When a dream becomes real

The Story of the past few months...

The story of the past few months began around May 2015...right around the time when the entries here started to dry up....and for good reason.

My life was slowly starting to look more and more crazy - with an infant who was few months old, a day job that I was getting back to after maternity, one pop-up at 18 Reasons in May and another in the works at Fat Angel (I love this bar!) in August...but then of course, I had to pile more than that, right? So I added to the list 'shop for space' to go brick & mortar with Indian Paradox.

The process of shopping for a space to transition from a pop-up to a permanent brick & mortar started to take shape sometime around the turn of 2015. However, the thought has always prevailed during all stages of my pursuit - from wine exams, to working in wine bars to (most recently) pop-ups.

For the past 4+ years, obtaining the space for a permanent Indian Paradox in my beloved city of San Francisco, in a neighborhood of choice was the "be all and end all" of this journey.

But, like most journeys, when I arrived at the so-called destination, everything was so surreal. And, there was a sinking feeling in the stomach - echoing questions like: 'What the heck have I done?'

'You have got to be kidding me' - I chided myself. And before I know it, I was done on the last leg of the nerve wrecking negotiations to sign the lease for a cute space at my favorite SF neighborhood

The much awaited day had arrived, to sign the lease...and I was still in a daze during my travel via Uber to the landlord's office. 'Wow - I am actually doing this!', I thought. And then it was done...just like that. Surely, there were mixed emotions, that felt like jumping off a cliff and jumping up in joy - all at the same time. But, this is what I wanted and strived so hard for...for so many years.

Slowly but steadily, everything that I believe in and live by came to my mind - led by the words of the author of this book I've been reading: 'In the Sphere of Silence', where he so aptly states: "Change requires risk. But how much are we willing to risk? The irony is, the things we are so scared of risking are like chips in a casino, useless unless they are risked'.

It then dawned to me  that, this means I've attained the first goal of this long arduous journey. A pursuit that was always on the side of a day job, an actual paycheck and a busy personal life. And now it has become real - very real. 

So all fears aside, I could not wait to take this project that I was longing to become real, in full swing now!

Earlier this year, even before I started 'shopping' for a space, I had found an architect  (after a lot of searching & interviewing) who has turned in to a trusted resource to bounce off ideas  in not just architecture and interior design, but even build-out tips and other helpful referrals.

I am so fortunate to have met so many great, resourceful people during this journey. And I have reached out to with so many of them with questions during these last few months. Now, I am in the process of interviewing general contractors to start buildout of the space. This has been another exhausting and yet interesting task - now I am pushing hard to find someone who will help complete this project within the budget and timeline (both very tight!) in plan. 

Oh, and did I mention that there has been a parallel effort on going to interview and hire my first and most important employee? The Indian Paradox lead Back Of the House (BOH). I have started to talk to some interesting folks in the industry - stay tuned for more updates on this.

Last but not least, how can any startup food/beverage experience be complete without the (friendly?) intervention of the dear most city officials of San Francisco? Thankfully, we have building permit to start build out from the SF Building Department. But, there is still permit to be obtained from the SF Planning department to sell alcohol (wine & beer). And so it goes...

That is it for now. On the finishing note, I have to say that when I received the poster to put up the ABC notice on the window of the space, I caught myself smiling smugly and thinking....the next few months are going to be one heck of a roller coaster ride. Almost immediately I also thought, what is life if we don't roll the dice at some point?

Before signing off,  if I'd like to leave you with one image of 'my life in a nutshell', then here it is... :)

Anika_ABC_Poster

 

To all those who dream and strive everyday to make them real....Sante!

 

+Kavitha

Indian Paradox Popups - The Journey (So far...)

The Story of Indian Paradox popups

Popups were always one of the key marketing strategies in the Indian Paradox (IP) business plan. I have been very excited and looking forward to doing these popups in fun wine bars and restaurants in the San Francisco, bay area.

But, just like everything else, planning for something 'on paper' versus the actual implementation is totally different.

The first popup opportunity for Indian Paradox presented itself sometime in the end of 2013 through my contact with Gwendolyn Wright - whom I met through the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. That is how the first Indian Paradox popup came about happening at the Impact HUB in San Francisco. And I have written about that in one my earlier blogs.

While the popup at the HUB was immensely rewarding with a ton of useful real time feedback...the whole event was organized such that, I arrived prepared to serve about 30 HUB members with the Indian street food and wine pairings during their monthly Monday lunch get together. The Impact HUB does this every month to encourage local food and beverage enthusiasts.

