Nearly six years ago, Munaf Kapadia quit his job to start a food business—or as he puts it in his new book titled, How I Quit Google to Sell Samosas. The founder of Mumbai’s The Bohri Kitchen traces his journey from account strategist to home chef, from catering parties at the homes of Bollywood celebrities like Zoya Akhtar and Hrithik Roshan to setting up cloud kitchens.
Kapadia, who belongs to the Bohri Muslim community, and his mother began offering home-cooked meal experiences to guests in 2014. It wasn’t just the kaju chicken, dum biryani and smoked mutton kheema samosas that drew guests but also the experience of sharing the meal, served in a large 3ft platter to eight guests at a time, just as the Bohris eat.
He and his mother regaled the patrons with family stories and tales to ensure that “the guests left with their stomachs and hearts full”, Kapadia says.
As The Bohri Kitchen took off, it gave Kapadia the confidence to quit his job as an account strategist with Google, raise funds and open six delivery kitchens—it’s all in the book that’s peppered with anecdotes about his entrepreneurial journey.
Last year, he was in the middle of raising a second round of funds when the pandemic derailed his plans. In an interview to Mint, he talks about the pandemic’s effect on business, his new book and his six-year journey as a food entrepreneur. Excerpts from an interview:
The past year has been hard for food businesses? How did The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) fare?
Last year, just before the lockdown, we were in the middle of raising the second round of funds, which I really needed. TBK had two outlets that were bleeding money. I had opened six outlets a few months before the lockdown. The funding fell through when the lockdown was announced and the pandemic destroyed investor sentiment. We had to shut all six outlets and let go of several employees—it was the hardest thing I have done in my life. I considered shutting TBK for good.
How did you get past that terrible time?
By not giving up. We made a decision to consolidate the business under one kitchen, and started to deliver food on bookings only. This was different from our earlier model of on-demand food. We had been on delivery platforms like Zomato and Swiggy with the aim to deliver our famous biryanis and samosas within 40 minutes anywhere in Mumbai. We have scaled down from 200 orders a day to 25 a day. I take orders by the kilo, a day in advance. We’ve moved away from delivery platforms that charge hefty commissions. While it is not in the same scale, our average price per order has gone up from ₹400 to ₹3,000.
Has this had an impact on your team and the way you cook?
We have returned to our roots. For the first time, my team gets to be creative because they are making food as per the customer’s request. We have a far more diverse menu now, as we have a day to prepare it. It’s truer to the brand.
What prompted you to write a book about your experience?
I enjoy narrating stories. Honestly, that’s the only skill I possess. The idea was to talk about how I built the brand, share its story, our ups and downs… everything. I love reading, and the idea of writing a book about TBK was brewing in my head. Often, I think about how I can better tell the story. Can I make a show? Maybe, a movie? Conversations with my friends led me to meeting the literary agent Kanishka Gupta. He directed my wife and me to Harper Collins and it clicked. I am not good at long form content, but my wife is. Sonal Nerurkar, the editor at Harper Collins, helped weave it together. It took us a year to write, and two months of editing. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s the best we could do.
Were any chapters particularly tough to tackle?
It was difficult to relive the past. There’s a chapter where I talk about setting up a bigger and better delivery kitchen after raising the first round of funds—that was a hard experience to revisit. I had completely underestimated the effort it would take. I was overwhelmed and lost in the world of licenses. Also, I did this terrible thing—I asked 100 people for advice; everyone told me 100 different things. Then, I tried 100 different ways to get it done. The right thing would have been to get an agent. I realise now that my ego got in the way of setting up a business. I thought if I managed it single-handedly, I would learn a lot. Instead, what happened was that I ended up wasting a lot of time and hair.
What is TBK focusing on now?
We have a Ramzan menu that takes you beyond biryani. There’s khichra, mutton paya and caramel custard. Even though there is nothing Bohri about this custard, there’s something very Kapadia family about it. Along with overseeing my business, I have started consulting with multinational food brands this year. If we can make a second book happen, it will be around the food with my mum at the forefront and written by my wife. The first book is about selling samosas, the second will be about how we made the samosas.
Also read: Try these sevai recipes for Ramzan season