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A bite into Shree Krishna Vada Pav’s crunchy vada pav layered with their spicy chutney and hot chillies teleported me to my favourite vada pav stall in Mumbai. Subodh Joshi’s fondness for hotels and Sujay Sohani’s foodie nature were the building blocks this eatery, with branches around London.
Since 2010, they have been promoting street food from the port city in Maharashtra. Getting their brand abbreviated to SKVP by their faithful customers speaks to the popularity that the team has gained over the years.
Their decade of dedication and perseverance has weaved a fine success story, from a tiny pop-up shop to having notable personalities like cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar frequenting their restaurants.
‘iGlobal’ caught up with the Co-Founders and their newest team member, Mahesh Raikar, for this latest . Together, they talk through their vision of leading in the vegetarian and their plans to add more direction to the business.
After completing their Bachelor’s in Catering at Rizvi College of Hotel Management, Mumbaikars Sujay Sohani and Subodh Joshi relocated to the UK in 2002 to pursue their Master’s in Hotel and Business Management at IHMES International Hotel School in the Isle of Man.
Upon graduating both began their careers at Hilton Heathrow T4 and gradually worked their way up in the industry. Sujay occupied the post of Assistant F&B at a five-star boutique property and Subodh was a Back of the House Manager at Lancaster Gate Hotel near Hyde Park.
Although they had the urge to take a risk and start a business of their own, their work permit and financial constraints restricted their dreams.
“We were always friends and used to speak about starting something of our own, but we never had enough capital and investment.”
Like many others, the recession of 2009 had an unfortunate impact on Sujay’s career. However, as one door closed, another one widely opened. It was in the midst of the financial crisis that Sujay and Subodh paired up to set their shop.
Having noticed a lack in the authenticity of Indian street food available in London, the duo thought of bringing in their much-loved Mumbai vada pav.
Subodh explains: “The quality of the street food wasn’t close to what we used to get back home. There is a slight touch to it and we missed the Maharashtrian flavours.”
Falling short in budget, vada pav, chai, dabeli and samosa were the only four snacks that they could afford to serve.
“We would never find an investor during that time,” remarks Sujay.
They managed to rent a small pantry for their pop-up shop in a Polish ice-cream parlour in Hounslow, west London.
Sujay recalls, “We hired the space for £400 a month and got our stove and gas cylinder.”
Sujay and Subodh polished their skills and learned to give their recipes a homely garnish under the careful guidance of Subodh’s wife. Introducing the UK capital to the Mumbai chaiwala style, they took their food around to Indian-owned ships.
“We used to take tea in a kettle and sell it with a vada pav for £1.”
They didn’t give much thought to their stall name: “We didn’t think that a white person would not understand what’s on the board. We just had to get the food to the people.”
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With six outlets in the whole of England, SKVP has been trying to capture a larger market by reaching out to customers from all ethnic backgrounds.
Sujay notes: “When you think of Indian food the only thing that comes to your mind is chicken tikka masala, roti and dal. This is also Indian food and its local Indian food loved in India.”
They are now working towards pushing Indian street food into the mainstream market.
“Most people don’t know what a vada pav is unless you are from Mumbai,” adds Subodh.
For the uninitiated, vada is made of spicy potato filling fried in a gram flour batter and pav is the bap it is served in with spicy chutneys and dips.
Mahesh goes on to illustrate the popular food joints in the UK, like Nandos, Wagamama, Itsu and Wasabi, who are in the spice trade as a sign that people are ready for an adventure.
“The timing is perfect for us. People are sick and tired of eating the same chicken tikka and they now want to try the authentic variations, which is where we kick in.”
Holding on to their global vision, the team is focused on strengthening their prominence in the UK before they can venture out to other countries.
“We don’t want to jump the gun when we haven’t even captured the full UK market. If the right partner comes along, we’ll go ahead with it.”
One of their specialities lie in the quick service that they provide. So much so that the trio has been outlining their proposals for express counters at railway stations with a limited menu. Subodh highlights: “Back at home, when you go to a thela (stall) and order a vada pav, it’s in your hand in two minutes. We are trying to achieve that speed.”
SKVP has tapped into the catering business as well, where they not only cater to larger occasions but take orders for house parties accommodating 20 people.
Their other distinct quality is the value for money: “Your cheque will barely exceed £30,” assures Sujay.
And in environment-friendly packaging, they will be soon be stocking their customised brand spices like the vada pav and missal masala in stores too.
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The has proven to be an extremely tough challenge for the entire food industry. The dedication and hard work put in by the SKVP team during the lockdowns has given them the confidence of coming out stronger, with two new diners in Birmingham and Ilford.
Sujay and Subodh are thankful to their customers who have supported their business through the pandemic.
“People were looking for comfort food and our food gave them the nostalgic feel,” they reflect.
The trio promptly adapted to online services like food delivery platforms and launched their , which limits person-to-person contact.
Subodh and Sujay themselves used to deliver meals to keep the business afloat and to please their customers. One such adventurous journey was when Subodh drove for 18 hours from London to Newcastle to cater to a loyal customer’s Ganesh Chaturthi celebration.
“We prepared the food, put it in the van and Subodh drove up, set the buffet and served the food,” recalls Mahesh.
“During the pandemic we all shared the work, washed utensils and mopped the floors.”