“As a pet parent, if I were to tell you that there was a way to extend your pets’ lives, for maybe three years more, would you not want to shift immediately to a home-styled diet?” asks Ishmeet Singh Chandiok, founder of Harley’s Corner, a ready-to-eat-moist dog food aims to do just that.
Born into a Parsi-Sikh household, Ishmeet says that furry friends and food were always an integral part of his growing up years. One of the earliest memories that Ishmeet has of a furry companion is of Goldie, “a nice big fellow” on whose back Ishmeet, as a child, often rode. He also remembers how, in the days before packaged dog-food, the pets at home would be fed whatever the family ate.
Recently, when he was observing the eating patterns of his pet Harley, these memories came back to him during his Eureka moment when he created Harley’s Corner.
Bringing Harley home
While dogs were always a part of his big ancestral home in Pune, in Mumbai where Ishmeet grew up, a smaller home denied him the chance to have a dog at home. Speaking about how Harley came into his life, Ishmeet says, “It was around 2009 when I was working with Kingfisher when Harley made his entry into my life. It was at a construction site near the office when I first saw Harley. Surprisingly, around this time I was also looking to adopt a puppy.” More than Ishmeet choosing Harley, he says that it was the other way around.
“A few rounds to the construction site and this little fellow [Harley] would keep trying to chew on my laces and tug at my trouser,” says Ishmeet. Initially, the puppy that Ishmeet chose to bring home was not Harley. But, he says, all that tugging went straight to his heart and that’s how Harley came into his life.
‘Cooking came naturally to me’
For Ishmeet, Harley was the first pet of his own. While there were many pets in his ancestral home when he was growing up, this was the first time that he was solely responsible for the pet. “Being a first-time pet parent, like many others, I also took whatever my vet and the dog store owners said to be gospel truth,” says Ishmeet. So like a majority of pets in India, Harley was also given the regular pellets to begin with.
“I noticed that Harley would avoid the pellets and wait for us to finish our meal so he could get leftover scraps from us.”
“I remember thinking that I would not like to eat something dry and extruded everyday and so thought of making something fresh for Harley,” says Ishmeet, who admits he was no stranger to the kitchen.
An alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai, Ishmeet has experience working with brands like the Hyatt, JW Marriott and Kingfisher Airlines. Knowing that he could cook, Ishmeet, started with a little research to find out what he would whip up for Harley. “I pulled out five odd recipes from the internet and started experimenting. Harley loved it and would finish his meal in no time. This was what led to me becoming a ‘dog-chef’,” says Ishmeet. This gave Ishmeet the confidence to experiment with different things.
What started as regular meals soon turned into treats, and then cakes and within a few months Ishmeet was able to whip up an entire four course meal for a dog.
A vet’s validation
Even though Harley seemed to enjoy his meals, Ishmeet noticed that Harley was losing weight and that was alarming for him. He says, “I took him to the vet after about four months of him eating the home-cooked meals. I wasn’t sure if in my enthusiasm to cook for him I was depriving him of all the nutrition he needed.”
The vet did a thorough check on Ishmeet’s insistence and gave him a clean chit of health. “The vet in fact asked me what I was doing and feeding him, given that he was at his healthy best, with the right weight and everything,” says Ishmeet. According to a study published by the European Union, Dr Gerard Lippert and Bruno Sapy, doctors in Belgium, through their research have shown that dogs on a home-styled diet will live, on an average, three years longer than dogs on a pellet diet.
Cooking for Harley and friends
During the time Ishmeet started cooking for Harley he was living in a pet-friendly society in Mumbai, and would often cook a little extra and hand them out to other pet parents in the building. “It was a big hit and soon I started getting calls from pet parents enquiring about what I was cooking and if they could place an order with me. That is how my ready-to-eat wet dog food brand was born,” he says.
He continues, “Dog chef soon became my social media identity. I realised I was far happier cooking for dogs than humans. I have a very loyal customer base in them. They polish off the meal and sit beside you waiting for their next.” In 2010, Ishmeet got in touch with the Mumbai dabbawala’s who helped in getting the meals to various homes across Mumbai.
“Having done this for about two years, I realised that if I continued working from home I would not be able to scale up production and so in 2012, I launched the packaged food variant,” he says.
The food packets now have a shelf life of one year, when stored at room temperature, with no preservatives or additives and are shipped across the country.
Ishmeet also equipped himself with a canine nutritionist qualification. He says, “I was unable to find a canine nutritionist in India and that led to me completing a four-and-a-half month course being offered by The University of Massachusetts.” Speaking about the investment that he made to get this going, he says, “I put in close to Rs 10 lakhs in 2013 and most of the money went towards marketing, the sales team, and the product itself. As of now, for the last two years, the money from the sales I make goes towards the operational costs.”
Ritu Jhangiani, a pet parent who has been a customer of Harley’s Corner for a while now, says, “Ever since I moved Bella onto the food from Harley’s Corner, she has loved it and doesn’t eat anything else. The fact that the food can be stored outside a fridge and still is 100 per cent natural is a great benefit.”
How and what can you order for your dogs?
At Harley’s Corner, one can get regular everyday meals for dogs and also treats like cakes, ice creams, soups, and various other treats. “With respect to the fresh treats, there are almost 100 orders that are shipped every month and about 1 tonne of fresh food prepared each month,” says Ishmeet. Each ready to eat pouch is 300 grams of food and Ishmeet says that almost 1,000 pouches are sold every month.
One can choose from three subscription models, wherein a monthly plan, which has 30 meals costs Rs 3,900, the three-month plan consists of 95 meals and costs about Rs 11,400 and the six-month plan with 190 meals costs Rs 22,800.
Ishmeet has big plans for his venture and while he is actively looking for investors, he adds, “Humans come second for me, I’d love to continue cooking for dogs. I also want to open a restaurant where you can bring your dog, order for yourself along with your dogs.” All the food produced by Harley’s Corner has the HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Points) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval.
“More than all that, I would never sell anything that Harley would not be fed,” says Ishmeet.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)