indian street food

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....?

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Our wine storage storing all our prized vinos of course!

Stay tuned for more exciting updates next week.

Until then, Namaste :)

 

+Kavitha

An Indian dance (Dabeli) to Italian (Sangiovese) tunes

THE Story of DABELI

I hail from the southern-most metropolitan city of Chennai in India. There is a joke among South Indians (especially from Chennai) that for Chennai-ites, everything to the north of Chennai is considered North India. Though this is a joke, I have to admit that there is an element of truth to this. At least when I was still growing up in Chennai (about 15 years ago) every aspect of the city - from the language spoken (Tamil and Tamil only!) to the people's clothes (more on the conservative side), it was almost like it was a country of its own!

And of course the food (more rice consumption compared to Rotis and Naans) was no exception either. Even when foods from other parts of India (like the Bhel Puri or Pav Bhaji etc.) were sold, it definitely had a 'South Indian' touch to the taste. 

While some of these aspects are true for many states in India, Chennai is more so than many - so much so that, at one point in its history (not so long ago), there were a lot of agitations preaching against its natives speaking the national language (Hindi) - which is so widely spoken and understood in the rest of India.

Given all this and also that we did not travel far and wide outside of Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu, it is no exaggeration when I say that my knowledge of the various cuisines and foods from the other parts of India was quite minuscule.

Ironically, once I left India and landed in the U.S, I actually had the opportunity to meet several people from all parts of India. On one such encounters I had the good fortune of hearing about this delicious Indian street food snack called Dabeli aka Kutchi Dabeli (originated from the Kutch region of the western state of Gujarat). And I was surprised that I had never heard about this raved about Indian Street Food snack until then!

After hearing an ear-full about the grandeur and glory of this Dabeli, I sought out to Google to research even more and then last weekend, I felt like I had heard and read enough about this Dabeli.

So it was time for action and I started buying its ingredients. Then, first I made the Dabeli masala from scratch, but after that the recipe for more and more easy. And after about 30 minutes, the drool-inducing Dabeli was ready for this Chennai-ite's consumption!

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The WINE paired with Dabeli

But before I describe my first big bite, I have to stop and talk about my other favorite part of this adventure. My wine pairing of course! Dabeli can be quite a tricky to pair with any wine. Mostly because, the Dabeli filling consists of potaoes, the Dabeli masala and some other spices, the garnish comprises of masala roasted peanuts, chopped onions and sev (fried chickpea flour). How could I come up with one wine that will stand up to all these intriguing mix of flavors?

Well, fortune favors the brave. So I bravely walked the isles of Beltramos. Based on my gut feeling for the flavors of the Dabeli, I had narrowed down 3 wines: 1. A Tempranillo from Espana, 2. A Monastrell, also from Espana and 3. A Sangiovese from Italy.

After some thought and discussion with the wine associate, I finalized on the Toscano Rosso from the Maremma region of Italy. This wine is classified I.G.T (more on that on the Bonus! section below) and composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc and 20% Alicante.

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Tasting notes

To be honest, the very first sip of the wine was not stellar. But, I did not lose heart. While assembling the first Dabeli, I left the wine to open up so I can try it again after a few minutes.

Lo and behold! after letting the wine breathe the wine tasted a lot more discerning than the first sip. This time on the nose I got cherries and sour raspberries. And on the palette, I actually got a ton of Italian spices, like Rosemary and Oregano! This wine finally started singing to my taste buds and made me a happy camper :)

 

The verdict

The Dabeli was causing this flavor roller coaster in my mouth - right from the very first bite. The crunchy peanuts and sev kept coming back in every bite of this mouth watering snack. As per the recipe, I had also spread a spoonful of Amchur chutney on one side of the Pav (Burger buns) and the cilantro mint chutney on the other. And those chutneys never disappoint either.

They call this Dabeli a step brother/sister) to the other famous Mumbai street food - Vada Pav. But, after my first hand experience with this Gujarati treat, I had to disagree. No doubt, the Vada Pav has earned its own bragging rights, the Dabeli was no less in comparison. The cumin and coriander spices in the Dabeli masala infused in the potatoes just married in to the Italian spices I tasted in the wine.

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How could grapes from Italy go hand in hand so harmoniously with the spices from India? Wine and food never cease to amaze me...makes it totally worth while to look forward to more such moments in life...over and over.

Aavjo!

 

Bonus!

I.G.T wines stand for Indicazione Goegrafica Tipica - these were a special wine category introduced to celebrate the wines that were pretty darn good but did not "make the cut" to Italy's highest classification of wines (D.O.C.G). To delve a little deeper in to its background - the D.O.C category was once the highest level of wines in Italy. But due to the corruption that prevailed with the wine entities, a lot of 'mediocre' wines achieved this status. At one point the Italian government intervened and created the new and improved status called D.O.C.G which 'guaranteed' a certain quality with the Italian wines and cheeses marked with this label. But as always, the law went the other extreme and caused a lot of good wines to not make it to this level due to the new and stringent rules. Hence was born the I.G.T status, to celebrate the high quality wines called 'Super Tuscans' that lie somewhere between D.O.C and D.O.C.G statuses.

+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.

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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.

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 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!

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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!

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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