After a 13-year stint with independent software testing firm AppLabs, Raju Bhupati quit in 2013 to start a venture of his own.
He had a couple of things in mind: Pursuing a career as a music composer in the Telugu film industry, following the success of his first music album, Zill, or starting a restaurant business. Finally, he decided on the latter, something he had dreamt of for six years.
After a short span in Reliance Infocomm as assistant sales manager, P Sandeep, Bhupati's cousin, joined him. Together, the two started Hello Curry in 2013. The venture, they claim, is the world's first quick-service restaurant to provide a range of Indian food options.
"After contemplating for close to three months whether there was any space left between restaurants and curry points, we arrived at the concept of serving Indian food in a quick-service format," says Bhupati.
Hello Curry offers Indian food options such as rotis, curries, biryanis and raita in paperboard, microwaveable boxes. It aims to raise the bar in the Indian food delivery segment, promising doorstep delivery in 30-45 minutes. Currently taking orders over the telephone, Hello Curry will soon launch a website.
"We offer five non-vegetarian and an equal number of vegetarian curries on our menu. Each of these, except for three or four, is unique. We will not expand our menu, as we want to offer a standardised one. We don't want to sell to an impulse audience. Our items are consistent, delicious, high-quality, predictable, affordable and delivered at your doorstep at the right time… We don't want to be a company selling biryani. Hello Curry is all about providing solutions for hungry customers," says Sandeep.
The venture has a kitchen at Madhapur in Hyderabad, from where it carries out home deliveries. The company is experimenting with various formats, including marquee stores with a capacity of 25 tables that can seat 100 customers; here, customers can dine or take away food. It also has kiosks and shop-in-shops within malls and campuses of information technology companies, with a standard 50-seat capacity, akin to the KFC format of quick-dining.
Hello Curry serves the food in two-three minutes across the counter. To maintain consistency in taste and quality, especially in preparing base gravies, masalas and seasonings, it has signed contracts with vendors in Kerala and Bangalore. "We are also talking to Asia's largest spice blenders and signing contracts with them to develop proprietary recipes, through which they will give us blended spices. We'll do the customisation in the last-mile cooking," Bhupati says.
"We are planning to raise Rs 40-60 crore from venture capital or private equity firms in a second round of funding. This is to beef up our business in 2015," Bhupati says. Hello Curry expects each of its marquee stores to generate 150-180 transactions a day. "If we are able to meet this target, our stores will become self-sufficient and profitable," he adds.
Sashi Reddi, founder and managing director of SRI Capital, says quick-service Indian food restaurants aren't easy business, adding many have tried doing this over the years, with little success. "However, design around product packaging, ease of consumption of food and ordering food and tracking delivery will help Hello Curry succeed where others have failed," he believes, adding he will help the Hello Curry with fund-raising and developing a business strategy.
Reddi's wife, Ashwini, who had earlier started the Big Dosa chain of restaurants in Hyderabad and was on the board of Tiffin, a chain of Indian restaurants in the US, is set to join the Hello Curry board.
"Hello Curry has the potential to become the McDonald's and Domino's Pizza of Indian food. I think it has the potential to be a Rs 100-crore company in three-four years," Reddi says.
The India managing director of an international coffee chain, "The working population in India often struggles to find places that offer quick service, consistency in taste and economical meals. Usually, this section frequent fast food joints such as KFC and McDonald's. There is no brand that offers Indian food in a quick-service format; the Hello Curry team claims it will fill that gap. It is an incredible opportunity and Hello Curry, being the first player in this segment, has an added advantage."
* Line of Business: Quick service restaurant for Indian food
* Founded: December 2013
* Funding: Rs 3 crore from SRI Capital in March 2014
* QSR market size: The organised restaurant market in India is pegged at Rs 68,000 crore and is likely to touch Rs 1,45,800 crore by 2018
EXPERT TAKE: Saloni Nangia
Hello Curry is an innovative concept that aims to provide Indian cuisine in a fast-food format. While western concepts such as McDonald's and Pizza Hut have penetrated tier-I and -II cities with Indian versions of Westernised products, there is a wide gap in the market in terms of authentic Indian cuisine in a quick-service format. This is the gap brands such as Hello Curry are targeting.
While Western concepts understand the need for Indianising the menu and have done product development keeping this in mind, the market is yet to see pure Indian-cuisine concepts grow on a national level. Some regional chains such as Goli Vada Pav and Mast Kalandar have made inroads but these are still evolving and will take time to make an impact nationally. For the Indian market, the ideal combination will be Indian food and Western quick-service efficiency.
Most Indian quick-service chains face challenges on the efficiency and capital fronts. While they have an upper hand in terms of acceptability of food among the masses, the fact that these companies are driven by local entrepreneurs means they need to go through the learning curve; they have to adapt Indian food to Western consistency. This is difficult, considering the nature and complexity of Indian cuisine. Serving the same food across multiple locations and yet delivering the same taste is the biggest challenge Indian restaurants face. A key requirement for success is efficient use of real estate, the major fixed cost for food service operators today.
Saloni Nangia is president (retail), Technopak Consultants