Think Japanese food (washoku), and the first word that comes to mind is sushi. The seaweed roll filled with cooked rice, raw or cooked fish, and vegetables has become as popular as burgers today. However, satiating that sushi craving isn't easy for most of us since the dish is usually found on menus of fine-dining restaurants.
But that's set to change. Residents of Bengaluru – and other cities soon – now have the option of having their sushi delivered to their doorstep, thanks to Sushimen. Founded by Abhijeeth Urs and Ashwin Prasad, the venture was bootstrapped in August 2018.
If you are wondering why home delivering sushi is a challenge, consider that the dish requires superlative slicing skills and has a shelf life of just four hours.
Abhijeeth, a hotel management graduate who has worked as a chef in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, always dreamed of opening a restaurant but felt that this restricted him to a particular location. Over the years, having worked with Michelin-star chefs, he developed an interest and expertise in preparing sushi.
“Sushi is not something that is conveniently available, and that’s one of the reasons that people were not eating it,” says Abhijeeth.
He teamed up with Ashwin, who is an avid biker just like him, and floated the idea of selling sushi online. Ashwin, who has had over 37 years of experience in marketing, felt the idea would work. The duo started off with a small market survey to test the waters about whether people would risk ordering sushi online, but more importantly, whether enough people knew about it. The results actually surprised them as many responders knew about sushi and its various specialities. This was especially true in case of people who travelled abroad frequently.
Internationally, sushi is very popular, thanks to specialised bars. There are also gyms with in-house sushi bars as this food is rich in protein and starch. It is also very rich in Omega 3, an important fat required by the human body.
Ashwin says, “Sushi has the right balance of protein and starch. Also, no processed ingredient is used in this food.”
Abhijeeth and Ashwin were very clear that their sushi would meet the highest standards in terms of ingredients, preparation, and presentation. That's why Sushimen sources ingredients that ensure the freshness, taste, and health.
The startup has built a network of suppliers who supply the original ingredients. It procures Unagi, a freshwater eel from Japan that is traditionally cooked by particular families with a limited output. The mackerel is received frozen while the salmon is from Norway. The tuna is sourced from places like Lakshadweep, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Salmon and tuna are two fish that need to be as fresh as possible and are very crucial for sushi making.
“We have developed a good network; they inform us when a fresh and good catch of fish is available,” Abhijeeth says.
Veg and non-veg options
However, this does not mean that Sushimen has only non-vegetarian offerings. The company also has vegetarian sushi, with Abhijeeth creating signature dishes. These include offerings like asparagus and raw mango sushi, and spinach and cottage cheese sushi.
“Sushi is a grade by itself and working in Dubai helped me follow certain recipes,” says the chef. The duo first presented their sushi offerings at an international school in Bengaluru and were amazed at the awareness level among students. The day was an overwhelming success.
Sushimen’s approach to the market began through friends and family who could reach out to them through WhatsApp to order. Later, the startup started to market through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
The founders targeted customers between 25 and 50 years of age, but they have had customers as young as 10 years and going all the way up to 70 years.
The initial demand for Sushimen was quite modest with four to six orders a week but has now reached 15-20 orders a day.
Sushimen has tied up with hyperlocal platform Dunzo and expects the order intake to rise to 100 per day. The founders were not very keen on other food delivery platforms as they felt that their product, being quite niche, may not be appropriate on those that provide a wide assortment of food.
Abhijeeth says the split between vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings of their sushi is almost the same. Their Philadelphia and California rolls with tuna and salmon have been a hit with customers, while some of their vegetarian offerings made with raw mango or spinach have also seen high demand.
Prices range between Rs 200 and Rs 300 for the vegetarian option and between Rs 300 and Rs 600 for the non-veg category.
Abhijeeth and Ashwin, currently operating from a single location, also plan to expand operations within Bengaluru. “We will have one centralised kitchen with pickup centres at six to 10 locations,” Abhijeeth says. This will reduce their delivery time as the main work will be done at the centralised kitchen while finishing touches will be given at pickup centres.
Ashwin says, “Sushi can never be mass manufactured as everything is hand rolled and created.”
The ingredients for sushi are quite expensive, but this bootstrapped venture has been able to cover operational costs. The founders do not have any plans to seek funding as of now though they have had numerous offers from customers willing to invest in the business.
“The potential for sushi is quite huge in a country like India as there is no brand for this in the country,” Abhijeeth says.