Monday, May 20, 2013


It is well known that traditional ethnic foods, evolved over centuries in different cultures are slowly fading into history because of gross negligence of this sector of foods by the scientists, modern nucleus families and the governments in many countries. As the so called modern foods (also being criticized as junk foods or low nutrient density foods) are more amenable to mechanization and automation with minimum manual labor, new industries are coming up only for manufacturing these products thereby leaving ethnic foods category to fend for itself. To day these foods are made mostly by road side vendors and small eateries while the main stream food industry produces a vast array of westernized foods like baked goods, extruded products, sugar confectioneries and chocolates, Pitza and pasta products, fried foods like potato chips etc. Take the case of India where it is estimated that there are more than 5000 varieties of traditional foods prepared and consumed at homes as well as small restaurants and hardly a dozen products can boast of technologies compared to those deployed by the organized industry. Against this background the reported attempt by some entrepreneurs of Indian origin to set up a dosa chain in the United States is daring and visionary in nature. There is no reason why they would not succeed looking at their past experience in other service areas and the high confidence they exude. Here is a take on this development in the Indian ethnic food area in the US for which all must wish for the best.

"We met in 2004 in Manhattan," says Sam, adding with a laugh, "We were swimming in the same waters… We are serial entrepreneurs." They dabbled in real estate for a while, before coming up with the idea of a mass-market dosa chain. "Personally this has been a long quest," says Jawahar. "As an Indian living in the U.S., he says it's frustrating to see that Indian food has never really gone mainstream. You see Mexican restaurant chains like Chipotle. But Indian food is always targeted at the Diaspora. And even they can't eat it everyday because it's so rich, creamy and spicy." They suddenly realised there was a market nobody had noticed before. "Saravana Bhavan is successful abroad, but 90 per cent of its clientele are Indian. However, something like Manhattan's 'Hampton Chutney' (which offers dosas filled with everything from arugula to butternut squash) has a 90 per cent non-Indian clientele." Jawahar adds, "The market is ready. The timing is right. Ethnic food isn't necessarily niche anymore. America is at a stage when people want to experiment… You just have to design it right." The product, they decided, had to be fresh, healthy and tasty. But also portable, quick and convenient. Jawahar says, "And all this at the right price. Around seven and a half dollars." So they created a dosa for Americans. The new company 'Soho Tiffin,' which will launch in New York by October with its first restaurant, has been designed so it can expand into a chain of smart quick-service restaurants offering fresh customisable food. "Each restaurant should be able to do 12 to 15,000 of these dosas with a team of 6-8 people. Although we will have a central kitchen, the food will be fresh. Cooked to serve, not pre-cooked. Meats will be grilled and dosas made on site," says Sam.

Indian dosa means different things to different people and since these entrepreneurs are targeting American consumers mainly lot of standardization work will be required before the launch. Taking inspiration from chain restaurants like Chipotle, Tacobell and others which promote ethnic foods of other countries and which have become vastly popular among American consumers, these entrepreneurs want to create a similar chain with trans American foot print. Since they are zeroing on dosa like products with a western "flavor" which can be called fusion foods it may be relatively easier to build the clientele within a short time. One of the major problems would be the manual dosa making process which may not go well with sanitation obsessed American consumer. Probably the mechanized dosa making equipment of CFTRI design might be an ideal one that can make continuous dosas with reasonably good eating quality and high productivity. Those visiting New York area during the end of this year must look up for the new branded dosa in joints proposed to be run under the Soho Tiffin banner! 

No comments: