| Dheeraj (left) with wife Rita at a Jumbo King outlet in Mumbai. Telegraph picture
Mumbai, July 10: What McDonald’s can do with a burger, Jumbo King can with a vada pav.
Mumbai has got its first branded vada pav — the humble potato patty wedged inside a bun slit in the middle and the staple of the ordinary Mumbaikar — and the fast food chain is growing at high speed. There are already five brightly-lit outlets of “Jumbo King — the king of vada pav” in the city, dotting stations on the Western Railway line, and more coming up shortly.
It is like having a branded phuchka in Calcutta.
At the Jumbo King outlet outside Dadar station, which came up on July 1, daily commuters on their way home queue up before the counter as uniformed staff take the orders and a dispensing machine, a simpler version of the one at McDonald’s, serves the paper-wrapped vada pavs.
One vada pav costs Rs 6, a little more than the unbranded, unwrapped, unnumbered open-air varieties that are available at every street-corner in Mumbai. “The difference lies in the hygiene,” says Dheeraj Gupta, director, Manali Foods, the company that owns Jumbo King.
“We are the largest selling vada pav chain,” he adds. “We sell about 10,000 vada pavs everyday,” says his wife Rita, who runs Manali Foods with Dheeraj.
The young MBA couple had the brainwave when they were visiting a friend in London who was a franchisee of Burger King. “We thought vada pav was at home what the burger was abroad — a poor man’s food. We started the first outlet in August 23, 2001, near Malad station,” says Dheeraj. Two more, in Malad and Andheri, along the railway stations, came up by December. These three were run by Manali Foods.
Last month, they appointed their first franchisee in Kandivli. The Dadar outlet is also run by a franchisee. Another Jumbo King outlet will start near Dadar station on July 15, to be run by a franchisee. “We will now have outlets run by franchisees alone. One outlet at Borivli has also been almost finalised. We plan to start one outlet a month,” says Dheeraj.
“We plan to cover the western line in three years. There are about 25 to 30 requests from potential franchisees lying with us,” says Rita.
From the central kitchen in Malad, run by another franchisee, men foray out in the morning, carrying 10,000 vadas and 10,000 pavs in sealed containers and unload them at the various outlets where they are kept in the freezers at 2 degrees Centigrade. “We have measured it — there is 2.69 per cent fat in each vada pav,” she says.
Although they were inspired by Burger King, “we are the students of McDonald’s”, says Rita. “We have tried to replicate the McDonald’s system in a simpler way, though our system is only partially automated now,” she adds.
But the difference with McDonald’s is obvious. “The burger is a poor man’s food abroad, though here it is an upmarket thing. We target the railway commuter,” says Rita.
Her turnover may not compare with McDonald’s, which has 15 outlets in Mumbai alone, but the pieces of bread Jumbo King sells may be more, she says.
Also, Mumbai’s most popular street food may look like a homegrown version of the burger, but is not. Legend has it that 35 years ago, Ashok Vaidya, a seller of potato vadas and a staunch Shiv Sena loyalist, invented it when he slapped a pav on a vada on a customer’s request.
There is a long way to go. There is already a cheese vada pav available at the outlets while a paneer one is being thought about.
Then Rita whips out a calculator and does some quick number crunching. “About 1,00,000 vada pavs get sold in Mumbai everyday. It is a Rs 2,000 crore industry. We have only scratched the surface,” she sighs.
“There should be more branded single food products in India. Our success lies in that. Someone should brand the dosa, now, and possibly sell idlis and vadas under the same brand,” says Dheeraj.
Indian-style fast food plus American-style food chain makes great business. A phuchka called the Perfect ' But that may be in bad taste.
Make it a phuchka called the All Rounder — served on fumigated shaal pata with the tentul jal flowing out of sterilised vending machines.