Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Disruptive Eating ~ Many Dimensions

Recently I was listening to Diane Rehm’s show on NPR (national public radio), a live program and a listener called in to say that the media is not doing their duty with respect to the Keystone XL pipeline project by not informing the people about its more cons than pros. One lady panelist on the show responded that if only Kim Kardashian can break the internet records almost every month, then one should not blame the media.

I realized how difficult a job for us to inform people about the ‘disruptive eating’ which empowers everyone to change the world.
One patron opined in the yelp review recently that we are going overboard on BMI (body mass index) putting BMI at the entrance and even in our toll free phone no. In Nov 2014 there was a global conference for obesity and overweight issue in Rome, Italy under the auspices of UN FAO. Total 2 billion people out of 7 billion world population are obese or overweight and total cost to fight this is $2 trillion. For the US, 74% of the population falls in this category with the price tag of $116 billion. So my question is when is the time to go overboard?
Also the last month FDA (Food & Drug administration, US) came up with an order for all restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display the ‘calorie count’ for all food or beverage items. It would include the grocery stores selling prepared food and the food joints in the movie theatres etc. No doubt, it is a good first step. But it is kind of ‘better late than never’, not a war given the gravity of the problem. What is worrying more in the US that the poor or less educated people are afflicted disproportionately with the overweight or obesity problem and they have fewer choices to come up trump. Can ‘Nirmal for disruptive eating’ make a difference?
We talk a lot about the vegetarian food as well as the goat meat for the non-vegetarians. Indian cuisine is synonymous with the vegetarian food and the ample proof comes in the form of 500 millions vegetarians in India alone (42% of the population) which is more than all vegetarians combined in the rest of the world. Some analysts tend to highlight ‘poverty’ or less income as a cause of the vegetarianism in India. What they overlook is, in India, the egg is considered a non-vegetarian item and the vegetables are not cheaper than egg. Out of 500 millions, 375 millions are pure vegetarians not eating eggs. In my view, our ‘curry’ based food with plethora of spices is the key to the ‘vegetarianism.’ India was famous for its spices since the last 5000 years and still 75% of the spices produced in the world come from India. For comparison, China has 65 millions vegetarians, just 5% of their population.  But I would suggest you to try Indian cuisine to get into this debate.
Similarly when we started to promote ‘goat meat’, many patrons were perplexed. Is goat, a red meat, better than Chicken? We used an article from Michigan State University, one of the top agriculture university in the US, to authenticate our claim. I grew up eating only ‘goat meat’ in India and I have seen rearing of ‘goat’ by our neighbors in the village. At that point I was not at all aware of its health quotient or about India being the second largest producer of the goat meat. (150 million heads to 4 million in the US). Goat meat could be the answer to the unsustainable meats like the beef or pork. Specially for the poorer regions of the world, the goat rearing could be a tool to reduce the social inequality or to reduce malnutrition. Please see the link ~ .
But our challenge is immense. Think of the sister cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti ~ the home to 2 big universities of Michigan and having the most educated and diverse population in Michigan. Out of 300 restaurants all around, Nirmal may be the only restaurant serving goat meat. So even if you decide to try goat meat, where you would find. Trust me once you try our goat curry or goat biryani, you won’t go back to the other fares. And it baffles me more as Indian or Mediterranean restaurants don’t have goat meat and these regions are the biggest consumers of the goat meat. 
Talking about the challenges. For the last one year, we started promoting subtly ‘whole wheat bread’ called Roti at Nirmal in place of Naan bread made of white flour.  All of us know that the whole wheat has five times more dietary fiber than white flour and its glycemic index is low making the whole meal more fulfilling. But we still have 80% of our patrons opting for Naan though 10% down. But what hurts me more personally is we Indians at home here or in India eat Roti as a staple item and eat Naan only in the restaurants. As in our culture specially in India we eat out once or twice in a month, so we rarely eat Naan. In the US when we eat out, mostly try other cuisines, so little chance of eating Naan. Actually the first time I ate Naan when I was 18. Also very few may know that naan bread is cooked in Tandoor oven (special type of clay oven) by pasting the bread on the inside walls whose temperature reaches 900 F and it remains continuously ON to maintain its wall temperature. For the burners in the commercial range, this temperature is 500 F which we use to make roti bread on Tawa (kind of flat pan made of iron or steel). It is anybody’s guess how much nutrients left at such high temperature. Operationally it is far better to use Tandoor oven  but it consumes 3 times more energy. So I have always asked this question myself ~ why we are serving Naan made at Tandoor oven in the name of authentic Indian cuisine which we claim as the healthy eating? And when we are trying to make Indian cuisine your regular meal instead of once a month extravaganza. Come 2015 we plan to discard the Tandoor oven and the naan, synonymous with Indian cuisine here in the US whereas only 10% of the population in India specially in the northern states may eat naan. Off course an article from the Vegetarian Times helped us to make this decision, the excerpt given below. We know this would hurt our business as our 'no buffet' decision did but it is in tune with our mantra of 'eat healthy, save energy, save our planet.'

