Shaival Chandra is passionate about potatoes. Baked potatoes to be precise. As the Managing Director of WTF Hospitality Pvt Ltd whose first brand is Simply Potatoes, he waxes eloquent about the tuber. "The potato is highly nutritious. It is fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. It is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin B, along with minerals like potassium, copper, magnesium and iron. Potatoes are also one of our best sources of complex carbohydrates."
Simply Potatoes is a chain of kiosks specialising in healthy, jacket potatoes, drizzled with delicious toppings. With options like piquant chilli Chinese, creamy makhani gravy, Mexican toppings, Italian-inspired pizza sauce, Jerk seasoning and Southwest dip, you can go round the world on a potato.
One of the company's key lieutenants, Chandra ensures the perfect running of this rather niche brand. "It is my job to ensure that we run our brand as an innovative, quick service restaurant, which delivers the highest quality and freshest food, with a strong focus on customer service," he says. This Worli resident is a dab hand at what he does and no wonder, since he boasts of an impressive roster of degrees–a BA in Economics and Management from Ohio Wesleyan University, USA and an Executive MBA from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania.
Battling the odds
Yet it could have gone horribly wrong. Chandra was at the World Trade Centre in New York city during the 9/11 terrorist attack. "The second plane hit right above my head," he says. "It was the most horrifying experience of my life." But a brand new perspective blossomed. "I realised that the world is a fragile place and it is important to follow my dreams… eating is my true passion!"
he laughs. "My palate is far sharper than my chef’s knife. We have a family business but I could not ignore my love for food."
Of course the road to success is never smooth and Simply Potatoes has had its share of detractors. "There are a lot of fly-by-night operators that dilute the quick-service restaurant space. The hardest part is that people inevitably assume our products to be low quality products as well, especially since they are so competitively priced. We are trying to change that concept. In just Rs120, you will get a quality product!" he promises.
Stepping up to the plate
Chandra is passionate about bringing healthy, fresh flavours to your palate. "We are trying to be authentic in our offerings rather than just creating a lopsided dish overpowered by gravy. For instance, we use authentic green curry paste in our Thai potatoes. All ingredients are absolutely fresh and sourced daily." Potatoes often get a bad rap for being starchy and unhealthy, but Chandra begs to differ. The brand's website and Twitter page are awash with the nutritional benefits of the good old aloo. "We are proud to introduce India to the concept of loaded, baked potatoes, customised to each individual palate," he states.
A Cathedral School alumni, Chandra believes that if he can succeed in SoBo, he can succeed anywhere. "The numbers tell me that we are doing well. We have had a very good response," he says modestly.
The brand recently hosted its first potato-eating contest. With the support of actress Shriya Saran and Phoenix Mills (the contest venue), the event was a grand success. "300 contestants participated and the winner devoured 1.2 kgs of potatoes in 6.5 minutes!" Chandra laughs. "We want to make this an annual, national festival in five years, reminiscent of the hotdog eating contests abroad." That is not all. Next month, a brand new kiosk opens in Pune and six more are slated to open in Mumbai and Pune soon. "The dream is to be a pan-India brand, with 50 outlets opening across the country in the next five years," he smiles.
Check out www.simplypotatoes.in or just dig in at the following locations in Mumbai:
Inox Theatre, Nariman Point
Radio Club, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba
Malabar Hill Club, Malabar Hill
Turf Club, Mahalakshmi
High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel
Phoenix Market City, Kurla