The foodchain

Masala Box, a city-based food startup connects home chefs with customers. It is set to add more on its menu

February 04, 2016 04:40 pm | Updated 05:03 pm IST - Kochi

KOCHI, KERALA, 25/01/2016: Premium service called Masala box that delivered home-cooked food to homes in Kochi.  Photo: H.Vibhu

KOCHI, KERALA, 25/01/2016: Premium service called Masala box that delivered home-cooked food to homes in Kochi. Photo: H.Vibhu

A graffiti - Eat Homemade - sandwiched between a painted knife and spoon, on the wall of the food start-up Masala Box declares the e-com venture’s core mantra. Started by young Harsha Tachery and friend Liya Varghese, it is changing the way people are dining. The just about two-year-old online food service that networks between home chefs and clients was founded when Harsha, a CA, began searching for healthy food choices on restaurant menus to eat during pregnancy. Finding none she intelligently saw a market need for home made, healthy food. The idea grew only firmer, after a year, when a variety of rich and junk foods were the only options on hotel menus for her child. The gap for healthy food was clear. Toying with the idea of filling this gap, by connecting home chefs with customers, she sounded out friend Liya, who encouraged her and joined in. The two set up Masala Box. “We began by popularising the idea through Whatsapp group and by word of mouth. We needed home chefs on board and we needed to check out their kitchens, their recipes and their commitment,” says Harsha, sitting in her bright office in Jawahar Nagar, overseeing the backend procedures.

Masala Box operates on two levels. At the food end it offers a choice of delectable variety made by a network of 65 chefs. The second level is the logistics of collecting the order, packaging it as per the brand’s standards and duly delivering it within the stipulated time. The beginning, recalls Harsha, was tremulous with home chefs being wary of their idea. “Many of these women who are great cooks were not tech savvy and would wonder about us visiting them with laptops and presentations,” she says. But things soon changed. Masala Box began with two non-vegetarian dishes and 11 chefs in its inventory. The following week they introduced a range of vegetarian dishes. In the beginning the telephone was used for feedback. A myth that was debunked was that customers wanted fancy food, but “that is not true. People were looking for simple homemade food.”

As the orders began increasing by the day, Masala Box began receiving applications from more chefs. “Kochi is a very hyper local market and procurement and delivery is within a few kilometres of the hub,” says Harsha adding that the eight kilometre delivery radius includes Tripunithura, Thevara and Lulu Mall, at its current status.

Homemade food delivered at your doorstep is premium service and hence comes at a price. “You are paying for freshly cooked, healthy food that has no preservatives and is not frozen,” says Harsha, disclosing that till now they have featured 1,750 dishes on their menu and that the single order remains the most popular.

With the model finding success in Kochi, Masala Box expanded last year to Bangalore and opened two hubs at Indira Nagar and HSR layout. Its business model was tweaked to cater to the size of the mega polis. Unlike the operations in Kochi, which hitherto has only pre-order option, Bangalore offers order on demand and in store pick-up facility, as the city has a very large office going populace.

“Masala Box is a chef-centric model. The chef can tell us whether he/she is available on a particular date. We have the luxury of churn because there is a pool. Most of the chefs are women, homemakers, and like the UberX model we are utilising the underutilised home kitchen, the homemaker and her skill,” says Harsha.

Watching food habits through orders, for the past two years, Harsha says that Indian food is really popular and the biriyani on Sunday is the most sought after dish. A veal biriyani, to much success, has been featured by them. The review mechanism on their website and app that flags off names of chefs with the dishes - Nisha Kattikaran’s - Kuttanadan Specials (duck roast etc), Nasreen Vaseem Mutton Dum Biriyani, Thesha Joseph’s - Syrian Christian Dishes and Roasts, Jazeela Muhamed’s - Malabar Dishes, Shobha Kutty’s - Thai and North Indian, Ruqia Suhaib’s - Mughalai and continental dishes to name a few, has helped home maker chefs receive rightful due. “It is a women empowerment movement of sorts,” says Harsha explaining that they employ part-time students too and every facilitator in the chain is remunerated accordingly.

With future plans to go Pan Indian - 100 hubs in nine cities - Masala Box team says it is food that is at the heart of the venture. “Food is our heart and soul.”

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