By Vidya Pradhan
The typical Silicon Valley success story has to do with chips, b(y)tes, outsourcing and lots and lots of dough. Well, so does our story, though not in the way you might think. It all started when the bottom fell out of the hardware market in the early part of this century. Mani Krishnan, who had been making a comfortable living exporting computers, printers and peripherals to India, suddenly found himself in the unfamiliar territory of having to hound his Indian distributors for collections.
Having made a resolve never to work for anyone else ever again, Mani was scouting around for ideas for a new business when a friend commented on the lack of good South Indian coffee in the Bay Area Indian stores. A tie-up with 777, a Chennai based company selling various Indian processed foods led to the seeds of a new business, now importing goods into the US instead of the other way around. Mani’s fragrant godown in Mountain View now stocks pickles, sambar powder, puliyogare paste and of course many different brands of ‘kapi’ but the secret to the success of his fledgling company is – batter!
It is hard to imagine a time when ready made Idli, Dosa and Uttapam batter was not easily available at your local Indian store, but just three years ago, the supply was limited to a small outfit called Ganesh Foods which distributed Idli and Dosa Batter in unmarked containers on a sporadic basis. Shasta Foods’ sleek, opaque containers with the markings in English and Tamil quickly made their way into the freezer shelves and became a staple in kitchens throughout the area.
I visited the clean kitchen of Shasta Foods where several giant grinders whirred away, as vats of soaked rice and lentils stood by. A specially constructed cooler room stores the finished product, which is made without any preservatives. The batter has become so popular that it is the entry point for the company to distribute its other products like processed foods and puja items to the local shops. Fresh sambar and chutney are also distributed along with the batter. Shasta Foods distributes to about 75 stores in the area and is very particular about fresh restocks.
In the spirit of globalization, restocks are actually managed by an employee from India who works a night shift and uses VOIP to keep in touch with the customers over here. The company has since branched into several ancillary products like Thali Peeth and Chakli from Mumbai and Indian Chinese sauces and noodles. Mani is also proud of Puja kits he designed which make it easy for the harried husband to pick up all the ‘samagri’ at a single point in a reusable box!
But Mani’s real ambition is to expand the use and reach of his flagship batter products, making them popular among North Indians and non-Indians. Cooking classes are in the works as is a range of products that can be purchased online and shipped in ice-pack containers.
In this particular story, the chips are salty and the housewives are outsourcing, but the dough business has been very rewarding for Mani Krishnan. “I can’t wait to wake up every morning and get to work,” he says with a smile. “I am having the most fun of my life.” How many of us can say the same about our jobs?
As a special offer to WNI readers, Mani will send you a small recipe book with innovative takes on his batter if you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your address. Enjoy!