 *In a 10-year Harvard study completed in 1994, men and women who ate high-fiber breads had fewer heart attacks and strokes than those whose tastes ran to bagels and baguettes.
*Simply switching from white to whole wheat bread can lower heart disease risk by 20 percent, according to research from the University of Washington reported in the April 2, 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. 
Most importantly with Tandoor oven out from our kitchen, it becomes similar to the kitchens of any American or Mexican restaurant having a commercial 6-burner range, a fryer and a flat top grill. Eventually it would help us expand our presence in Michigan and beyond and actually we are actively looking for the partners who believe in making the positive difference through a business venture.
So it boils down to the same feeling. Eating is so mundane that we don’t care or rather don’t give a hoot. Talking of the ‘calorie count’ of food items in the restaurant. New York was the first city to introduce these guidelines way back around 2004-5 and the survey after survey pointed out that only 30% of the people took notice of it. At least I can claim from the roof top that 90% of our patrons would have known or observed what we are trying to convey ~ BMI everyone should know or the goat meat is healthier or why eat Lentils. So are we doing the right thing? Is not this right time to forgo our modesty and speak what is good for all of us?
The disruptive eating has 2 more components ~ fresh, affordable and nutritious Vs taste and wastage and to promote the home cooking going forward. I come across the comments that our food is often late. Our chefs make everything from the scratch and make it the way we eat at home. That’ why you would find our food more spiced with less dairy cream and off course a different taste though the original. One big impact is we have almost eliminated our wastage as we cook once an order is in. Not a brainer when we offer lunch or dinner starting at $5. Earlier when we used to do buffet or have had some back-up, we used to waste a lot and the wastage cost passes to the patrons. In the US alone, the food wastage costs $165B and 40% of this wastage comes from the food joints or the grocers, the rest by the consumers. Talking of the taste more. We introduced vegan naan bread at Nirmal, a first in the US, by not using milk and egg for its dough. Does this make the naan bread less tastier, yes? But this makes naan a bit more nutritious and palatable to so many vegans and specially the vegetarians from India.
Another agenda for 2015, we plan to start sharing some recipes with you which you can cook at the home easily. The first item would be Rice lentils curry called ‘Kichhdi’ in India, the ultimate comfort food. It is vegan and we offer now on Saturdays only at Nirmal. Eventually we plan to hold the free cooking classes at Nirmal on Sundays. This would bust so many myths about the Indian cuisine and bring the cost of Indian food down if cooked at home.
Any type of cuisine represents its culture and off course India has long history of the culture and the traditions. I would like to share 2 things which represent India ~ ‘Gita’ and ‘Yoga.’ And I would tell you why. Just for a brief background, we are celebrating this year ‘5151’ st anniversary of Gita, you read it right, five thousand one hundred fifty first anniversary. And ‘Gita’ is the spiritual embodiment of everything what India represents. ‘Yoga’ came to the world stage this year when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi proposed an International yoga day during his UN general assembly address in New York and just this month UN declared June 21st as the International Yoga day. You may get surprised why it took so long for ‘Yoga’ to get the center stage when the UN observes so many days ~ .
Let me admit as I grew up in India, I became aware of these 2 things very late in my adult life. Now when I look back, it seems a bit ironical. My kids are fortunate having come into contact with Gita at their young age as there are so many avenues here in the US. Somehow, in India, these 2 things got identified with the majority religion ‘Hinduism’ in India and in the name of ‘secularism,’ we missed out on 2 biggest character building tools for the young minds. You judge yourselves why these could be limited to just a religion or a region~ . Yoga is very popular in the US though not affordable for everyone. I would share what I learned by self and practice daily ~ .
If you want to know the benefits of Yoga, please see this link on a research at Harvard University ~ . Recently I came across a book ‘World Order’ by Henry Kissinger, one of the most famous diplomats having served the US and it quotes extensively from ‘Gita’ and the ‘Arthashastra’ – the 2 most famous books from India. Please see ~  .
When I see so much turmoil or disagreement here almost on everything, I always wonder what is the way out. We need physical, mental and spiritual well being for all of us. And the physical starts with your eating habits. Second thing, we always think ‘one tree does not make a forest.’ But each of us can change the things and a simple step of right eating can make a global impact. Once you are physically fit, then you can indulge in the pursuit of your mental and spiritual well being. And then you are ready to use and SHARE the power of ‘knowledge.’ We all know that food and fear & sleep and sex ~ these 4 things are common to us and the animals. Only ‘knowledge’ makes us humans different and the knowledge is not about knowing the dimensions of Ms Kardashian’s anatomy.
Today the young people are blessed in the sense that Gita or Yoga or so many character building tools are just a click away on their phone or the laptop. And ‘Yes you can’ can combine into a big ‘Yes we can.’

