Here’s a story of struggle, loss and triumphing over major setbacks to start from scratch in the F&B industry.
It’s one thing to start an F&B business from scratch, but it’s a whole new challenge to shut down a thriving one and start a new restaurant. Gopala’s Veg Kitchen in Bhandup, Mumbai is a good lesson in this.
Here’s a story of how two brothers grappled with loss, embraced spirituality and found a way to begin a new chapter; and how Swiggy helped them take that dream to another level.
Leaving the past behind
Life in the 90s was very different for Manoj Shetty. The youngest of three brothers, Manoj’s father had moved to Mumbai from Mangalore several decades prior to that.
“When my father moved here, he started working at a canteen. Eventually he started his own vegetarian canteen. When my oldest brother, Vinod started working with dad, they expanded the business into a bar and restaurant. We had several such initiatives and things were thriving, until we lost Vinod in an accident. A few years after that we lost my father too,” says Manoj.
While dealing with such heavy losses, the restaurant business fell into the hands of Manoj and his second brother Ashok. “We had no other option but to run the business. Profits were never the issue, but back then in Mumbai there was a lot of crime in certain areas and there was an incident where Ashok was in danger. We were so shaken by the events that we felt like something needed to change,” he says.
Disturbed by all the things that happened, Ashok and Manoj looked towards spirituality for comfort and that’s when they came across someone who advised them that they should start afresh and on a “clean slate” without “the heaviness of the past ”.
“That’s how Gopala’s Veg Kitchen was born in 2006. We wanted to put out clean and good food. We surrendered our liquor and bar license and wanted nothing to do with the past,” he explains.
However, the new beginning was anything but easy. “We had a fair share of challenges. All of this was new for the two of us. When things didn’t pan out as we envisioned it, I stepped into the kitchen and started handling things myself. I decided the quality and quantity of food. These things were tough because we didn’t have the experience to handle it all on our own. But we had to learn,” says Manoj who currently has three branches of his brand.
Despite the struggles, Gopala’s kept growing. “People started recognising the brand, we became famous for the multi-cuisine vegetarian food that we made, and we also started home delivery, but we were limited in reaching further distances. Customers would ask us to deliver to places well beyond our radius, so when I first heard about Swiggy I jumped at the opportunity!” says Manoj.
Swiggy had started making its presence felt in India in 2014 and 2015, “I was tracking how the company was changing the game for restaurants and I was eager to onboard with them. However, Swiggy hadn’t started work in Bhandup. I was so keen on partnering with the company that I remember calling an employee and requesting them to let me onboard,” says Manoj who managed to onboard with Swiggy eventually.
Delivering good food across great distances.
While Swiggy helped take Gopala’s Veg Kitchen to faraway places in Mumbai, Manoj believes that was just one of the many advantages of working with the company. “I have had good account managers who have helped me improve the restaurant. When Hemal Gaikwad, Swiggy Account Manager, was partnered with us, things got so much better,” he says.
Hemal, who took over the account several months ago, had his work cut out for him. “Here was a brand that had made a name for itself already, so the challenge was how we could make a bigger dent in the market. The issue here was that the discount burn was high. So we were spending a big percentage in discounts, which gets you a lot of business but for Gopala’s it wasn’t sustainable at that point. So, the plan was very simple. We decided to focus more on ads because that helps in acquiring new users that have a higher repeat rate compared to those coming to us only because of the discounts. We still worked with discounts, and simply shifted the focus. This was sustainable growth, because you’re increasing your margins and also not worrying about being seen as a discounted brand,” Hemal says.
According to him, Gopala’s Veg is one of the top three brands in Mumbai when it comes to menu-to-order conversion and they also have a high customer penetration rate, competing with some of the national and international food chains in India.
While Gopala’s continues to grow every month, Hemal and Manoj are sure of one thing, they don’t want to get complacent. “We don’t want to just settle with the success we have tasted so far. We want to increase the customer penetration rate as well as the menu-to-order conversion percentage and the roadmap to success has already been planned,” Hemal adds.
So what does the future look like for Gopala’s Veg Kitchen? Currently Manoj is expanding his business with the introduction of a new brand called Everything by the Kilo. “It’s a brand that caters to parties where one can order in bulk,” says Manoj. “We’re keen on expanding slowly but surely,” says Manoj.
Wherever they go, one thing is for sure – while the past has shaped Gopala’s significantly, Manoj has got his feet firmly rooted in the present with his eyes set on the future.