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A Taste for Rapid Expansion Serves Up Valuable Lessons Learned for Hiran Patel.

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Karen Stoychoff

In this season 2 episode of Back of the Napkin - Friday Fails, Hiran Patel, owner of Naansense Indian restaurants in Chicago, discusses the issues he encountered when expanding to a second location and the wisdom gained from failure. Listen to the episode.   

Friday-Fail with-Hiran-Patel-owner-of-Naansense

Hiran Patel turned his passion for cooking Indian food into a successful Chicago-based restaurant chain called Naansense. But an over-zealous expansion revealed quality issues that caused an unexpected investment in food preparation facilities and processes to maintain the complex taste profile common to Indian cuisine.

Rapid Growth Leaves a Bitter Taste.

Not long after opening Naansense, a fast-casual restaurant, Patel plated delicious Indian meals and sides to hundreds of customers every day, earning rave reviews. Instead of savoring success, he and his partner decided to open a second location as part of their vision to open a Naansense in every major U.S. market. That’s when things turned sour. 

Patel was soon selling more food than he and his partner imagined possible … until they confronted the challenge of maintaining consistent food quality and flavor profiles across multiple locations. Indian food is unique in its complex mix of spices, making it difficult to replicate from location to location. Customers noticed the taste difference between locations, and Patel suddenly had a problem.

Patel found a local commissary to make the base flavor profiles to his exacting standards and ship three tons of sauces monthly to both locations. “I learned that when things are working well, you need to let them work for a while to ensure things are well-oiled before taking the next steps of growth and expansion,” said Patel.

One challenge down. And then came COVID-19.

Adapt. Don’t Surrender.

Correcting inconsistent flavor profiles was one thing; surviving COVID-19 was something entirely different. Patel saw his business model drastically change thanks to the pandemic. “We are located in the financial loop of Chicago and relied on workers from local offices for our customer base,” said Patel. “But we lost all of our customers and revenue when no one was working in their offices anymore.”

Patel said he tried take-out food boxes and other methods to maintain sales, but with no workers in the area during the day or people coming to the loop in the evening, business declined. 

Patel consulted with restaurant industry veterans guided him through the COVID-19 crisis. They encouraged him to expand his business model into packaging his popular Indian sauces and new products for retail sale in grocery stores in the area. While the pandemic hurt his business initially, he leveraged the down time to source alternate streams of revenue for Naansense. 

As Patel and Naansense emerge from the pandemic, he reflects on how his failure taught him a life-long business lesson. “For any business, one bad experience can cause you to lose customers. So don’t grow too fast.  Embrace the success.”

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