How this Delhi startup is leveraging the QSR model to sell 'Koolchas' 24x7
Across North India, a traditional plate of kulcha - hot, crisp, flaky, and slathered generously with butter - is served with a side of chole, spicy chutney, some pickle, and onion.
Meet mother-son duo Gaurav and Sunila Bahl who decided to make this dish world famous by launching ‘Koolchas’. The startup offers hygienic and diversified variations of kulchas with a twist of ‘secret’ homemade spices and fresh vegetables at affordable costs.
“To avoid any adulteration, we grind and blend our own spices,” tells Co-founder Gaurav Bahl.
Gaurav Bahl, Co-founder, Koolchas
‘Koolchas’ is basically a chain of QSRs (quick service restaurants), which aims to bring the omnipresent chole kulche to the organised retail level, tells the architect-turned foodpreneur. Gaurav points out that the craving for street food is often challenged by apprehensions around hygiene, dust particles from the roadside, and other quality related concerns.
“Koolchas is trying to solve this by going preservative-free using homemade masalas and live kitchens, where even vegetables are cut in front of the customers,” explains Gaurav.
“We take the matter of quality very seriously. The objective is to ensure the highest degree of transparency and quality among many other USPs like being open 24x7, grinding and blending our own masalas, and not adding any preservatives,” he added.
At Koolchas, one can buy various curries with kulchas. The QSRs also offer kulcha sandwiches, and kulcha pizza. The prices range from Rs 59 for a small plate of achaari alu kulcha or matar kulcha to Rs 249 for a regular plate of bhuna mutton keema, or chicken chaudhary.
Gaurav Bahl with his mother Sunila Bahl
Kneading the dough for success
It all started in May 2016 when Gaurav, an architect, realised there is a slump in real estate and he had ample time in hand. He wanted to start up and the food segment suited him the best.
Armed with an MBA, Gaurav has over 20 years of architectural experience, and is a foodie by nature. The co-founder decided to pour business into food and launched Koolchas with his mother.
“The pain point that we are trying to solve is the hygiene, quality, and the clean environment to have kulche chole in various forms,” says Gaurav.
His mother, Sunila Bahl, looks after the quality-checks at the QSRs. All the recipes used by Koolchas are hers.
So, who is Koolchas' target customer? “If you are more than 10-years-old, you are our customer. My six-year-old younger daughter has loved the chicken keema kulcha sandwich since we opened,” tells Gaurav. They also have special star and heart shaped kulchas for kids.
He adds, “On the other end of the spectrum, we have seen senior citizens over 60 at our outlets relishing kulche chole. We are catering to the masses, and our price point is according to that. The hygiene, quality levels, and processes ensure that even the highly conscious people keep coming to us again and again. Our target customers are everyone between 15 and 45 years of age.”
Why only Kulcha?
Amid the big crowd of QSRs in India for pizzas, vada paos, burgers, rolls, wraps, etc., why did they choose the kulcha? Gaurav says it was not an impulsive decision. It took them two years of research to start the company.
“No one had ever attempted a kulcha QSR,” he says.
The co-founder added that when you think about F&B, there are multiple options that go through your mind. “We never wanted to do something, which was already present and being done by someone. That was one strong thought and one day, I was hungry, having gone until 4 pm without a bite. I found a kulche chole wala and the idea flashed and Koolchas happened,” tells Gaurav.
The first outlet was launched in July 2018 at Sushant Lok in Gurugram, and soon, a second one was opened in Delhi-NCR. The startup claims to have registered about 10,000 customers within a year of its operations. The founders say that it adds about 500 to 700 new customers every month per outlet.
Funding, growth, and expansion
So far, Koolchas has been bootstrapped, and the founders have invested more than $500,000 on their own.
“Sales at our first outlet have grown from Rs 2 lakh in the first month to Rs 6 lakh per month within 10 months of starting our operations,” tells Gaurav.
He adds that the company is now expecting a growth of about 500 percent this year, and is planning to open 10-12 outlets in Delhi-NCR in the next fiscal.
The startup is also looking to raise its Pre-Series A funding to achieve the scale. “Eventually, we will be targeting to have about 40 outlets operational in the next two years, and evaluate other metros in the country,” he added.
In terms of making money, Gaurav claims that a Koolchas outlet generally breaks even within eight to 10 months. “At company level, we should be able to become cash positive in a total of three years,” he says.
Gaurav adds that the founders will keep investing all the surplus back into the growth of the company.