This was a great venue to test out the food quality, spice level, plating and wine pairings. But, from a financial standpoint the food and wines were served to all the HUB members at no cost for them.

One of the key reasons to organize the IP popups was to validate the main products of the concept – namely, the street food menu and its wine pairings. But, also equally important was to evaluate if this concept can be monetized and will be profitable.

For this, Indian Paradox needed an actual space (preferably with good amount of walk in traffic) that included a health inspector approved kitchen and valid alcohol license.

These constraints definitely threw a wrench in implementing the popups.

It took 3 months of consistent networking and constant negotiations with several wine bars/restaurants owners, other popup organizers and so on. The popups are a great opening for several reasons, like, testing out any idea (including but not limited to food, booze, and retail businesses) without any actual long term investments.

Imagine this, if the only means to test out the IP idea was if I leased/rented an actual location, applied for an alcohol license and invested a couple of hundred grand in startup costs…that would be a pretty scary bet!

On the other hand, the caveat with hosting a popup is to find that arrangement which worked for both the popup organizers and owner of the space – such as, the space may only be available on slower nights of the week for outside businesses. Because, this way restaurants and bars are profitable more than usual even on slow days/nights and popups obtain a legal venue to test out.

So, finally in the month of June there was a breakthrough! After some preliminary research I found that the La Movida Wine Bar & Community Kitchen had a model in place to host guest chefs to ‘popup’ at their location. Bingo! I contacted them and after a couple of meetings an arrangement was agreed upon.

A midst that, wines were tasted and wine pairings finalized for the IP street food menu for popup number 1.

But the biggest beef in all this was, how the heck should I drive traffic in to the popup?

As the first step, I spread the word on FaceBook and Twitter and a couple of other groups that I am a member of. Obviously, friends and family responded first. I realized that it is going to be a slow and organic process to get the word out to the larger target audience.

The first IP popup was scheduled for August 3rd, 2014 – a Sunday.

popup1_ppl

As expected, the turnout was mostly friends and family, with some new customers. The first popup was great from food/wine concept testing perspective. It gave an idea for how food ingredients must be scaled, priced, labor costs and COGS (cost of goods sold) must be accounted for and so on.

popup1_food

 The second IP popup was scheduled at the same location 2 weeks from then on August 17th, 2014. There were a couple of repeat customers from the first popup (Yay!) and unexpectedly, there was a ton of walk in traffic that Sunday!

popup2

This worked out perfectly because, this time we actually got to test our idea with brand new customers! However, the open question still lingered on….while these new customers walked in unexpectedly, there was still marketing work to be done; in order to intentionally bring customers just for the Indian Paradox experience.

I have to admit, the first 2 weeks of August was a crraazzy load of work to prep all the ingredients, scale the menu for 40-50 people and figure out plating, assembly and serving food and wine single handedly. But, I would not exchange that adrenaline rush for anything!

Another organization that I had contacted in the last few months of my popup location hunt was 18 Reasons. And they got back to me and scheduled a community dinner to serve the IP street food menu with wine pairings at their location.

This was another deal that worked out very well for both sides. In fact it worked out more than well – it was spectacular because we sold out for this event!

popup3

Thanks to the 18 Reasons’ marketing and their amazing reach with the community they have built in the last 6 years since being open, IP food and wine sold like hot masala vadas :)

All in all, it was a great month of popups. Most importantly, Indian Paradox was profitable (YES!) in each of these popups which is a good sign. There will be more popups coming up for the rest of the year with new and improved menu items and wine pairings based on all the wonderful feedback received so far.

For future events checkout our FaceBook page at: www.facebook.com/indianparadox

Cheers!

 

 

+Kavitha

My first popup at the SF HUB (pairing wine with Indian street food)

The Story of the Popup

I received an email in October of 2013 from Gwendolyn Wright - one of the amazing people I have met recently. I have grown to become very fond of Gwen and her working style ever since I met her. She informed me that the SF HUB (where she is a member) hosted popup lunches every Monday for promoting any local beginner food/beverage entities. She inquired if I'd like to show case any wine pairings with food that I like. 2013 was a crazy year for me, I was working a full time job, studying for my Sommelier exam and working part time at a wine bar. So I politely refused.  But we kept in touch and contacted each other on and off.