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Decoding the 'disruptive eating'

When I coined the word ‘disruptive eating’ for what we are doing at Nirmal, I meant how Nirmal as an Indian food chain can disrupt the US food industry. Off course it would impact the health profile of the US in general for good. Most common use of ‘disruptive’ in recent times is with technology and we all can agree how it has changed our lives for good. More importantly how it has empowered an ordinary person to access and use the same information and facility which was beyond reach of so many people.
‘Eating’ is such a simple daily routine for all of us and using the same yardstick we need to show how the ‘disruptive eating’ can empower everyone to make a difference. In India, we have a saying that there are 2 types of the people in the world ~ one who eat to live and other who live to eat. Just to explain a bit more, the first category just gobble up anything when they feel hungry without batting an eyelid and the second one give due thought to what they are eating. And the disruptive eating asks you to opt for the second category.
Just for brief background, Nirmal is a self-service café in Ypsilanti, MI serving affordable and authentic Indian food with our flagship item being Food Box ($5 for 5 items). When we started way back in 2009 as Temptations, a fine dining restaurant with full Bar and the lunch buffet, our aim was to just establish the first Indian food chain. By 2013, we have had taken our food to 4 campuses and 8 corporate cafeterias in Michigan and launched our first franchise at Columbus, OH. We knew well that Indian food is tasty, nutritious and healthy but it was not reaching to who needed it more and our customer base was stagnant, mostly from the college educated and the middle and higher income populace. In the meantime I have had some personal experiences which told lot more about the US food industry and how people need more info to opt for the second category which I described earlier. Let me share some personal experiences. In India I grew up eating goat meat, our specialty and chicken and you may be surprised to know that goat meat is healthier than even chicken.
  1. One day I go to Jimmy John's for the lunch and they don’t have chicken or goat sandwich. They have Turkey sandwich and I know Turkey meat is healthier than chicken. But then why only pork and beef, why not goat, the healthiest meat among the red meats.
  2. My daughter wanted something burger or sandwich for the school picnic and I trooped into a nearby Burger King  by 9am. Same story played out again. They do have chicken burger but served only after noon. For veggie, they have salad.
  3. My daughter, 11 yr old, has had an American friend for the sleepover and we go to Wendy for their dinner pick-up. We end up with getting the beef item at our home for the first time in our life as her friend does not eat chicken rather only eat beef and pork. In our religion Hinduism (85% of population in India are Hindus), the cow is considered sacred, hence we don’t even touch or see the beef items.
  4. When we used to serve our food at University of Michigan campus cafeterias, one day the executive chef asked me what is today for protein? I was kind of perplexed but later realized that he was enquiring about the chicken items. So protein here in the US is synonymous with the meat.
  5. I came across ‘No goat left behind’ campaign by Heritage Food USA and it bordered on ‘eat goat to save goat.’ The goat cheese and milk are very popular in the US as they are very similar to the human milk and lactose-free. Hence the majority of baby male goats are killed at birth as the goat dairy farms are not willing to spend money for their upkeep and there is no such demand for goat meat here in the US.
  6. Lunch buffet is a good way to introduce our cuisine to the first timers. One common refrain from our regular patrons was how they overeat every time as our buffet is so good and they don’t want to spend $10 for a lunch 2-3 times a week. Also we found that only 3% of the customers who ate lunch buffet ordered from our dinner menu. In India, only 2% high-end restaurants offer any kind of buffet whereas in the US, 95% of Indian restaurants do buffet, not sure why. The very first thing which did during our transition was to substitute the buffet with $5 food box with 5 items.
