Located in the heart of the capital, the café-cum-juicebar offers the Delhi’s first vegan menu. Guests enjoy unparalleled healthy food amidst an elegant and cozy café atmosphere. We speak to the co-founders Surruchi & Nikhil Joshhi about how they successfully set-up their dream café.
How Did You Become Vegan?
It all started with Nikhil Joshhi (My husband and partner) who was always passionate about cooking food that was clean. He has never used processed sugar and cooking dishes that were not ordinary. Two years ago, he stumbled upon the term ‘vegan”, and he decided to turn vegan. A year later, I turned vegan as well, and we both started incorporating plant-based recipes in the dishes at home.
Back then, Nikhil, was a self-trained chef and we both were professional wedding planners. But soon, he developed a deep interest in making plant-based cuisines and went to Australia to learn from an expert who ran a café there. He interned so he could learn about the ways of running a vegan café. At the time, there were no such vegan restaurants in the capital, and it was a tough decision to decide to set-up a vegan cafe here. Also Delhi is a tough market to crack, as here people love their butter chickens and dal makhanis.
How do you incorporate your ideologies in your café?
At Nut & Bowls, all the foods on the menu are plant-based and without any processed sugar. All the foods like French fries and burger patties are air-fried. We don’t have a deep fryer in our kitchen. Here, we make clean food that is without any chemicals preservatives, stabilizers or colours.
For us, being vegan is important but to eat clean is equally important without any chemicals, preservatives, artificial colour or processed sugar. We emphasise on eating fresh and raw living food and not processed dead products. We see food as ‘energy’ and if we eat the kind of food that is closest to what nature has provided, we align with nature and our body and mind functions at its optimum best as it is supposed to and we become disease free.
When did you launch Nut & Bowl Product Line & Café Space?
In around August 2018, we first launched almond mylk, nut butters, bliss balls & granolas. A couple of months later, we participated in exhibitions with German Christmas Embassy where their products were very successful. We were sold out in just half a day! This proved that people like to eat clean foods and were open to trying a plant-based diet. The success pushed us to participate a few more local festivals and we decided to take our venture to a whole different level.
We finalized the café space by December-end and first week of January 2019. By mid-March, we launched Nut & Bowls café. Initially, we did not know how people would respond to our café, but we followed our hearts and took the leap of faith.
The team kept first two days of the opening, as a trial session in the café and served more than 200 people. And the response and feedback was overwhelming. People loved the food and the concept. We also learnt that people want to wean off sugar, dairy and meat. We have by now developed a community of patrons who come to our café regularly.
- Nut Butters
- Granola Bars
- Rawtella – Raw Vegan Nutella
- Bliss Balls – Energy Balls
- Almond Milk
- Tea Cakes
Can you elaborate on the “Café” dream?
We initially had the idea about setting up a café 2 years ago, and we travelled to cities across the world like Dubai, New York City, across Australia and Vietnam. We were learning and shaping the concept of our café since then. We were even looking for an interesting, but quirky name for our café. We wanted to make it a happy space. We had even shortlisted a few names to reflect the essence of their dream café. Nikhil loved to make smoothie bowls that taste heavenly, and the base of our business was nuts so we put it together and came up with ‘Nut & Bowls’. And it just clicked and family members loved the name.
How did you manage/design the logo and décor of N&B?
The next step was the logo. Since I had my experience with designs as a wedding planner, I wanted a design that I could connect with. We worked with an independent graphic designer who understood what we wanted to convey. We wanted the logo to be timeless, earthy, leafy and quirky as well. So had a simple rectangle line running across the title and to us it meant everything green and organic within that border ending with three leaves, representing Nikhil, my brother, Mayank Gahlot and I.
Coming to the décor, we hired a family friend to design the interiors. We wanted the café to be white and highlighted with earthy and leafy touches. I wanted one wall to be decorated with plants that represent what we are serving at the café. For the earthy touch, we have added wooden tables and chairs. For the entire process, from the decors, logo and packaging, it took about 6 months of intensive planning.
How did you go about financing this project?
Since we were already running a business, we had our savings to support this venture. The three of us (Nikhil, Mayank Gahlot and I) own this business. Also, after some intense research we knew exactly what kind of space we wanted to start with and we chose to start with a 15-seater café, so it was manageable. We had to keep our costs low so we could manage our overheads like food costs, salaries, electricity and so on. However, we did not expect the response to be so overwhelming.
In the 6 short months that we have been operational, we are managing to cover our operational expenses. It will still take us about a 1-1.5 years to break even. And considering that our margins are low, the recovery may take longer.
How do you perk-up the menu?
