From Truffle to Afghani, this brand serves unique flavours of Biryani, including one that is vegan
Biryani is one of those rare Indian dishes that is loved by one and all – no matter which part of the country they live in, or their dietary preferences. Tapping into this near universal love, Mumbai-basedhas been delivering various flavours of this rice dish across Mumbai as well as in Pune and Jammu since 2015. The brainchild of Anurag Mehrotra, Krishnakant Thakur and Mohammed Bhol, this Biryani brand now boasts 31 outlets and claims to have served over 1.5 million consumers post-pandemic. Its latest offering? A unique biryani made with plant-based meat alternatives!
“Charcoal Eats is a tech-enabled, direct-to-consumer venture that delivers high quality, consistent, and modern yet authentic Indian flavours to its patrons. Its offerings include a signature collection of biryanis, kebabs and rolls,” shares Krishnakant, as he joins YS Weekender for a chat.
Krishnakant Thakur, COO, Charcoal Eats
The story behind smoked biriyanis
The idea behind the launch of Charcoal Eats was to create a Biryani equivalent of Domino’s Pizza. “This clearly communicates our ambitions of scale. Our goal has always been to take Biryani under an organised umbrella, the same way that Domino’s has done for pizzas in India and abroad,” he says.
Krishnakant started his career in the financial services industry as a research analyst covering the infrastructure sector. Since 2013, he has been involved with several startups in various capacities. In his role as the COO of Charcoal Eats, Krishnakant oversees the operations and finance of the business. He has a Bachelors’ degree in Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Indore, and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru.
In 2015, Charcoal Eats started operations in Mumbai, with a pared down menu consisting of six Biryanis. They deliberately kept the menu selective in order to let the bold flavours and freshness of the ingredients speak for themselves. Krishnakant points out that their offerings are prepared in best-in-class, modern and hygienic kitchens, and they contain no preservatives, artificial flavours, artificial colouring or MSG (Ajinomoto).
Named after the ‘Dhungaar’ process of smoked cooking, where the dish is cooked slowly with a heavy reliance on charcoal smoke, the name of this brand – Charcoal Eats – is an apt one.
Speaking about their momentous decision to introduce plant-based Biryanis, Krishnakant says, “The pandemic has led to a conscious awareness of choices that one makes towards building their immunity and taking care of their health for mental and physical wellbeing. In keeping with this philosophy, we have recently introduced jackfruit biryani and Haleem followed by Mushroom truffle and plant-based vegan biryanis.”
Afghani, truffle and plant-based biriyanis
Describing Biryani as a melting pot of traditions, cultures, and preferences, Krishnakant highlights its symbolism in connecting Indians. This idea led them to experiment with different flavours to create a range of delectable recipes. The team at Charcoal Eats is particularly proud of being the first to introduce plant-based Biryanis and innovative products and flavours like their Afghani Biryani, among others.
“Our signature product is our Afghani Biryani. We believe this is because it holds the distinction of being a Biryani without containing any of the ingredients that go into a traditional Biryani. This concoction focuses on flavours, minimalism and uniqueness,” he smiles.
Charcoal Eats recently launched the Truffle Biryani – a dish that combines the delicate balance of French and Italian cuisines with the boldness of Indian tastes. Truffles, also known as the ‘diamonds of the kitchen’, are rare edible mushrooms that are prized for their unique flavour and aroma. Traditionally grown in southern France and northern Italy, and extremely hard to cultivate, truffles are an expensive ingredient. Charcoal Eats prides itself on being the first brand in India to use truffle oil to make Biryanis.
They also partnered with Blue Tribe to launch India’s first plant-based Biryani. This unusual offering is aimed at discerning consumers who love the taste of meat, but want to consciously cut down on their meat consumption for ethical, religious, environmental or health reasons. Further, it encourages vegetarians and vegans to experience the taste and texture of non-vegetarian food, without resorting to eating animals. It also allows omnivores who want to diversify their diets to try vegan options without compromising on the taste or texture of non-vegetarian food.
Research has revealed that plant-based ingredients are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They may also prevent various health issues, such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Most importantly, plant-based meat could be the sustainable answer to global food security issues and addressing environmental concerns with respect to raising animals for consumption.
Their most popular dishes include the mildly spiced Afghani Chicken Biryani, the robust Awadhi mutton, and the flavourful Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani. The Chicken Tikka Biryani is a close runner up in this exclusive club.
Desserts include the Vilayati Chocolate Mousse, Gulab Jamun and Malai Phirnis. Each one is bite-sized and vegetarian, catering to a large number of people and preferences.
How it has grown
According to data published in Forbes India in December 2021, the Biryani market in India is estimated to be approximately Rs 1,500 crore in the organised sector and Rs 15,000 crore in the unorganised market. Hence, players like Charcoal Eats, who have established themselves, are only set to grow further.
Collectively, the team has raised INR 30 crores till date from family members and high net-worth individuals across industries. They have clocked a growth of annualised revenue of INR 30 crore, according to the team. Though the Covid lockdown period was difficult, they have seen a tremendous revival since then.
The team believes it is their customer feedback mechanism and technology-aided systems that help them constantly innovate and improve their offerings.
The brand considers Behrouz and Biryani By Kilo as competitors, however also highlight that they stand apart for their USP – which is consistency in taste and the specialised ‘Dhungaar’ cooking process they use.
Charcoal Eats has had to overcome the market perception that healthy products are not tasty. Additionally, they feel the masses are hesitant to indulge in their delicious fare due to the premium price point of their products. However, these minor challenges are nothing in the face of the tremendous rewards they have garnered along the way.
Krishnakant believes these include collaborating with the best and brightest in the business, the satisfaction of creating consistently good products, and the tremendous love of consumers they receive.
“Customers love choice and when they give us so much love, we have to keep our menu a blend of classic, interesting and delicious always. Whether you’re a hard-core meat lover or belong to the small but growing club of vegetarian Biryani fans, we’ll serve your favourites. Our selection is a fitting addition to your Biryani dinners, cocktail parties and unplanned get-togethers,” shares Krishnakant.