The journey of Mumbai food startup Comfort Curries began one fateful night when Miss Tourism Nishita Purandare was among a motley crew of guests at a dinner party in Hamza Bandookwala’s home. His mother, Fakhera, had as usual outdone herself and made a scrumptious Bohri feast.
“The next day, I received a call from Nishita’s mom. She told me that they are organising the next Miss Mumbai contest and that they would like us to supply food for the participants and guests. I said yes without giving it a thought or even talking to my mother,” says Hamza.
Thus began Comfort Curries, a platform that has a network of home chefs who are connected to consumers looking for authentic Indian cuisines like Bohri, Bengali, South Indian, Rajasthani, Malwa, Parsi, and Sindhi, to name a few.
Dishing up delicacies
Speaking of how they began, Hamza says,
“I had 20 days to set up a company, make a logo, find a name and a place, and most importantly finding the proper staff to make sure I don’t mess up a high-profile party. When I told my mom that she has to cook for 300 people, she thought I was joking.”
Hamza managed to convince her to take part, though she had no idea how to cook in such huge quantities. So they decided to enlist the help of people who would cook according to his mother’s instructions.
Taking care of the other tasks of setting up the startup was not exactly simple as Hamza was still working as a chartered accountant. So he took a couple of weeks off and got down to brass tacks of setting up Comfort Curries, while he left the handling of the food and the assistant cooks to his mother.
The food was a success at the event, and Comfort Curries was born in October 2018 in Mumbai. Quitting his job, Hamza decided to concentrate on the startup full time.
During the course of this initial journey, he realised that there is a demand for delicacies that are not commonly found, or not prepared as well in restaurants. This was, of course, not just in the case of Bohri food, but other cuisines as well. Hamza also understood that there was a certain group of people that could prepare dishes belonging to a region or community very well, much like his mother. He wanted to give these home chefs a platform to present their culinary skills.
“I started hunting for these people. I had to struggle quite a bit initially but we did discover those chefs. It took me five months to find them. The second challenge was to convince them about my concept. In the end, all these efforts were worth it,” says Hamza.
The core team at Comfort Curries comprises Hamza, his mother, and his younger brother. Initially, they decided to start only with Bohri food and while the response was slow, it was nevertheless good. Each order increased by word of mouth, and soon they had begun experimenting with other cuisines.
"Within the first month, we had around 100 orders, excluding those for events, and within a couple of months, the volume increased to 2,000 orders. At times we had had to turn down orders since we didn’t want to overload the chefs and compromise on the quality,” says Hamza.
Comfort Curries’ platform has chefs and people from different backgrounds and cultures who specialise in their respective dishes. When an application for listing is received from a chef, a team of foodies would make a surprise visit and taste whatever they have to offer.
“If our team loves what they offer and finds it extraordinary and authentic then only we list them on our platform,” Hamza explains.
While the team refused to share details on the number of chefs and the revenue model. Hamza added that they get a small commission from the sale made.
The food can be ordered online on their own website and other food delivery platforms and also through WhatsApp. The team has three different sections – ‘Instant Delivery within 50 Minutes’, ‘Instant Delivery within 1.5 Hours’ and ‘Pre-orders’, based on the complexity of the dish and time taken to prepare it.
Everything is cooked fresh after the order is received, Hamza notes. The dishes are priced at an average of Rs 200 to Rs 500.
Market and future
Several reports suggest that the food delivery market is growing at 40 percent per annum and is believed to touch a market size of $10 billion by the end of this year. On the other hand, the food retailing market is believed to be worth $300 billion and the Indian restaurant market is pegged at $50 billion.
There also is Mumbai-based Bohri Kitchen that works on a similar model. Pune-based MealTango started as MealBoat, an aggregator for home cooks, but now has also opened options of providing home dining experiences. There also is Prime Venture Partners-backed FoodyBuddy.
Currently bootstrapped, Comfort Curries is first looking for a deeper penetration within Mumbai before expanding into other cities.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)