We started off with curating a menu that is elaborative and includes all the dishes and put an end to a common question that we get asked a lot like, “What do you guys eat?” and “Just greens and salads?”, by which they meant boring food, this thought related to vegan food we had to break and we happily took the responsibility and curated the menu which today is loved by everyone who has visited the cafe and i have seen all kind of emotions and expressions on their face from amusement, to “OMG, there is so much to choose from (From breakfast to dinner)!
And it was heartening to note that many of our patrons are non-vegetarians, which took us by surprise. They opted for complete meals like scrambled tofu, quinoa poha, smoothie bowls, burritos, and Mac’N Cheese. The non-veg customers like our scrambled tofu with pav and our smoky barbequed burgers, which is a big hit. Also, many of our customer also love our pastas. They can’t tell the difference between regular pasta with dairy cheese and our vegan pastas, so that was what we wanted to achieve. Having said that, we are also planning to expand our menu to include additional raw dishes, desserts and cookies. We are in the trial mode right now, and we will finalize our new menu in a month’s time.
What about the formalities to set-up a café in new Delhi
Procuring the licenses was a challenge, as it entailed finding the right agent to help you through with the formalities.
Roughly, this is the order of licenses:
- Fire Safety
- SDMC license
The processes are connected. The FSSAI and Hygiene licenses come together, followed by the Fire Safety and SDMC. We first acquired a provisional SDMC certificate before we could open our café. We received the original about a month after its application online.
How many crew members?
We have a base kitchen in Malviya Nagar (10 minutes away) where we have our packaging products, our cakes, the sauces & dips and even our almond milk that we make on a daily basis. So we have 3 crew members and a helper in the base kitchen that is overseen by Nikhil. At the café we have a team of 5 members, two chefs, a manager-cum-barista, a helper and a cleaner.
What kind of equipment have you invested in?
Our base kitchen includes a large commercial freezer and all our baking equipment. At the café, they have 2 deep freezers. We have a cold-press to make almond milk. We also have nut butter equipment.
How have you sourced the cutlery and the ingredients?
The cutlery is from stoneware. The café is 99% plastic-free. The furniture is minimal, and earthy. The straws are made out of bamboos, sourced from Vietnam (Details in the box). The smoothie bowls are made of coconut shells. Their cutlery includes bowls made of stripped down, polished coconut shells, sourced from Vietnam. They also stock bamboo straws and coconut shell bowls for you to buy.
Running a vegan café is not just about being dairy free, but being clean. The ingredients much be without chemicals or pesticides and refined sugar. It’s more than for the animals and the environment; we have to treat our body as well. We source our fruits and vegetables on a daily basis from an organic farm. Other ingredients we source from Himachal Pradesh vis a dealer. While, some berries we keep frozen. We source our organic almonds and walnuts from Kashmir. We do not use processed sugar, and for sweeteners we use cane sugar, dates and pure maple syrup sourced from Canada. Also, our organic coffee comes from the MS Estate from Bili Hu, Noida (Check Box).
What were the main challenges that you faced?
- Training the Staff & Kitchen Etiquette: This was the most tedious process, as the chefs & cooks are not trained to manage and cook vegan food. They are not familiar with the concept of veganism, and they don’t believe in the philosophy. The cooks come from a traditional Indian backgrounds, and some of them have cows in their homes. It took us about 2 months to train the staff to cook vegan food the correct way.
- Limited Kitchen Space: Initially, it was a challenge for the team of 5 members to work from the kitchen, which is a tiny nook stationed right next to the tables. Also, we are looking to set-up a second branch of Nut & Bowls in Delhi this year.
- Sourcing Ingredients: Most ingredient available locally are not pure or clean, pointed out Nikhil Joshhi.
Do share about how you planned your social media strategies
Surruchi has completed her MBA in Marketing, so the inhouse talent that looks into social media strategies as well. “What also helped was that a lot of bloggers visited the place independently, which helped boost the café across the social media.
About the café launch
We had planned the launch over the weekend, so on Friday, we had kept a trial session for our friends and family. On Saturday and Sunday, we had invited the social media community from Facebook who all came and they loved the place and the food, which encouraged us to do even better.
Let’s talk about waste management
Veggies and fruits are cut only after the dish is ordered, so this way there is less wastage. That is why we take about 20-25 minutes to make the dishes. This way, it’s better to wait a bit longer than waste veggies that have been cut a many hours ago. Also we prepare our dishes judiciously, as we are aware of the typical quantities that will be required during weekdays, as against the weekends.
What is next on your agenda?
Nut & Bowls cafe is a venture of the Trio Soul Hospitality. We plan to set-up another branch of Nut & Bowls café in New Delhi itself this year itself. We are scouting for a suitable location and will reveal other details in due course.
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(Lead Images Courtesy: Nut & Bowls)