Shifting to a new city is pretty awesome; it’s a new place for starters, with new friends to be made, new restaurants and watering holes to visit, and new experiences to be tucked under the belt. If you’re a student it’s a lot more exciting, being away from home for the first time (words like unshackled and phrases like ‘release the kraken’ float across the mind.) It’s pretty great till you get home sick; it’s the hostel food that generally bogs one down – food needs to look like food, right?
A young NRI lad, studying in Kochi, was going through a similar cycle till his Mom (all the way in the UAE) got him monthly subscriptions to food so good; he actually started eating his greens! She found a premium service called Masalabox that delivered home-cooked food to homes in Kochi.
“A lot of NRIs are ordering our food, and it’s home cooked so it’s quite healthy,” says Harsha Thachery, co-Founder and CEO of Masalabox. She has been in the startup space since she started her own brokerage firm, before helping her husband setup his gaming company. Harsha and Liya Verghese, co-Founder of Masalabox, had been toying with the concept for a while, before they consciously started working towards it sometime early last year.
“Harsha and I have known each other for the past five years; we met through our husbands who were friends. Our daughters are the same age, and we used to spend a lot of time together on play dates,” recalls Liya, a Jyoti Nivas College, Bangalore alumni, who used to work with Ernst & Young before starting Masalabox.
When the two were pregnant, they would try and find avenues to fulfill their cravings for a tasty meal, but would often have to trade off health for taste at the local restaurants. “Only restaurants offered home delivery. And that’s when we first discussed the idea of getting freshly-cooked home food delivered,” explains Harsha.
Masalabox has been delivering food in Kochi for a little over six months, and has served 3500 odd meals. They started operations in Bangalore on April 6 this year, after a two week pilot run with 15 home chefs
on-board. “We have 45 home-chefs working with Masalabox, in Kochi and we have about 200 chefs in the pipeline for Bangalore,” says Harsha. Customers can place their orders either on the website, or through a mobile app, in advance or on the same day depending on stocks, and make the payment online.“Our home-chefs prepare only small quantities in a day to maintain quality and taste. We’re usually sold out ahead of time,” reveals Harsha.
The home-chef on-boarding process is pretty elaborate: It starts with the fixing of the menu, which is tried by a panel of tasters that decides if the dishes make it to the Masalabox box. The selected array is then decked up to look good for the photoshoot (the pictures you see on their website menu). A kitchen inspection and a legal compliance check later deems the home-chef fit to cook for Masalabox.
The establishment is run entirely by women. “That was not something we consciously created, but looking back it makes for a good story,” chuckles Harsha. Almost all the home-chefs are home-makers, the rest are enthusiasts, who find time on the weekends to cook. “Being women, actually worked to our advantage since it was easy for us to approach potential home-chefs. Once we launched the applications started flowing in,” she adds.
Masalabox takes care of the packaging material and delivery of the food. “We let our chefs pack the food themselves to allow ownership of the way the food is presented,” explains Harsha. The meals are packed in sturdy boxes made of all natural, renewable plant fibres (bamboo and sugarcane) that are microwave-safe, spill-proof; convenient to eat straight out of the box; and come with heating instructions for the food. The plastic and paper used in the packaging are made from cent per cent recycled material.
The duo is proud of the variety on offer; the past six months in Kochi have seen 260 different dishes. “The customers will never be bored of our menu. The variety, along with the quality and technology platform, is what drives repeat orders,” explains Harsha.
The name Masalabox comes from, well, a masala box. “It’s something that reminds me of my grandma’s kitchen, and how the masala box lent flavors to everything. It’s got instant recall, and the domain was available! The food’s delivered in a box too,” says Harsha. The near future sees one new neighbourhood being added every couple of months. “We plan to spread to around nine cities in the next five years,” signs off Liya.