We realized there is huge information gap and to be honest, there is no big change in the US food industry or the way people eat their food for the last 20 years or so. The proverbial last straw for us was the unveiling of synthetic burger on 5th Aug last year which hurried the launch of Nirmal. It was more than a coincidence that Nirmal was launched in the same week though it took us 3-4 months to finalize our format (read self-service and 1-page menu) and another 3-4 months to define the ‘disruptive eating.’ Now we are ready to take ‘Nirmal’ to the next level.
The meat production and consumption world-wide specially beef and pork is unsustainable in terms of the resources required and also accounts for 21% of the greenhouse gases, the main culprit for the global warming. So it is natural for us humans to look for the alternatives. What baffles me is why we wait for a synthetic burger’s price to come down from $325K last year to something reasonable in the future. And would it be affordable to the ordinary people? We believe Indian cuisine could be a better alternative and I would explain how.
Indian cuisine revolves around ‘Curry’ and the spices make the ‘Curry’ so flavorful that one won’t be able to discern much difference while eating Chicken or Soya Chunks curry. No surprise that India has 500 millions vegetarians more than all vegetarians in the rest of the world. The spices are beneficial and we have 5000 yrs of history to back-up our claim. Most of the research on the spices are being done in the US and European universities. So when we say under ‘disruptive eating’, you don’t have to eat meat for protein, we mean 2 things. First, soya chunks or lentils have twice or equal protein with 5 times less fat than chicken. And second, the ‘Curry’ can make it easy to skip meat once or twice a week with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options under Indian cuisine. And if 100 million people in the US can skip meat once a week, there would be huge savings in the meat production of 3.6B pound per year. Total world-wide meat production is 660B pound per year and the US alone accounts for 93B pound.
Let me dispel one more myth about the difference between the meat protein and the vegetarian protein. Protein mainly consists of various kinds of the amino acids and both type of protein consists of all amino acids. Only difference is the lack of B-12 vitamin in the vegetarian protein. B-12 is plentiful in the eggs and in the dairy products. So vegans would need to take supplement for B-12.
Another message is ‘eat goat if you eat meat.’ Goat is far healthier than beef or pork or even chicken. But what makes the goat meat sustainable is for the same amount of meat, the goat consumes 1/5 of the grain consumed for the pork and 1/3 for the beef. So by eating goat once or twice per week you not only would be helping the Heritage Foods USA campaign but also would be saving the huge amount of grain. The world meat consumption consists of 38% pork, 30% poultry and 25% beef and 6% goat. If we can promote the goat meat production at the world level, the huge savings in the grain could be used to eradicate hunger among almost 800 million people worldwide. Besides it the goat is a sturdy animal, could be raised in any type of climate. And they are considered browsers not grazers like the cows, hence the far less grass consumption. Please read other posts at this blog to know more.
So your journey to the second category of people ‘Who live to eat’ begins with our very first message under disruptive eating ~ ‘Know your BMI’ (Body Mass Index). The US has 74% overweight prevalence ranked 9th among almost 200 countries in the world and spends $116B in related costs to tackle the obesity and overweight issue. India has 16% overweight prevalence ranked 178th, and much of the credit goes to ‘Curry.’ Trust me once you know your BMI, you would start to think about what you are eating.

