In 2003 he distributed 300 boxes of Dosa batters, and today he distributes 80,000 and growing. Yes, this is a story about an Indian-American man about whom many Indian households might not be aware, but his brand has made its mark in Indian kitchens in the US.
Sharing his journey, Mani Krishnan – the founder and president of San Francisco Bay Area-based Shastha Foods who has been serving fresh dosa and idli batter in the US for more than 17 years – in an interview with indica News, says in any entrepreneur’s journey it’s normal to see both ups and down.
Before venturing into the food business Krishnan was exporting computers to India from the US, but when he saw the influx of software engineers coming from India, mainly Southern India, he saw an opportunity.
He self-funded the company, invested $1,000, and dove into a completely new journey from selling electronics to the edibles business, which was not easy.
He says he self-funded because Venture Capitalists’ money prevents the kind of freedom he needed.
With the help of a few friends, Krishnan said, he started distributing dosa and Idli batter in his car, from one grocery store to the next. Since he was new, he agreed to allow store owners to keep the batter on one condition – he would get paid if it sells. Krishnan was not alone in the market. There was another brand, Ganesh, already in the market.
This went on for almost two years, “I used to carry in my car and delivery my own and did this for two years,” he said.
Today, he sells 200 boxes of batter every hour and three varieties of batter every minute. Each box makes 16 dosas, which means over 100 million dosas have been consumed in 2003.
Offering 15 products in the market. The price in 2003 was $3.99; today it sells for between $4.49 to $4.99, depending upon location and organic sells $6.99 to $7.99.
When asked what’s the secret sauce of his brand getting popular, and switching from high-tech computer supply to selling batter, he said with a laugh, “sometimes when you jump, you have to learn to swim.”
“I would say it was convenient, comfortable, and consistent,” he said.
Since Ganesh Batter was known before him, he said he had to convince the shop keepers to take on his products So, like many, his entrepreneur journey was trial and error, and the result was not positive initially.
Thanks to the burgeoning IT industry in the San Francisco Bay Area, and H-1B Visa holders, any people in the area were looking for home-style dosa and Idli. It took two years, and it was all word of mouth promotion with some media publicity.
Now, 17 years later, it sounds easy, but Krishnan said he has to constantly innovate, have a vision and believe in scaling.
Krishnan proudly says his brand is bigger than burgers, even Americans and Chinese buy the brand, and for Indians, it’s a must item in their minds, like milk and batter.
“We are working on entering a mainstream mindset,” said Krishnan, who three years ago added healthy and organic batter for health-conscious customers. He calls it “smart foods and are available online as well.”
Millet and quinoa batter are getting popular. Krishnan said, and it’s even easy for farmers in India to grow in a state like Tamil Nadu, where water is a big issue.
Shastha Foods has reached Northern and Southern California; Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Arizona, Salt Lake City, Utah; North Carolina, Jersey, New York where there are the high concentrations of Indian American population.
When asked how his business has transformed, he said they have leased a 35,000-square-foot warehouse and have started using automated technology and robots that fill boxes. The company has also installed 35 dosa grinders.
Sharing on the impact of the pandemic on his business, Krishnan said he had 25 employees in the US and 20 employees in India. Initially for three weeks in March business got a little disturbed, but now they are doing well.
“We always keep three months of supply,” said Krishnan, who in 2003 used to import rice and lentils from Africa and Burma (Myanmar), but now he imports from India.
What’s the secret sauce of his success? Krishan said, “Never give up, hard work and persistence.”
When asked about challenging times in the development of the company, Krishnan said there were times even during electronic days he ran out of money and was bankrupt.
“But I have succeeded and risen again. I had to move on, be a get-goer to my kids and making challenging choices,” said Krishnan, who constantly keeps adding, innovating and questioning how to make the business grow. “I believe destiny has provided me… I’ve worked hard to achieve it.”
Sharing his message to the community, Krishnan, referring to Trump’s step-motherly treatment toward H-1B and F1 visas, said, “In the current difficult situation we all have to be support each other.”
“Empathy is needed, “ said Krishnan. “Look at the current situation… we all are in the same boat, and we have to be empathetic; and empathy should be supported by wealth and gratitude in caring for fellow human beings, only then we can build a better society.”