The wheels on the bus go round and round....

DISCLAIMER - The title of this blog does not have a lot to do with its contents - but its my little girl's favorite song that we keep singing together...and it kind of applies to my life in general. And here's the blog:

As of August 4th, we've been open for 5 months. Wow...

Time does fly when you're having a blast and exhausted and sleep deprived all at the same time. Its a good time to make an assessment of the business, financially and otherwise.

Before going in to other details, here's the one line summary of the IP financials:

--We are barely breaking even--

When I found this out first hand - I thought...Ouch! 18 hours days for about 6 days a week and I am barely breaking even? But then immediately I thought, well what did I expect? I have been open 5 months and we are finally kind of stable, schedule, inventory and staff wise. So this is probably the best case scenario? 

Also, I just finished reading this amazing memoir "Shoe Dog" by the creator of Nike (Don't ask me where I made time in my 18 hour days, I just did :)). Thanks to Brad Feld's blog that recommended this book - The book is an ah-mazing read! The passion, drive and persistent tenacity of Phil Knight is unbelievable. One of the things he shares in the book is how in Year 1 he made $8000 in revenue. Oh well, my barely breaking even seemed a little more acceptable after that...

The other thing that I am doing on a daily basis for the sustenance of my soul and mind is listening to podcasts by this amazing organization called Reboot and also talks via Dharma Seed.

The 40 minute drive from home and back is when I listen to these and I have say: their impact in my thought process is profound. For anyone wanting to learn more about startup life, its ups and downs, intimate conversations with founders, I highly recommend the Reboot podcast. For those looking to learn and explore about mindfulness, meditation and etc.Dharma Seed is a great resource.

Now moving on to some of the highs since I last wrote here....

Here is a photo of Simi (left) with her friends. Simi walked in to IP on a Sunday night and ended up chatting with me at the bar for a couple of hours. We bonded over discussions about Indian food, people, work and life in general here in the United States. And since then, she has visited IP with several friends and even dragged her parents to try our food and wine. Thanks Simi for being such an amazing customer and one of our favorite regulars. So glad our paths crossed.

Simi

As far as products go, we have added a couple of beers to our paradoxical wine list – on popular demand. Come on aboard beer purists we have place for you too at our humble abode :)

A new item called Adai has been added to the food menu and we don’t have the Methi Muthia anymore. The Muthia was a ton of labor and yet we did not obtain the reception we intended with that. So that’s out and the Adai has been doing pretty well since we added that to the menu. Adai is originally from south India and I grew up eating this delicious and yet super healthy snack at least once a week. And it was a revelation for me when I found out that a dish very similar to this also exists in Gujarat and Maharashtra (both western Indian states). The dishes are called Pudla and Thalipeeth respectively. Its pretty amazing how food is so similar and yet so different in all these various states of the Indian sub continent. But, the best compliment I received that melted my heart was when a customer who hails from Gujarat ordered the Adai with some wine. After she had eaten the Adai and enjoyed the pairing I asked what she thought and she said - "It felt like home" and in my mind I was smiling away displaying all the teeth I have....like this below.

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We also hosted our first winemaker tasting night with Miro Tcholakov (on the right below) - his wines are amazing and folks who came in on a beautiful Tuesday evening thought so too.

Thanks Miro for your wonderful hospitality and also for making these killer grape juices for our indulgence :)

Oh and lastly, we now have a window sign! And its beautiful. Many thanks to Andrew Lawrence - the man behind Gentleman Scholar Signs for his own trademark Gold leaf writing on the IP window!

ip-sign

And now for the lows...

I am still searching for help to hire in the kitchen. The city is not a great place for cooks right now and I can vouch for that from personal experience. On my day off (Mondays) I go hunting for good potential hires for my kitchen. And I do so with my daughter tagging along with me and my amazing friend Belinda - owner and founder of Belinda Chocolates. Belinda speaks fluent Spanish and this comes handy when I talk to and sell my menu and products to the line cooks and prep cooks in the bars and restaurants in the city. Here's a glimpse of some moments with Belinda and Anika (my girl) hunting our potential back of the house hire. It looks kind of bleak, but I am hopeful. With consistent and persistent searching, I am 100% sure of finding this hire soon.

Another area where there is definitely scope for improvement is...there are still almost half of the week nights when the IP space is not completely full. I keep mulling when I pass establishments like Bi-Rite, Nopa, Bar Tartine etc. about how have they gotten to the point where customers have decided that its worth waiting in line just to experience their products?