Each one of us can change the world by the simple act of eating whether in terms of reducing the global warming or eradicating the hunger worldwide besides taking care of self. I would urge you to visit our website or watch our video at

Recently I came across an article at about Rishikesh, India, a small town, being the spiritual Disneyland of the world and I was not aware of it. So the key is to try Indian food once and then decide if it is worth to walk the talk. And when you start with $5 food box, you would help us in our pursuit of making ‘Nirmal’ the first Indian food chain. And think of 500+ Nirmals in the US in the next 5-10 years which can disrupt the existing US food industry for a good cause besides the huge global impact. We don’t need to wait for the synthetic burger.

In a nutshell the 'disruptive eating' could be a small step by all of us, a giant leap for the humankind  if we tweak a bit what Neil Armstrong said while taking the first step on the moon.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Time for 'disruptive' eating, not technology

The last week would be remembered for the limited launch of ‘Google Glass.’  There would be huge rush for it as people are hearing about since long and few would get it. Another ‘disruptive’ technology and more in the pipeline. All these technologies have made our life better.
Can we think of ‘disruptive’ eating now? Think of the last 20 years. Is there any substantive change in the US food industry? I can single out some ethnic cuisines getting footholds in the US like Mediterranean and Chinese cuisines and/or The Whole Foods or Trader’s Joe becoming more visible. But the majority are still eating burgers, pizzas and tacos and the select few have access to various organic food items and the healthy options in all forms.
The ‘disruptive’ eating would address the 2 most glaring issues which we face today ~ the ‘social inequality’ and the ‘climate change.’
Yesterday was the Earth Day (22nd April) and we were reminded of global warming and its impact on us and the future generation in various forms, please see the UN report out on 12th April. The global meat consumption contributes towards 21% of the greenhouse gases, the main culprit behind the global warming. And the US has the highest per capita meat consumption.
The ‘social inequality’ has 3 components ~ inequality in health, income and education in the order as per my perception.
Recently French economist Thomas Piketty was making waves in the US with his illustrations on the income inequality worldwide more pronounced in the US. With only 2 facts you can get an idea of the income inequality in the US ~ only 16000 (sixteen thousand) households out of 117 million account for 44% of total US income. And the growth in income for the bottom 90% of the population in 2011 as compared to the income level of 1966 say measured as one inch. The growth for top 1% during the same period is at 5 miles as per observation of Pulitzer prize winning writer David Cay Johnston.
Education equality or inequality again came to the fore with the US Supreme Court’s decision this week to uphold the ban on the affirmative action in admission to Michigan public universities imposed by Michigan voters in 2006.
Needless to say most of the focus has remained at the income and education inequality. I believe the ‘health’ inequality holds the key. A healthy body has a healthy mind and a healthy mind drives all your effort. Say for example with the talk of recent minimum wage hike from $7.25 to $10.10, someone gets more money and comes out of the poverty. But he or she does not have enough money to buy $6 a pound organic chicken at The Whole Foods or $10 salad at a premium salad joint. As the person is still eating the more or less same food, the health profile of the person does not change and he or she may end up losing that extra income on the health care. Until and unless we find a healthy diet for low income populace, this ‘social’ inequality would persist. Let me share some facts widely known though.
The US is at the 9th rank among the fattest countries in the world with overweight prevalence of 74%. Many studies have shown that BMI (body mass index) and the wages are inversely proportional and in the US, no surprise that the majority of overweight population is from low income as well as less educated populace.
What we are doing at ‘Nirmal’, a café style Indian restaurant in Ypsilanti, MI is ‘disruptive’ eating as we want to bring ‘Indian cuisine’ to the forefront of the national debate. Nirmal’ is located between 2 great universities in Michigan namely University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. Incidentally we are just 4 blocks from the first Domino’s Pizza store opened in 1967. We took over from ‘Temptations’, an Indian restaurant since 2009 and transformed it to ‘Nirmal’ in Dec 2013 after 4 years of trials and tribulations, a great learning experience for us. We have many firsts to our credit with respect to Indian food industry here in the US. For more information please visit our website  and see ‘Why Indian food’ appendixes under Blog corner. 

Why Indian Cuisine? First the data don’t lie.
  1. India is at 176th rank among the fattest countries with overweight prevalence of 16%.
  2. India has 500 million vegetarians, more than all vegetarians combined all over the world.
Most of the credit for these data goes to our ‘Curry’ based food. The ‘Curry’ is a kind of liquid sauce made with some base items like onion, tomato mixed with lot of spices. Off course our culture, tradition and the dominant religion in India ‘Hinduism’ do play a role in our food habits and the eating style. Spices from India have history of almost 5000 years and the benefits of various spices such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon etc have been proved through the research done in the US and British universities.
Many analysts tend to brush aside these data points under the carpet of prevailing ‘poverty’ in India.  I would suggest you all to try our ‘Curry’ and judge yourselves. And if you know Indians as your office colleague or neighbor, your job would be much easier.
I am aware of Mediterranean cuisine getting traction in the US in 1990s after almost 50 years if we take into the account the ‘seven countries experiment’ done in 1940s. But with Greece and Egypt ~ 2 Mediterranean countries ~ figuring among top 20 fattest countries with 68-69% overweight prevalence, I do place Indian cuisine a notch higher. Specially the vegetarianism component which can play a big role in reducing the meat consumption in the US and beyond. Also the situation today is much grimmer and we can’t wait for another 50 years.
‘Disruptive’ eating at Nirmal consists of 4 stages, not just simple food and cuisine.
At the first stage, our goal is to raise awareness about BMI (Body Mass Index).
We may be the only restaurant in the US or elsewhere which has a poster ‘KNOW Your BMI’ at the very entrance as well as the back page of our menu. Then we picked up a logo with ‘KNOW-BMI’ and our toll free telephone no as 844-KNOW-BMI. Please see our logo in the menu or at the Facebook page (Nirmal Indian Cuisine). So anyone visiting us at the restaurant or visiting our website or facebook page can’t miss this BMI thing.
We believe knowing BMI is very crucial to a healthy living as being overweight is precursor to the most of the medical issues. We found that only 10% of our patrons knew or how to calculate their BMI though the majority had heard about it. And this is the situation in the university town of Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti.
Then at the second stage we have put calorie charts of the vegetarian options as well as meat options at the walls of the dining hall of our restaurant. Ditto at the back page of the menu. Please see the charts below.                                                                                                                     
Paneer (100gms)
Soya Chunks
 Protein (gms)
 Fat (gms)
Saturated Fat(gms)
Calcium (mgs)
Iron (mgs)

