Vada Pav -the ‘fastest fast food’ of Maharashtra is oftentimes regarded as one of the greatest tributes to the Mumbaikars. A versatile food, it is a feed for all meal-times – breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just an afternoon snack. So prevalent is this deep-fried potato dumpling filled in a ‘pav’ that it has a distinctive day devoted to it – 23 August.
From signifying a meal for many migrant workers in the ’60s to being a well-known food on the list of several ‘new age’ restaurants, the ‘Bombay Burger,’ as the Vada Pav is seldom called, has reached a long way. Venkatesh Iyer (Venky), the founder of Goli Vada Pav, recognized the tremendous business potential in this simple recipe. Begun in 2004, it has now expanded to over 350 outlets across India, with its appearance in 20 states and 100 cities. Case studies on its progress and growth are initiated by top business schools such as Harvard Business School, IMD Switzerland, and ISB Hyderabad.
Kids who do not study well get to hear jibes like, “If you do not do well in your studies, you will have to end up selling vada pav”, and that is specifically what Venky did. “Typical of most middle-class Tamil Brahmin families, my family also desired me to study well and become an engineer, doctor, or a chartered accountant,” he states and adds, “Never did I imagine that I would end up being so successful just by selling vada pavs.”
Venky, who contributed near to 15 years in the business services sector, says, “My focus in all those years was to build up the retail sector, and in the process, assure that enough and more jobs are generated at the bottom of the pyramid. In all my years of attempting to support entrepreneurs build capital, possibly the entrepreneurial bug bit me as well.” Loaded with his practice of operating supply chains, franchising, brand building, and fundraising, in February 2004, the first store of Goli Vada Pav launched at Kalyan in the Thane district.
Answering the question of why he decided to launch a vada pav company, he says, “In my Tamilian household, we ate idli, dosa, and Pongal. For me, the vada pav was similar to an ‘item number’ in movies. From college parties to post cricket matches, vada pav has been such a constant part of all our celebrations. In the complexity of bylanes in City, where the sizzling sounds of the vadas being fried are carried, the raw potato patty before it is dipped in the gram flour mix and fried is often referred to as ‘goli’.
Venky continues, “When I started sharing my idea of starting a vada pav store I was often asked if I was bluffing in a colloquial Mumbaikar term kya goli de Raha hai? That seemed to stick with me and when I was thinking of a name, I decided to use ‘Goli’.While the classic vada pav remains a crowd puller, some of the additions like cheese vada pav, schezwan, mixed veg, palak makkai, paneer, and even the aloo tikka versions are rather popular at this franchise”. Venky also regularly worked on assuring that the taste and quality of the product persisted steadily. He asks, “Have you ever noticed a change in the taste of any popular beverage you consume?”
Also from a marketing viewpoint, the company has started on some fairly unique marketing tactics. He says, “From strategic brand placements in movies to having a Goli vada pav branded bus stop within a movie, we have always tried to find innovative methods of capturing the consumer’s eye.” With eight distribution hubs across India and over 20 crore customers, the group is only looking forward to climbing greater heights. Presenting his social conscience, Venky states, “Business success aside, getting boys who were usually school dropouts or just a Class 6 or 10 pass to work with the company and grow was another dream I managed to realize through the franchise.” Venky holds contentment in asserting that the company is established on three E’s – Education, Employment, and Entrepreneurship.
Venky was motivated by stories like that of a middle-class engineer, Narayan Murthy, who contrived to get Infosys listed on the nation’s stock exchanges and also provided the employees stock choice, in addition to producing such a big name for himself. He says, “Making the humble vada pav a corporate entity was the idea along with an equitable distribution of the wealth we create. ”Through Goli Vada Pav, Venky strives to bring the humble vada pav to the world. He is one of the upcoming Indian entrepreneurs who fantasize about delivering Indian street food wings.