How have these businesses gone from being just a business to an institution? Will Indian Paradox ever get there? Some days I am pessimistic and some days I am super optimistic that the only way is UP, and nothing else is an option. Is it just putting my head down and doing what I am doing well each and every day or is it also a certain amount of time plus media attention and maybe some luck? Honestly, I don't know. All I know is to work hard and I am just going to keep doing just that.

So that's it. And I'd like to sign off with one of my favorite excerpts from Phil Knight's Shoe Dog - Enjoy!

“It seems wrong to call it “business.” It seems wrong to throw all those hectic days and sleepless nights, all those magnificent triumphs and desperate struggles, under that bland, generic banner: business. What we were doing felt like so much more. Each new day brought fifty new problems, fifty tough decisions that needed to be made, right now, and we were always acutely aware that one rash move, one wrong decision could be the end. The margin for error was forever getting narrower, while the stakes were forever creeping higher—and none of us wavered in the belief that “stakes” didn’t mean “money.” For some, I realize, business is the all-out pursuit of profits, period, full stop, but for us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood. Yes, the human body needs blood. It needs to manufacture red and white cells and platelets and redistribute them evenly, smoothly, to all the right places, on time, or else. But that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic processes of living. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is— you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.

Maybe it will grow on me.”

Excerpt From: Phil Knight in “Shoe Dog.” 

 

 

+Kavitha

111 days

The Story of these 111 days

We have successfully been open for a little over one hundred days.

Its been over 2 months since I wrote here...well, its true that I've had NO time for anything. But I just met this amazing couple that stopped by for some street food this past Sunday. And while discussing our life, vocation and the whole 9 yards...one of them (Jonathan) said this: "If writing is so important to you, why don't you just spend 15 minutes each night before you go to bed and share what you feel like writing about?". What a brilliant piece of suggestion. The inertia behind not writing for all these weeks has been lack of time and more importantly my need to be detailed and perfect about every blog I write. And that ends here and now.

I am taking a silent oath to write something of value if not every night, for at least a few times a week and share my work, moments of elation and most importantly my struggles with all of you. Because, that means something to me, hopefully its of some value to you too.

I sometimes look at all the amazing FaceBook posts and photos and think - if everyone is really as happy as they seem on FaceBook, this world is just a paradise. But if everything I hear from my near and dear is a fact, then I am not so sure about all the upbeat FB posts and pictures :)

The point is, I'd like to not just share my moments of absolute elation in this pursuit of my passion and labor of love - but, I'd also like to be naked and vulnerable and share all my struggles too. After all, isn't that what community, and sharing is all about?

So here goes:

What's working been working so far?

1. Clearly the food is attracting a lot of attention. Which is fabulous! 

What still needs work is doing a better job at communicating via signs, social media and content marketing the concept of Indian food as bar bites along with some good wine.

2. The customer feedback on food and wine quality has been positive. In my mind that's half the battle - because, product quality is key for everything else to follow.

3. Finally there is some sort of a trend that I can observe with customer dining patters. We see Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest. Week nights are slow - and we need to have interesting events and something that will add value for our customers to come in on nights that they'd rather stay home and unwind.

And the pain points?

1. I have to be brutally honest about 2 things that IP has received some negative comments about.

A. Our price points - there has been some yelp reviews which mentioned that while our food and wines are quite delicious - the cost is quite high. My personal response to this is: our wines are very inexpensive, period. But, there are delicious nevertheless. Its my primary goal to be able to showcase amazing wines from around the world to my customers, without costing them an arm and a leg. So I have a feeling there is not much truth to the comments about the wine prices.

The food however is another topic. Again, I would not want to sound like someone in denial, without paying heed to my customer's most important feedbacks. I would point out though, the perception of cost of the food could be because of 2 reasons:

-- The fact that there is still room for improvement regarding the messaging of the concept could be one main reason for this. People may be walking in thinking of a typical Indian restaurant, dining buffet style. Which is NOT who we are.

-- Or, it could be because of the work yet to be done on our part to communicate the amount of work it takes to prep every chutney from scratch and about 90% of the dry masalas that are made in house.  

