Monday, April 23, 2007

Mistresses of spices rock the Big Apple

It's good to see Bengali girls running great businesses in NYC. And this is not just an expression of parochial pride but also puts paid to the theory that the Bengalis usually lack the entrepreneurial gene. There's Kolkatan Payal Saha (right) who has taken the famous kati roll from Kolkata streets to Manhattan in 2000. Her Kati Roll Company outlets at NYC's Greenwich Village and Times Square are popular not just with South Asians but also Manhattan's maintream foodies! Then there's Nandini Mukherjee (left), an architect, who runs Indian Bread Company – a very successful restaurant in Manhattan.

Saha herself feels that the ubiquitous Kati Roll works for many different segments. "We see a lot of traffic during lunch and dinner and there's a steady flow all day of people looking to snack. And then there's the crowd looking for their after-drink munchies," she says.

Saha wanted to take Kolkata cuisine to Manhattan where she felt that mainly North Indian cuisine had come to be identified with India. "The idea of kati rolls was simple and quick and the idea was to cash in on the fast pace of Manhattan," she says. Kati Roll Company's menu has paneer and aloo rolls as the vegetarian options and chicken and beef as non-vegetarian. There's also a separate egg roll and egg as an add-on with chicken, beef and aloo while one of the outlets has Shammi kebab rolls.

Then there's Nandini Mukherjee, an architect who's originally from Jamshedpur, who runs Indian Bread Company – a very successful restaurant in Manhattan. She went to NYC for a masters degree in architecture and took on the challenge of creating her own business from scratch – a 9-5 job in an architectural firm was not for her! As a student she found the Indian food that Manhattan had to offer to be either very disappointing of too expensive. "I realised that there was a market gap for fresh and take away Indian food at a reasonable price. That's how the idea took shape and Indian Bread Co opened its doors in November 2003," she says. Indian Bread Company which is located on Bleecker Street near New York University serves an innovative menu comprising four different types of sandwiches - stuffed parathas, kathi rolls, Naanwiches (Naan pocket sandwich) & Naaninis (Naan grilled sandwich). U sing Indian breads filled with popular Indian fillings to form a 'curry-on-thego' sandwich meal – as Mukherjee herself likes to put it.

One of Indian Bread Co's biggest successes was being selected to cater for the 2004 RNC Media Welcome reception thrown by Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki and Former Mayor Giuliani. "The event planner said that she was attracted by our novel concept and delicious food. The event celebrated the best of New York in food and cuisine. Not only were we the only South Asian restaurant, we were among the 20 places chosen to showcase New York as the culinary capital of the world. It was an honor and I was overjoyed by the overwhelming positive response. There were literally 3 floors of food and 2000 attendees; with each restaurant having a couple of tables to showcase their items. We served mini naaninis & kathi roll bites. As soon as people would taste the food, they'd immediately call their friends on their cell-phones to come over to our tables from wherever they were located at the venue. Unsurprisingly, we were the first to run out of food, in spite of stocking more than double the planned quantity. Planning and managing this event helped me gain more confidence in my managing and leadership abilities," says Mukherjee.

Being an Indian immigrant has rarely deterred Mukherjee who feels it often gives her company certain advantages. "It gave our company a minority owned & women owned business status, which made us entitled to certain privileges. Many corporations have 'supplier diversity programs' and set aside millions of dollars in vendor and procurement contracts to small businesses that have been certified as minority- or woman-owned," says Mukherjee who has recently won the prestigious Make Mine a $Million business programme which awards a combination of money, mentoring, marketing and technology tools that women entrepreneurs need to help grow their businesses from micro to $millions. Every year they have women entrepreneurs from all over the USA apply, out of which they choose 20 finalists. The 20 finalists then pitch their business live in front of a panel of judges and an audience, who then cast their votes to select 8 winners.

"Make Mine A Million in itself is a huge network of women entrepreneurs, and it's growing everyday. Besides, having varied interests, I meet many people from different fields whom I interact and network with. As such, I haven't joined any Indian American entrepreneurial networks, though I've attended various seminars held by Indian American entrepreneurial groups," says Mukherjee.


Viki said...

Kati rolls ....yummmm..... I salivate even as I read at seven am ....Wonder if you could tell your friend Payal to consider Singapore as a destination . She would make money hand over fist given the influx of the Indian yup into Sing. By the way got thelink to your blog from Monish

ishani said...

Thanks for your comment, will pass on your message to Payal regarding an untapped market for Kati rolls. Also thanks to Monish!

Anonymous said...

A Kati Roll in Jersey City is a must, is anyone reading this?