeaway.
Over a Zoom call, Anaikar talks to Mint about the allure of home-baked desserts, the challenges they faced during the lockdown and why their format worked so well. Edited excerpts:
How does your business model work?
It starts with the home baker getting in touch with us. We try their product samples and ensure it doesn’t clash with something that’s already on our menu. Once the product quality is proven, we start ordering small quantities. Depending on response from customers, we scale up the quantities. Currently, we work with around 50 home bakers in the city. So our menu keeps changing. This way, it stays fresh, and there is always something new to try out.
I think Sweet Spot has brought some consistency to home bakers in terms of orders. Another thing that worked, from the home baker’s perspective, is that they no longer have to coordinate with customers and deliver.
Further, multiple people coming home to pick up your product during the pandemic may not be the most advisable thing. So it makes sense to send all the products to one space like Sweet Spot, where we take care of the rest.
We place an order and pay for the entire thing, whether it sells or not. They just need to send the products. Then, we take a commission on the sale of the products.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when the second wave hit?
Getting the right workforce—recruiting help was such an uphill task back then. Most people went back to their hometowns or were too scared to get out of their houses. We were operating with one staff member for close to 45 days since hiring staff was impossible during the lockdown. We were allowed to operate only for three hours a day—delivery, not dine-in—so we sat and packed a lot.
Logistics was another huge challenge. The thing is, we get a tiny commission from sales, so working for a platform like Swiggy or Zomato wouldn’t be feasible for our format because they take a 20-30% commission. That is unaffordable for a model like ours. So instead, we worked very closely with partners like Dunzo or Shadowfax.
Initially, customers would place an order on Instagram, book their own Dunzo service, and have them collect it. That became chaotic as well—imagine having to deal with 50 to 60 people messaging you on Instagram, asking for desserts.
Then we came up with another solution. This platform, DotPe, gives us our own website and integrates delivery aggregators like Dunzo, Shadowfax, Rapido, and others. So customers come onto our website, place the order, then the nearest partner gets assigned to take care of the delivery.
Why did you choose to focus on home bakers?
Home bakers are incredibly passionate about the dishes they churn out. There is a level of uncompromising quality and attention to detail in everything they make. We didn’t realise how many talented home bakers were out there and were amazed by the quality of products they offered. Also, we noticed another thing during the first wave: there was a mushrooming of home bakers because lots of people were trying out new things. So, we thought this would work.
Essentially, we saw this gap in the food space. Usually, when you want to order from a home baker, you need to order a day in advance. Or you see something nice on a home baker’s social media account, but by the time you reply, it is sold out. You can’t order a single slice; you have to order a kilo. It doesn’t make sense to buy a kilo of cake for someone who lives alone.
So we just thought of bringing all the home bakers under one roof. By giving people the option to try out multiple single slices from various home bakers, we’ve just given them a lot more to choose from.
Turning the Tables is a series of interviews with chefs and food entrepreneurs on coping with covid-19 restrictions.