On a swelteringly hot afternoon in Delhi in 2012, Jyothi Ganapathi and her husband Satya Kokani chaotically prepared dosa batter. They had just received a call from a potential customer asking them to bring their newly established food truck, Dosa Inc to his building complex.
While grinding the peanut butter chutney inside their truck, Jyothi was transported back in time.
As a 5-year-old, she was mesmerised by a huge truck for the first time in the 1980s. Then at 17, she longed to open a dosa stall in the market. And not before long, she was married and planning to open a South Indian restaurant with her husband, Satya.
As her hands moved rapidly to crush the peanuts, she excitedly remembered telling her former colleagues about starting a new business on her last day at work.
As she reached the venue in the Alaknanda neighbourhood, the 38-year-old experienced an adrenaline rush as the reality of her life-long passion for owning a food venture was coming true.
Within the next three hours, they sold all the medhu vadas, using 30 kilos of dosa batter.
“Instead of waiting for the customers to come to you, take your food to them — this unwritten rule is the USP of our food truck Dosa Inc, which serves authentic South Indian cuisine to nearly 50,000 customers across Delhi, Gurugram and Noida,” Jyothi proudly tells The Better India.
Jyothi’s mantra helped them clock a revenue of Rs 1.5 crores.
The food truck serves delicious home-cooked food items like rava dosa, tomato onion uttapam, medhu vada, filter coffee and specials like bandakai vepudu, malabar parotha and tengozal ladoo barfi.
The husband-wife duo drive to gated communities, residential buildings and office complexes, and even offer home delivery in the area where the vehicle is parked.
Setting Up A Food Truck
Jyothi graduated from Knox College in the United States and after completing her Master’s in human resource management, she joined her father’s logistics and supply chain company. Meanwhile, Satya, who holds a Master’s degree in Telecom, has a decade-long experience in start-ups in Silicon Valley and India.
After working in the corporate sector for several years, the duo banked on their expertise, cooking passion and love for the South Indian food to start Dosa Inc in 2012.
“Starting our food venture was our life-long dream. We did contemplate starting a restaurant but there were several limitations, like investments and selecting the right property. Food trucks are a common phenomenon abroad but here it was new. We have had food trucks here but those are the ones that are parked at one location and cater to a specific crowd like office-goers. We wanted more than that,” says Satya.
They invested Rs 10,00,000 to purchase the truck and the necessary kitchen equipment. But setting up a food truck goes beyond excelling in authentic cuisines. Taking care of the vehicle is almost as important as the food.
In the beginning, they purchased a tempo traveller but soon realised it was bulky and couldn’t move with heavy equipment in it. So, they switched to a CNG-run TATA Ace. The truck is environment-friendly as it does not cause vehicular emissions. Plus, while crossing borders at Gurugram and Noida, they don’t have to pay the Green fee, which amounts to Rs 800.
Next, the duo set up a base kitchen to prepare certain items like sambar and chutney.
Jyothi explains, “A regular truck is purchased and then built up into a food truck. The size of the truck and the equipment inside will depend a lot on the cuisine you want to serve and the purpose of the truck — do you intend to move it around or keep it parked in a fixed location. Base kitchen is where the majority of the heavy cooking and cleaning is done, this needs to be in a commercial location and can be in a quiet place with lower rents.”
Getting permits, licences and most importantly learning the motor vehicular norms of your state is necessary. This includes No Objection Certificates from the fire department, vehicle permits, GST registration, health trade license. A Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) registration is mandatory at the beginning, which is needed if the turnover crosses Rs 10 lakh.
After getting everything in order, they finally picked their ideal locations, set the menu and timings and were open for business.
The food truck was started back in 2012, before the dawn of food delivery apps. So, people were not very open to the idea of ordering anything online.
This is probably the reason why the duo chose to go old-school with direct marketing. They distributed pamphlets that contained the menu and their dates and time of arrival in specific neighbourhoods. They relied on word of mouth and waited to identify a recurring customer base.
Once that happened, they chose social media influencers in every neighbourhood to put the menus on their notice boards or drop a message on their society’s Whatsapp group in advance. Decorating the truck and ensuring hygiene standards is another way of marketing that speaks volumes.
In terms of developing a loyal customer base and expanding the business, Jyothi used two strategies – building personal relations with customers by addressing all their concerns and innovating.
Something as small as using less salt or reconsidering the quantity of sambar per dish was taken seriously. This resulted in 800 families becoming their loyal customers within just six months. At present they have a friendly rapport with several hundred families spread across 200 neighbourhoods.
Pooja Manshani, one of their regular customers has been impressed with the food and service so much so that she now orders South Indian cuisine only from Dosa Inc.
“I saw the truck two years ago while crossing a street and decided to try their delicious vadas. Their quality and quantity have been consistent throughout and their staff comprising 16 people always wear a hairnet and a pair of gloves. During the lockdown, they have raised the hygiene standards with face shields, sanitisers and masks,” Pooja tells The Better India.
New avenues for food
Satya and Jyothi have ventured into new areas over the years, from catering to social gatherings and marathon events to corporate shows. Last year they launched snacks like Muruku, South Indian Mixture, Laddoo, Mysore Pak, Coconut Burfi, etc. that generated revenue even during the lockdown. The snacks are sold at the truck and one can order by calling them as well.
The innovation bit was seen even in their switch to eco-friendly cutlery. Food is served in disposable pattal plates, sambar and chutney served in paper cups and wooden spoons are used. Even the packaging is done in paper boxes.
With this expansion, a growth rate of 35 per cent came with its own fair share of challenges.
“The challenges are many as even today we have to be alert about permits and safety protocols. Dealing with the municipal body and uncomplicating paperwork is the toughest but on a brighter note I have become an expert on motor vehicle rules,” quips Jyothi.
Retaining manpower is another challenge even after going through a tedious process of training them. As a solution, the venture now takes care of their housing needs.
But what about the inevitable problems like traffic jams and rains? “Oh that has no solution but with experience but we have learnt to deal with our customers better,” Satya says.
Jyothi and Satya’s food venture may not give its customers the experience of eating with friends or family, ambience or music but the founders are going the extra mile to not just retain customers but also expand exponentially.
Get in touch with Dosa Inc here.