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No doubt, in India, there have been and are many restaurants & kitchens serving hotdogs. But Mumbai based fusion café Desi Deli is different. It has reinvented the American hot dog–and several other dishes–with a keen eye on balancing native context and local taste. Started by Lolita Sarkar and her husband Abhishek Sinha in June 2015, the café has been creating buzz among the localites and hence is continuously building a strong brand image. Lolita Sarkar is among the first from the army of home chef entrepreneurs in Mumbai to set up her own hot dog and burger place. The café focuses on serving familiar international foods, like burgers and hot dogs, with gourmet ‘desi’ twists. The menu extends to main courses, desserts, and custom or curated beverages. The well-priced menu is complemented by friendly service, some of the best meat sausages and patties in the city and a wide range of condiments, made fresh from scratch. So far, the duo is having two cafes in Mumbai, one in Andheri West and the other in Bandra West.
Some food memories & an inspiring trip to Berlin
While in the Berlin city, the duo happened to have the local version of hot dog, something most people consider the quintessential American treat. To their surprise, they actually found the German version to be superior to the mass marketed hot dog in the US. It then struck them that hot dogs have an origin where the sausage, sauce, accompaniments, and bread work together in a delicious and meaningful way. This got them thinking on whether food wasn’t being ruined by being recreated out of context? But then, at the same time, local tastes and palates are important too. It was then that Lolita came up with the idea of making hot dogs for the Indian palate, which they first tested on their friends, many of whom were very particular about food.
Most of Lolita’s food memories can be traced back to her early childhood spent in the small town of Bankura in West Bengal. Collecting snails from the submerged paddy fields, and then asking her grandmother to prepare them, is a fond experience she cherishes even today. Like most Bengalis, growing up on a routine dose of fish curry and rice was natural for Lolita. Looking at an obvious Bong connection she said, “A Bengali touch is evident in the menu”.
An experiment of flavors and fusion
Coming back to Mumbai, the duo then took interest into vents, flea markets, and pop-ups. In about five events over eight days, they sold some 1,700 hot dogs which made them realize that they were on to something good. Former advertising film director Sarkar and her husband Amitabh Sinha shut down their production house Bob & Lola Entertainment Pvt. Ltd to set up Desi Deli in just under four months after trial runs at popular food events like The Bombay Local and The Lil Flea. Abhishek said that their secret is actually in their sauces, which include chutneys, relishes, and picklings, all drawing from Indian flavors and tastes. Desi Deli also has an interesting range of teas or Chaa, which are typically sourced from Sikkim. Their Iced Uskabagh is subtle and goes perfectly with the burgs and hot dogs. The Lush Lamb Burg, The Champ and Texan Desi are other must-try dishes here.
The menu includes street foods, including Indian ones, with gourmet international twists. Desi Deli is a food-first chain also serving alcohol (at present, alcohol is served only at the Andheri outlet). The team believes that while there is a wide variety of choices in large-scale food and beverage options, the differentiation in the bistro, café, and fast food sector is limited. However, the team claims that they have succeeded to an extent in this regard, pointing to the high ratings for their first outlet at Bandra.
After Lolita and Abhishek conceptualized the idea, they were able to rope in Nilesh Karkhanis, a renowned food expert, as a consultant. Desi Deli sells at their cafés, through home delivers, and even at events and corporate functions. The team is looking at party catering and follows a hub and spoke model, with a central kitchen. The idea of fusion cafés is fast catching up, especially in Mumbai. But restaurant businesses, especially in the fusion space, are capital-intensive, and require constant innovation. Desi Deli intends to open a few more cafés in Mumbai and other metro cities in the near future.
Lolita’s ace tips for anyone who is planning to step out of the home kitchen to set up his/ her own restaurant:
1. Always have somebody to advise you. It is very different to cook for friends at home and running a commercial kitchen.
2. Keep your eyes and ears open. People pay money to eat your food, so you cannot take them for granted.
3. Be open to ideas and keep experimenting.
4. Finally, enjoy the ride!