Every evening in Malkangiri, Odisha, a food cart is parked on the street near the town collector’s office. This cart has been up and running since March 2021, and serves a limited menu of delectable biryani and chicken tikkas, which is enough to send the aroma of spices emanating through the street.
Interestingly, the men behind this now popular cart are no chefs. They are two corporate employees looking to promote a shift in the eating culture of their town, through a small venture called Engineer’s Thela.
Are you wondering what prompted this quirky business idea?
Catering to a problem
Sumit Samal and Priyam Bebarta, both engineers by profession, have been friends since their childhood. While the COVID-19 pandemic had them working virtually from their hometown, the duo would hit the streets in the evening for a fix of biryani at local street vendors.
But Priyam reveals that the condition of these stalls seemed to be highly questionable upon closer look.
“Everyone loves street food, and for many people who can’t afford any better, such cart vendors are the only source of meals. One such cart that we were eating at was parked next to a sewage drain. The quality of meat in the dish seemed dubious from appearance and we were left questioning the quality of this food that was feeding so many people every day,” Priyam tells The Better India.
This was what inspired the duo to set up a similar model of business that sold food made with care. According to the owner, the idea was to cook clean food with equally delectable flavours and make it accessible to people from all walks of life.
Setting up the street cart
Priyam shares that while neither of the two could be called experts on cooking, he had learnt to make biryani at home while cooking with his mother.
“Taking this further, we both researched endlessly on various recipes, how ingredients match, and how menus are formulated. Eventually, we came up with a small menu but with fixed recipes,” he says.
The next step required hiring someone to carry out the recipes and a place to do it at.
He shares that the duo pooled in an initial investment of Rs 50,000 from their savings to get the business running. Two cooks were hired and a room was taken on rent to run the daily operations.
Sumit, co-founder, says, “The idea was to serve dishes that are equal to home-cooked meals. So we always supervise all cooking operations to ensure quality. Even buying the raw materials from the market is personally undertaken by the two of us.”
Since then, every evening after work, they set up the food cart at its usual spot to sell the meals. A plate of chicken biryani goes out for Rs 120, while half a plate costs Rs 70.
Gaining popularity among the recurrent customers, Engineer’s Thela is now selling over a 100 plates of biryani a day apart from side orders of their sizzling chicken tikka.
“Our cost per day works out to be around Rs 1,000, while the output earns us up to Rs 8,000. After deducting operational costs, we end up making a monthly profit of around Rs 45,000,” reveals Priyam.
Currently, the model is running on a delivery system due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, but the beloved cart with its striking yellow hoarding is planned to hit the streets again soon.
To get a taste of their biryani, connect with Priyam Bebarta at 7978147252.
Engineers ThelaEdited by Divya Sethu