In Business you can never tell which idea clicks, which does not. You can also never fathom, why certain idea or business venture clicks and why another one flops miserably. After success or failure you can only make concepts out of it and teach them in business schools. An idea tried by hoteliers on an experimental basis, and found successful in Kerala recently is packed lunch. But the material used here to pack is made out of slightly burnt banana leaf.
The surprise is that the idea came from Gulf. For decades packed lunch on burnt banana leaves has been popular in many gulf countries, specially in Dubai. Malayalis, once they leave their green and beautiful land become mushy nostalgia-lorn babies. For the 40-plus generation, 'pothichoru' or 'lunch of rice and mouth watering curries packed in burnt banana leaf' is part of nostalgia. It's mother's cuisine which they took to school or university everyday. Besides, the burnt banana leaf gives a burnt taste and flavour to the rice and curries too.
The hotels in UAE specialising in Kerala cuisine, that cater to the malayalis who are a million strong there, are of wide variety. The smallest ones sell a typical Kerala lunch of rice with fish curry and fried sardines, for 8 to 10 dirhams. The more posh ones, where Mallu women wearing traditional set mundu serve yummy dishes, charge 22 dirhams for a curry-lunch. Many of these outlets like Calicut Notebook, Keerthy, and Gafoorkka Thattukada serve 'pothichor' too at 12 dirhams. There was a certain person from Chettiar community in Dubai whose restaurant used to sell 'pothichor' in morning. Many a Mallu used buy it at a paltry sum of 6 dirhams, on his way to office. It no longer exists.
The 'pothichor' of yesterdays used to have an omlette, chammanthi,fried fish, sautered vegitables, sambar, curd and pickles. But the 'pothichor' business that's taking root has much wider variety. Kunjumon, a hotelier who runs a successful seafood restaurant Sagara in Thiruvananthapuram, has pioneered the new 'pothichor' with fried sardines, fried anchovys, fried prawns, fried squid and fish curry. All dishes are covered in little packs of burnt banana leaves. Then there is a bigger pack the contains dishes that used to be in the traditional 'pothichor' packs! Priced at Rs 220 the lunch is enough for two persons.
This lunch is a hit with techies of Technopark. Sagara hotel gets around 200 'pothichor' orders on an average. There are many techies who come to the hotel too and ask for lunch packed on burnt banana leaf. They want to re-live the old university days and enjoy the flavour of rice and curries packed in burnt plantain leaves. Home delivery of the 'pothichor' is also picking up.
The idea came from my son, said Kunjumon. He had sent his son to Dubai to get a feel of the food business there before joining his family business. The boy saw the 'pothichor' business in Dubai and realised the potential of doing the same back home. So it's kinda curious case of idea flying back from mallus in Gulf to Kerala.
But the banana leaf has become costly. One leaf now costs Rs 4 and packing it with curries is delicate work. Sagara restaurant employs Bengali boys for the same. But the chef has to be Malayali to get the real Mallu tastes.
A 'pothichor' sold at Rs 100 with less dishes could sell like hot bajis. If 100 such packs fly off-the shelf the turnover per day is Rs 10,000. With margin in food business at 50 per cent this business could soon become a lucrative one.
Lastpost- Owners of bigger restaurants are sending feelers to buy 'pothichor' from Sagara. They are testing it, as part of testing the waters. Judging by the malayali tendency to imitate the successful, it could soon be every little 'chayakkada' or tea shops selling 'pothichor'.