Vada pav will one day become India's national snack, says Dheeraj Gupta of Jumbo King
I am not attempting to counter the charge of vada pav being not healthy. All that I am saying is that vada pav as we sell it is hygienic.
Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday in Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
From very early on, Dheeraj Gupta, founder, Jumbo King Vada Pav, knew one thing. He would not join his family's business, which too is of snacks. Opting to join a course in hotel administration to later starting his own venture – not without stumbling and failing before that – Gupta drew inspiration from a leading fast food chain in the world. He looks back on his early days and recounts what it took him to reach where he is today.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Why did you not want to join the family business?
I come from a business family which is into traditional Indian snacks. I would have been the third generation member to join it, if I wanted to. I was clear about two things: Not to pursue a B.Com or engineering course and join the family business. I chose to do a hotel management course. Being from a Marwari family, I was often asked: Bawarchi banega?
Did you enjoy studying for hotel management?
I hated cooking! Since we were in the food business, I wanted to study and start off something in the food sector. But I did not know what that would be then. It was an extremely tough course. We had to wait at tables in five-star hotels. We started out as part of work experience working at the bell desk. I realised then how rude some people can be to bell boys. I got a tip of Rs 10 once. I framed that! It was a good experience at being grounded in values and accepting all kinds of work.
What is the one lesson that has held good for you from your hotel management days?
We wore uniform to class while pursuing the course. After a freedom of choice with clothes during Class XI and XII in Mithibai, it was a bit of a dampener. But it was a good thing, one realises later on, to have a working dress code. It lends seriousness and respect. I follow the 'uniform code' to Jumbo King too. Each one of us here has to wear the uniform – white shirt, coloured trousers and black shoes.
After finishing your hotel management degree, what did you want to do next?
I am a voracious reader. During my college days, I would read a lot of business books. I read a report then which said that the Indian mithai industry is worth Rs 10,000 crore and there is no organised player here. I did not want to do an MBA straight off after college. I knew I stood a great chance if I had some work experience. So I worked for a while, did my MBA and after that decided to start a business in Indian mithai. I did a lot of research and set up a unit in Malad. We even made a film to advertise the product and spent 7 lakhs on it. I was in the red with over 50 lakhs down – a bank loan for which my father stood as a guarantor – in a year and a half. I was only 26 years old. That was my real MBA project.
How did you hit upon vada pav, the street snack of Mumbai as a business idea?
I had read about the success of McDonald’s while in college. I read Ray Kroc’s spell binding autobiography. It remains my go-to book even today. To know that the hamburger in 1954 started out just like the vada pav in Mumbai in 2000 and he turned it into a successful business encouraged me to follow in Kroc’s footsteps. Mumbai sold 20 lakhs vada pav in 2000. I realised there was a huge business potential here. I started very simple but decided to do it differently – the pav would be round, the patty flat packaging and price. We sell it like a burger – a round vada and pav sold wrapped with a paper napkin. We began with one store and will open the 100th store in May. We plan to open 1000 stores in five years. In 2002, we had Rs 1 crore revenue and in 2015 touched Rs 35 crore. In 2016, we expect to touch a turnover of Rs 50 crores. I am convinced vada pav will become the national snack of India.
How did you hit upon the name Jumbo King?
The vada pav we sell is 20 percent larger than the usual one you get off the street. The name signifies size and largeness.
With people becoming increasingly health conscious, do you think they would opt for a carb-heavy snack like vada pav when hungry?
My business proves it to be so. I am not attempting to counter the charge of vada pav being not healthy. All that I am saying is that vada pav as we sell it is hygienic. We had launched a brown bread vada pav which hardly had any takers! I think we as a nation will become healthy eventually and when we do that, Jumbo King will launch a full range of healthy vada pavs.
What are your future plans?
I want to have vada pav stores in every part of the country. We are present in some areas in the north, and plan to start in the south soon. We do not yet have a presence in the east too.
From being broke to a successful business empire today, what does money mean to you?
Money is a great motivator for human achievement. Money is power. This power when used well leads to be evolution of mankind. I am invited to management colleges to talk about the success of Jumbo King vada pav. More than the money, for me, success is about inspiring others. I have so many people looking up to me that I have to constantly work at being the best in my category.
What is the best compliment you have received so far?
My children knew their father was in business. My daughter told her classmates that her father is into the vada pav business and mentioned the name Jumbo King. Her classmates were very excited. She was very proud of me and the business. I treasure that!
Do you eat vada pav daily?
Yes, I do. We have food tasting sessions daily in the office.
How do you unwind?
I run marathons. I completed a full marathon in Mumbai last year. I did a triathlon in Hyderabad recently. I am a fitness freak. I run five kms daily. I also do vipassana meditation.
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