What is a popup?

I personally believe that popups are a brilliant concept. Whoever came up with the idea is a genius! The reason I say this is because, popups are like the 'lean startup' equivalent of the high tech world for the food and beverage industry.

How so? To organize or participate in a popup, there is no need for an actual brick and mortar location; or any of the miscellaneous investments to set shop in order to actually try out a food or beverage concept. Popups, also like lean startups offer the advantage of receiving instant feedback on the product(s) from a real target market and this can go on iteratively until the products/ideas are honed well. One of my favorite food spots called the Juhu Beach Club located in Oakland, California used to be a popup in San Francisco.   

I digress. Back to my popup story, so early 2014, Gwen and I got back in touch again and we were both convinced that I should try out the HUB lunch opportunity. And so it was finalized that my first popup would be at the San Francisco HUB on March 31st, 2014. The popup was going to happen during lunchtime for HUB members and employees.

The FOOD 

What Indian street foods should I serve at the popup?

The answer to this question depended on the following:

  • It was important to choose food items that can be transported from my home to the city (SF) safely.
  • Also, the food choice must ensure that it will stand well with time and stay fresh even when served a few hours after preparation.

Luckily for me, Indian street food perfectly fits both these criterion. Because, a big chunk of the work is completed while preparing all the ingredients (the chutneys, chopped vegetables etc.) and the rest is about assembling the various ingredients together. Okay, so which street foods will make the final cut?

My initial thoughts were to serve my favorite snack Sundal, followed by Dahi Puri and finally the Bhel Puri (Or should I finish with a dessert?). Decisions Decisions!

After much thought, trial & error and accounting for the transportation constraints, I decided to go with the following 3 courses:

1) For the first course, the champion of south Indian street foods and breakfast: The Idli

2) For round 2, the goodness of yogurt, chutney, spice blends and semolina puffs: The Dahi Puri.

3) For the last course, I decided to finish with the crunchy, most popular street food of (North) India: The Bhel Puri. 

The WINE

Now that the food lineup was finalized, the most exciting part of the preparation began for me. What wines to choose for each of the dishes?

Yes, I realized it is going to be a Monday and it is going to be in the middle of the day. But, then I thought, what’s wrong with lightening up a Monday for hard working folks at the HUB with some food and wine at noon o’clock, right? :)

So I got right to it. I did have some wine pairings for these dishes that I had experimented with in the past and documented here in my blog. But, I wanted to ensure the wines chosen not only paired well with the food but was also lined up appropriately when sipped one after the other.

My ideal solution would be to start with a dry white wine (lighter intensity), then move on to a light-medium bodied wine like a rose for the 2nd course and finish off with a slightly heavier bodied red (or an off-dry wine).

But after many vino geek out sessions with Gary at Beltramos and several trial wine pairings at home…the wine lineup was finalized!

The TASTING NOTES

1) The first wine chosen to pair with the Idlis was a French Viognier. I had paired a Semillon for Idlis in one of my earlier blogs, but then I realized the Viognier with its aromatic floral notes would stand up to the Idlis very well. And more importantly, the Viognier would be a nice segue to the 2nd wine in the lineup.

2) The second wine choice was easy. It was magical how the Beaujolais paired with the Dahi Puris. It was unbelievable how the red fruits and acidity danced like a perfect partner with the yogurt and chutney spices in the Dahi Puri. And it was a gradual progression from a medium bodied red to the third and last wine

WIne #1: Viognier        Wine #2: Beaujolais 

WIne #1: Viognier        Wine #2: Beaujolais 

3) I will be honest, choosing the last wine was the most time consuming. The reason being, I have paired and had success with the Bhel and sangria pairing. However, I chose not to do this for the popup because, I would serve this as the last wine and the sangria did not seem like the appropriate wine right after a sip of the Gamay Beaujolais. So, I tried a few pairings of the Bhel with a Spanish Monastrell (aka Mourvedre), a Spanish Garnacha and so on. But finally, with some more persistence and time, I found the winner. A Bardolino! I can hear some folks asking, of all the northern Italian wines, a Bardolino? But, believe me, this Bardolino from Verona was just the right wine with the Bhel. I was able to retain what I liked about the Sangria i.e. the teeny bit of residual sweetness in this wine. And the wine had just enough balance and body after the 'medium-light' bodied Beaujolais. Just a very clean wine to pair with the crunchy, gooey goodness of Bhel!