But, that said, I am definitely introspecting about addressing this specific aspect of the business that has some negative connotation. I am a big proponent about not being a thief. I hate being robbed. So, I am going to address this in one of the following ways:

1. Communicate what goes in to making each dish and message clearly what can be expected when people walk in.

OR

2. If portion is really the issue - I'd like to survey more customer feedback on this topic and address this by increasing portion size.

B. The second aspect receiving some negative points is the time it takes to get food out between orders - especially the crazy busy weekend nights.

Fundamentally this is because I am the ONLY person doing the cooking, assembly, plating and delivery of food. I have been thinking hard about this and as a first step, I have acknowledged that this is a problem that requires fixing asap.

While I have put some ads out to get some help in the back, I have started to get help from the lady who helps me clean, chop etc. during service hours. I have started training her on assembling, plating and serving a couple of items on the menu. This has already starting to ease up some stress for me. Now I am working to be more agile and optimize orders as much as possible.

I can hear my front of the house already observing that food is coming out sooner than usual. A small victory for now, but still a long way to go!

That's it for now -

Also, here are some captures of some amazing moments I've had the pleasure of experiencing these past 111 days...

111

 

With that, I bid a temporary farewell.

Until next time, happy eating and drinking my dear fellow homo sapiens :)

 

 

 

+Kavitha

We are open! And month 1...

You know when you work toward something for so long (over 5 years) and finally the day arrives and you feel like....nothing!

That's how it felt when we finally open doors on March 4th - after the l-o-n-g 7 month wait since signing the lease in August 2015.

But, opening night was a blast - we were so touched and humbled when so many neighbors, friends and family stopped by for some bites and booze...or just to say Hello! Thank you so much to all of you - you made our big day bigger :)

We are open! - so now what?

Week 1 was good - overall. It rained in SF our entire first week, but we still had a great turnout. I am realizing more and more how much awe and respect I have now for any first time business that has ever opened. Its unbelievable how many things there is that needs to be taken care of for a food/booze business to be up and running. 

I am slowly settling in to this new schedule - coming in to work late afternoon and getting home past midnight. However, since its only been a few weeks my chef Brenden and I are going about things on a day to day basis. Whether it is buying produce, groceries, buying tiny things for the bar, decor for the space and etc. we are taking the lead from our dear customers.

A few high points of our new life these past few weeks:

1. We had a wonderful customer couple stop by for a Sunday nightcap and signed us up for a private party! That's how much they enjoyed our food + vino. Thanks Karen & Jeff Block!

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2. TONS of friends, collegues have stopped by to check out the space, food & wine pairings. How often do you have friends and family hangout with you at your work place with wine in one hand and flavorful Indian street food in the other? We love our life!

3. THE Niloufer Ichaporia stopped by for an evening of street food & wine along with her friend Patty Unterman (owner of Hayes street grill)! And we are still recovering from this pleasant shock and constantly piching ourselves!

In conclusion I have to say this - yes its exhausting and its tons of work, but then each day of our opening week, we have met so many customers who raved how great the food is, how unique the concept and how amazing the wines. And that makes everything so damn worth it, so so rewarding and for that I am ever so thankful!

Till next time, Namaste!

 

+Kavitha

The last few miles are the worst...and ABC update!

Are we there yet?

The entire month of January, this has been my question to my builder - every-single-day.

Finally, the space is starting to take shape!

Its funny how many things there are to do and align at a 500 sq-ft space...the story of opening a food & booze place in beloved SF :)

 

Inspections....Inspections....Inspections

Inspections is all I dream about these past couple of weeks. Today we had the Alcohol & Beverage Control (ABC) inspection scheduled. I just missed the inspector by a few minutes, since she came in sooner than her appointment. My builder informed that she took a few measurements and called it done. What does this mean? I called my amazing ABC license broker - who confirmed all went well with the inspection and our ABC license will go live next week! This means, we can actually buy all the delicious wines I've been tasting these past couple of months - Hooooray, one less thing to worry about!

We have Fire, Health and Final Building inspections scheduled next week - waiting with baited breath to see how all of that goes.

If all goes well, we may be able to get those much awaited soft opening(s) going - as always (without much choice) I am being patient and hoping for the best!

And before I sign off, here's a picture of our painted walls (reminds us of the color of wine :))- and that tall wall is metallic brass color (2 more quotes to go) and guess what's going behind that....?

brass-wall

Our wine storage storing all our prized vinos of course!

Stay tuned for more exciting updates next week.

Until then, Namaste :)

 

+Kavitha

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