48East is a foodtech startup that works in the QSR space. The platform delivers gourmet Asian food to one’s doorstep.
Gourmet Asian food is a luxury that few in India get to enjoy without a good deal of hassle. And who would know this better than 28-year-old Kumar Karthik, a self-confessed lover of Asian cuisine and a foodie.
Joseph Cherian, himself a foodie, too found himself to be in a similar position. Having spent most of his working years in Asia and the Middle East, he always rued the unavailability of home delivered gourmet Asian food during his stays in India. What were typically available here for home delivery were home-grown Indo-Chinese brands.
“If one had to experience gourmet Asian food, one had to travel to expensive five star hotels or boutique high-end restaurants,” says Joseph, 48. This had him thinking and he bounced an idea off his friend and colleague Nabhajot Ghosh. And so, 48 East was born. He explains,
“48East represents the 48 different countries of Asia. It includes South Asia, South East Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and the Middle East. We would like to take our customers on a journey of these countries through a weekly changing menu.”
48East delivers fine Asian gourmet food on demand. Joseph adds that the authentic food experience from all the 48 different nations of Asia is carefully curated by the experience-rich in-house chefs to suit the Indian palate without compromising on authenticity.
With a weekly changing menu, 48East offers handpicked dishes from across the breadth of Asia, from countries as different as Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Turkey, India, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Japan.
The venture currently operates two kitchens in Indiranagar and Marathahalli in Bengaluru, and processes over 100 orders a day. It currently serves Indiranagar, Cambridge Layout, Old Airport Road, HAL 2nd and 3rd Stage, Tippasandara, Ulsoor, Cox Town, Domlur, Marthahalli, Kundanahalli, Brookefield, Varthur Road, Yemlur, Kadubeesanahalli, Doddenukundi, Munnekolla, and Mahadevpura.
The core team
Joseph is an alumnus of Harvard Business School, and has over 20 years of professional experience in managing global markets and setting up and scaling new business verticals for brands like Papa John’s India and McDonald’s. He was the CEO of Papa John’s India before starting 48East.
Nabhojit has over 30 years of experience in leading hotels, a private equity firm and a leading foodtech brand in India. With an expertise in global cuisine and kitchen setups, his previous experiences include stints at Oberoi Hotels, Radisson and Taj Hotels.
Prior to joining hands with Joseph for 48East, he was the Chief Culinary Officer at FreshMenu, where he designed and curated their menus and operated 26 kitchens in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Gurgaon.
Challenges of scale
Despite the combined experience the duo brings to the table, one of the biggest challenges they faced was in ensuring that the experience of eating gourmet Asian food at home was similar to the experience of eating at a fine dining restaurant.
Joseph adds that they leveraged the essence of the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) model, fine dining and packaging to deliver the best result to their customers. The team opened their first kitchen in August last year and the second one in December.
“Our experience over the years has ensured that we understand the need for building a fundamentally strong business that can grow sustainably. Hence, six months after launching the brand, we worked on building a strong operating system,” says Joseph.
The team claims to be getting over 100 orders per day, with over 75 percent customer retention. “Our growth has been a combination of both repeat business and new customers through customer referrals,” says Joseph.
Since the food is gourmet, it cannot travel large distances, and hence, the delivery is restricted to a maximum of 45 minutes from the time of placing the order. 48East follows a weekly changing menu, bringing out an entirely different menu every Friday. Explaining this, Joseph says that their large menu bank of highly curated dishes helps them in providing variety every week.
The team has a large menu spread of 26 dishes in their weekly changing menu. “A couple of months back, we launched an all-day menu that comprises Asian convenient food like bao and banh mi. This is for customers to break away from their traditional sandwiches. This Asian all-day menu is convenient to eat and very healthy,” adds Joseph.
The team adds that they do not use MSG or any added additives in their products.
Funding and the food business
48East recently raised $500,000 in pre-Series A funding from the Al Dhaheri family based in the UAE. Earlier, in August 2016, the startup had raised $250,000 in a round of angel funding from Agra-based ACPL exports. With this current funding, the team aims to add more kitchens and continue its investment in menu development, technology, logistics, and in building a strong supply chain.
“Our ultimate vision is to have a 48 East in every neighbourhood, easily accessible whenever a customer wishes to have gourmet Asian food in the comfort of their home or office,” says Joseph.
The last year hasn’t been positive for the food business, and 2017 didn’t begin on a positive note either. This year, the FSSAI has mandated that even food delivery and online food businesses get licenses. Some of the stronger players in the space are FreshMenu, which raised Series A funding last year, Swiggy, which raised Series D funding in September last year, and the deep-pocketed Zomato.
In the QSR space, there are startups like Faasos, Charcoal Biryani, EasyKhanna and Nawab Sheikh. One player that has managed to crack the QSR model is Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s has broken in through every link in the chain. Ajay Kaul, CEO, Jubilant Foodworks at NPC, says that Domino’s has evolved to a stage where every consumer is a segment. So, now every time a stimulus is thrown, the systems are able to analyse the kind of response each consumer will provide.
Domino’s Pizza has approximately 30,000 employees, of which approximately 20,000–25,000 are consumer-facing. The company is looking to provide these employees with devices that will enable payments, GPS tracking, and feedback, among other things. How far 48East can crack this for an Indianised food product is yet to be seen.