It was all finally decided, done and I was excited!

Wine #3: Bardolino

Wine #3: Bardolino

The PREPARATION

 The preparation was key for an event like this; especially because everything about Indian street food is tied to a well-planned list of ingredients. So I planned every single thing to buy, cook and transport almost 2 weeks before the actual date. The weekend just before the D-day was packed with chutney making, roasting peanuts and cumin seeds, chopping a TON of onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lemons, boiling potatoes, allocating air tight containers to transport all the wet and dry ingredients and so on.

What consumed most time was the fact that I had to scale everything I have  been used to preparing so far (for just 2-3 people) to about 25 people - because that’s how many people Gwen said will most likely show up.

I will admit, I was exhausted – but I felt great! 

The D-DAY: Day of the Popup

I woke up early (at 5AM) on the day of the popup to start making about 50 idlis (2 per person). Once the idlis were done, I started taking all the stuff made during the weekend that was stored inside the refrigerator and put them in boxes.

At around 9 AM I was all set, food and wine in the car ready to go! I was nervous - definitely!

I arrived at the HUB at 10AM sharp, like I had told Gwen earlier. And guess what? Gwen being Gwen waits right on time at the unloading area for me exactly when I turn around the corner of the street.

We both give each other knowing smiles about our obsession with being punctual and start to carry the boxes of food and wine to the HUB kitchen/lunch area.

I tried my best to organize the food in the order in which it will be served, so the process would be faster. So, the idlis and chutneys were placed first in the sequence of ingredients.

Then I start making the base for the Dahi Puris (filling the semolina puffs with mashed potatoes and a tiny bit of chopped onions) because I realized this would be immensely helpful to get the Dahi Puris to folks before they become too soggy with the chutney and yogurt toppings.

I also placed all the Dahi Puri ingredients in the order in which they will be used.

Lastly I had to leave the Bhel ingredients in the boxes due to the lack of space.

There were 2 tables that I could use, so I used one for food and I ask my friend and wine expert - Erica Kane to help pour wines with each course (only 2 oz per person!). I only had wines @2oz per person for about 20-some people. So, I definitely required expert monitoring. And, I was planning to hand out surveys after the event to collect feedback – No point in asking my target audience to provide an honest feedback when inebriated, right? ;)

I am all set and waiting with baited breath for people to show up.

The EVENT

Around noon, gradually people trickled in. I started plating the idlis and chutneys and explained the food and its ingredients: "Steamed rice cakes that are vegan, vegetarian and gluten free to be dipped in spicy tomato and cilantro chutneys". Slowly the details kept waning out, as more and more people showed up. And in a few minutes, almost 60 idlis I had made had disappeared!

I looked over at Erica's table to see how the Viognier pairing was going and the people definitely looked happy! Since the idlis were gone, I signaled Erica to stop with the first wine and to start opening the Beaujolais bottles.

I got ready to assemble the Dahi Puris. This is when I the reality of it struck me! I absolutely cannot assemble 50 Dahi Puris (2 per person) for about 25 people all by myself, especially when serving busy people waiting to get back to their jobs (I made a mental note to myself to hire more help if I chose to serve a dish like this next time).

TOP LEFT: Plate of Idlis with Chutneys with a glass of Viognier --- TOP RIGHT: In the middle of assembling a Dahi Puri   BOTTOM LEFT: A bottle of Bardolino CENTER: Postcard of the food and wine names --- BOTTOM RIGHT: FInal step in Dahi Puri assembly; topping off with a generous pour of yogurt mix.

TOP LEFT: Plate of Idlis with Chutneys with a glass of Viognier --- TOP RIGHT: In the middle of assembling a Dahi Puri 

BOTTOM LEFT: A bottle of Bardolino CENTER: Postcard of the food and wine names --- BOTTOM RIGHT: FInal step in Dahi Puri assembly; topping off with a generous pour of yogurt mix.

But somehow I manage to finish it. And people come for seconds and thirds and I was beaming :) 

Finally, it was time to serve the last and final course - The Bhel Puri. It felt a lot easier assembling the Bhel compared to the Dahi Puris because the Bhel Puri base can be mixed in larger quantities. Erica opened the Bardolino and I start plating the Bhel Puris. From what I saw, people had the best things to say about this course. I was a little surprised, because I thought the Dahi Puris would win the most laurels, but I am not complaining. I love them all equally!

