Jyoti S Ahuja and Latha Verghis, city-based entrepreneurs and co-owners of Madraz Biryani, talk about the philosophy behind their cloud-based kitchen, how they are balancing life and work and more
Discovering secrets from their grandmothers’ kitchen, Jyoti S Ahuja and Latha Verghis started Madraz Biryani in Baner with an objective of bringing traditional taste to life in takeaways. Madraz Biryani retains ‘grandma’s touch’ in food by using natural blends and spices that will take your tastebuds down memory lane. An extension of Philositos food, the brand is owned by Ahuja and Verghis, and celebrates South Indian gastronomy, by offering both vegetarian and non -vegetarian biryani.
Verghis and Ahuja always wanted to start a business in the food industry. Ahuja says Baner, where she lives, is a melting pot of youngsters who are open to experimenting with food. Also the rushed pace of life has increased the scope for home delivered food. After Ahuja’s daughter Tasha was born in the year 2016, she was exploring options to progress in her career and decided to venture into the food industry. She chatted up regularly with Latha and they did some research together.
The duo discovered that while Pune has a wide range of international, North Indian and local cuisines, there were very few Chennai- style biryani options for the mobile and urban consumer. So the ladies came up with the concept of a cloud-based kitchen (a cloud kitchen is basically a takeaway outlet that provides no dine-in facility) and that’s how Madraz Biryani was born.
Here’s chatting up Ahuja...
Madraz Biryani claims that it retains ‘grandma’s touch’ in the food. How do you ensure that?
The grandmothers of Chennai, like most Indian grannies, have passed on their culinary legacy to willing younger souls. We had to search around to find the chefs who could follow the same traditional methods and convince them that a move to Pune would be worthwhile. The first test, of course was the test of taste, followed by the method employed. We take pride in the fact that our chefs are among the best students that graduated from granny kitchens and while our process and hygiene is modern, the process of preparation has been the same from our grannies’ era.
As part of our launch, we did extensive food trials and made sure the taste is palatable to a wide range of consumers. The more you eat, the more you get hooked to our biryani. One of the best compliments from a client we got was — “You guys have brought us closer to home.”
Can you elaborate on the relationship between Madras (Chennai) and biryani? How is Chennai Biryani different from other types of biryanis popular across of India?
People associate Chennai with dosa, chutney, idli, rice etc. But the insides of every Chennai native craves for biryani. Tamil Nadu style of biryani preparation is very unique among the Indian biryanis. We cook using firewood and the entire cooking process takes about four hours; in fact, the dum process itself takes around 45 minutes.
In Chennai, biryani is a food for celebration. This special recipe of our biryani is usually cooked for weddings and has been popular for ages. It is a popular delicacy that is savoured by both the masses and the classes. While there are many forms of biryani in Tamil Nadu, this is probably one of the most preferred biryani.
What are some of the ingredients that you use in your biryani?
Our chefs bring in a unique mix of Indian spices for cooking. However, the cooking process and the ratio of spices is our secret. You have to taste it to experience it. While our primary focus is biryani, we have multiple variations of it. Our menu complements the South Indian range of choices — Ghee Pulao with Pepper Chicken or Egg Masala. We also prepare Gobi 65 and Chicken 65, Masala Egg Sandwich and Chicken 65 Sandwich. We use fresh masalas in our cooking and we have identified local sources for all our ingredients. It goes well with our objective of building a thriving vendor community around us.
What is it like to be women entrepreneurs? How do you both encourage and support each other as business partners?
Our society has changed, it is more supportive of women now but we are still wary of the unconscious bias that surfaces from time to time. People often fail to realise that they are biased till it is pointed out to them. Food is our passion; eventually we are looking to develop a food consulting business that focusses on building a community around which small businesses thrive.
Latha has a background in Finance; she manages the money and ensures that we are running a tight ship. She has spent the last five years setting up successful businesses in India and I always look up to her for advice. I focus on operations and client services — every day is a new experience. Both of us have worked in the corporate world and we believe in giving everything a professional touch. All in all, it’s a joyride that we would regret to miss!
What kind of challenges do you face while balancing business and home?
It is challenging but we both are fortunate to have supportive spouses. They help us balance the business and home. Family always comes first — having a 2-year-old keeps you on the edge throughout. As entrepreneurs, we have learnt to not be bogged down by seemingly huge challenges — we break the challenges into blocks and deal with it.
What would be your message to women wanting to start their business?
Take time to reflect on what you want from life and your business. In business, there are times when things do not work out the way you want, so be patient and focus on solutions. Building the right team is critical and quality is non-negotiable. I learnt that you cannot satisfy the palates of every individual and that everyone is entitled to have an opinion.
You just have to give your clients the best so that they enjoy the experience with your brand. Last, but not the least, become a leader and take care of the people who work for you.