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Hiran Patel Turns Passion for Indian Cooking Into Naansense

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Kim Madeleine

In this season 2 episode of Back of the Napkin, Hiran Patel, owner of NaanSense Indian restaurants in Chicago, discusses how he turned his passion into a successful restaurant business, and the challenges he faced as he transitioned to a new profession. Listen to the episode.  

Hiran-Patel-Turns-Passion-for-Indian-Cooking -into-Naansense

What started as a casual father–son conversation became a defining moment in Hiran Patel’s life.

Patel, a 30-year-old sales consultant, stood at a career crossroad. While preparing Indian food for family and friends, father advised son to find something he loves to do. That father–son moment set Patel on the path to learn the restaurant business from the ground up and open an Indian cuisine restaurant in Chicago. Patel describes the name for his fast casual dining experience, NaanSense, a play on words using the popular Indian flat bread, as “catchy,” “playful” and “perfect for the concept that we wanted to build.”

Stepping Back to Move Forward.

While he loved cooking at home, Patel had never worked in a restaurant. Undeterred, he applied for a sous chef job at a popular Indian restaurant and landed the job after a two-day trial. It paid just $7 an hour, but the job started his journey to restaurant ownership. After three years of working in kitchens and as a restaurant consultant, Patel was ready to take the next step.

Patel quickly learned how much money it takes to open a restaurant. “What threw me off guard was the amount of money that's actually required to start a business successfully. Because there's many ways you can start a business just from not being funded properly, I would say, but having the right security financially will really allow you to take the right steps from the front onward, and meet some of the challenges that you're going to face down the road.” That’s where Patel’s background in sales and business development, deal negotiation and people skills helped get things cooking.

Lessons Learned Along the Way to Success.

NaanSense started sizzling almost immediately, serving hundreds of customers daily. As the restaurant’s popularity grew, his partner saw a “For Rent” sign on a store in another part of Chicago and decided to take a chance and open their second location. Before long they were selling more food than they ever imagined, but Patel realized that it had also become more difficult to keep the food quality and flavor profiles at both locations consistent. 

That was caused in part because Indian food is difficult to replicate from location to location. To correct the inconsistencies, Patel found a local commissary that could make the base flavor profiles and ship the three tons of sauces used each month in NaanSense offerings to the two locations. But he also learned a valuable lesson during the expansion and subsequent product inconsistencies: don’t try to grow to fast! 

“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. “For any business, one bad experience can cause you to lose customers. So don’t grow too fast. Embrace the success.”

As a result of his experiences and improvements, Patel moved his goal to open a NaanSense location in all major U.S. markets to the front burner. 

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