Towards the end, while I was still fervently assembling and plating the Bhel, I saw people lining up for it. It was so gratifying to watch people line up to try the food, in spite their busy schedules, excitedly comparing notes about their tastings and wine pairings. I realized then, how rewarding this felt even if it meant slogging for many hours to make an event like this happen.

TOP LEFT: One HUB member enjoying his idli --- TOP CENTER: People lining up for the food  BOTTOM CENTER: HUB members reviewing the survey --- BOTTOM LEFT & RIGHT: Patrons with their Bhel Puri   Photos Courtesy : Emily Anderson @  www.EmilyAnderson.me

TOP LEFT: One HUB member enjoying his idli --- TOP CENTER: People lining up for the food

BOTTOM CENTER: HUB members reviewing the survey --- BOTTOM LEFT & RIGHT: Patrons with their Bhel Puri

Photos Courtesy: Emily Anderson @ www.EmilyAnderson.me

The ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • I could not have done any of the food assembly and plating without my dear friend Courtney Cummins. She was by my side the entire time and helped in every possible way she could. She is about to launch her own vintage clothes online website for women (prints and patterns focused). Check her out at Rilla
  • My other dear friend Belinda Quintanilla (owner of Belinda Chocolates) also showed up and rose to the occasion. I was amazed at how she just watched me assemble the Bhel once, and took over like she's been doing this for a living! Thanks to both of them, I was still breathing at the end of all this.
  • Erica Kane - my friend and wine enthusiast took over the wine department and delivered so gracefully, responsibly and explained all the wines so expertly!
  • Last but definitely not the least - I could not have done any of this without Gwendolyn Wright. Gwen was always cheering, motivating and literally clapping her hands when she saw people enjoying their lunches and giving their approving nods. She helped move boxes, make copies of surveys and so much more. Thanks Gwen!

TOP LEFT: That's me assembling the Bhel Puri ---TOP CENTER: My helper and friend Courtney Cummins ---TOP RIGHT: Gwendolyn Wright standing right next to me while I am plating the Bhel Puri  BOTTOM LEFT: My wine expert & spokeswoman Erica and me ---BOTTOM CENTER: Gwen and I having a light banter in the middle of all this! ---BOTTOM RIGHT: My other helper and friend Belinda Quintanilla and me.   Photos Courtesy : Emily Anderson @  www.EmilyAnderson.me

TOP LEFT: That's me assembling the Bhel Puri ---TOP CENTER: My helper and friend Courtney Cummins ---TOP RIGHT: Gwendolyn Wright standing right next to me while I am plating the Bhel Puri

BOTTOM LEFT: My wine expert & spokeswoman Erica and me ---BOTTOM CENTER: Gwen and I having a light banter in the middle of all this! ---BOTTOM RIGHT: My other helper and friend Belinda Quintanilla and me.

Photos Courtesy: Emily Anderson @ www.EmilyAnderson.me

The LESSONS LEARNED

After all the adrenaline died down, I packed all my boxes and carried them (much lighter this time :)) back to the loading area. Then while driving back, I was reminiscing every minute of the event, clearly some aspects worked well and some definitely had room for improvement, like:

  • As my highest priority, I HAVE to create a methodical assembly line that would help food assembly, plating and delivery in an efficient manner. To make this happen, I have to start recruiting help when I organize my next popup.
  • People were constantly running out of utensils and a lot of time was lost just getting the utensils to people. I have to better plan the plates, cups and utensils situation next time. For this, I will have to double up on the utensils count next time.
  • While the wine pairings were clean and were received well for the most part, I also received feedback that there can be more intricate, complex wines included next time. For instance, I saw one feedback that said it would be interesting to include wines with more earthy qualities (though may be challenging) to pair with Indian food.

The VERDICT

I finally stopped at a taqueria to eat my late lunch around 4 PM. While munching on my tacos and washing it down with soda, I was ruminating about my first popup and its outcome.

Firstly, I was so thankful that Gwen approached me with this opportunity, because it was a great experience. Regarding the outcome, overall I thought my first popup was a success. I felt great to be there right at that moment, reminiscing about the adrenaline filled day. But, quickly I realized I was only going to require more and more preparation and meticulous planning if I wanted to organize more popups this year - which I do.

This is clearly not the end I thought, but a beginning for more such adventures, exciting opportunities, meeting amazing people and above all, the pursuit of my passion!

 

 

+Kavitha