Energy (Cal)
100gms =3.5 Oz ~ Paneer is Indian cheese, 100% vegetarian ~ Lentils has dietary fiber of 31gms

We are trying to convey 2 messages unequivocally ~ you don’t have to eat ‘meat’ for protein as soya chunks or lentils have twice or equal protein for 5 times less fat than Chicken. Also the  goat’ meat is the healthiest meat around, better than Chicken and people are not even aware of it. We have cited an article ‘Eat Goat’ from Michigan State University, one of the top agriculture research University in the US.

Table 1. Nutrient Composition of Goat and Other Types of Meat [1], [2]
 Fat (g)
 Saturated Fat (g)
 Protein (g)
 Cholesterol (mg)
[1]Per 3 oz. of cooked meat
[2] USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 14 (2001)

At the third stage, we at Nirmal are trying to make Indian food affordable by offering $5 food box for the whole day (11.30 am to 7.30am), a substitute for omnipresent ‘buffet’ priced at $8-10.  Our offerings and price line are unmatched by any Indian restaurant in the US or beyond. For example, we offer entrees in 8 oz (lentils, soya chunks or tofu) in $4 and the naan bread in $1, the cheapest price in the US. So you can get lunch or dinner in $5 as per your choice if you don’t want $5 food box with pre-determined entrees which we post daily on twitter, facebook and our web page. We may be the first Indian restaurant to offer ‘only Curry’ (8 Oz in $3) which people can use as a spread for burgers or dressings for the salad. Please compare these with offerings at other Indian restaurants.
At the final stage, we are giving a sense of gratification to our patrons. First eating at Nirmal which uses bio-degradable table wares, they are a part in this big endeavor of keeping climate clean. And if they can turn vegetarian for a day per week with so many options in Indian cuisine, they would be helping a great cause of reducing the meat consumption and hence the global warming. Think of some facts ~ average per person daily meat consumption in the US is 322 gms (1 pound = 454 gms), the highest in the world if you compare with 220 gms in Europe, 160 gms in China and mere 12 gms in India. Say 100 million people in the US out of 330 million decide to skip meat for one day every week, total annual savings in the meat production would be 0.7 pounds per day x 100 million people x 52 weeks per year ~ a whopping 3.6 billion pound only in the US.
In the nut shell we are positioning Indian cuisine as a healthy diet for low income people who still don’t have options other than the burgers, tacos or pizzas. We live in a global village and in the internet age. No one can change their eating habits overnight. But if we can find some better options for eating well within our means, we can give it a try.
Also with our presence at the campuses since 2009 at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus along with 3 others, we are convinced that we have to catch the kids at younger age to get them hooked to Indian cuisine. This time we are trying to target the High schools as well as the middle schools also.
So whatever we have done or trying to do is unique and revolutionary. During my research in the US or beyond, I did not find any restaurant or food chain with such clear cut agenda. Do we expect people to understand our agenda in 3 to 6 months or to change their eating habits, No? We are up against the existing Indian restaurants who have made Indian food synonymous with the dairy cream, oil and the lack of spices making our food bland and top of that with ‘Buffet.’. Also the price tag is much higher making Indian food kind of elite, it is not.
‘Buffet’ is not healthy eating though it is good for introduction to some new cuisines. In India a ‘lunch Buffet’ costs $10-12 whereas the daily (8 hrs) minimum wage is $3-4. Here in the US, a lunch buffet costs $8-9, one hour minimum wage. 2 largest Chinese food chains namely Panda Express and P F Chang do not offer any kind of buffet.  95% of Indian restaurants offer ‘buffet’ here and at such low price they won’t be able to do justice with the quality of Indian cuisine.
People go for Indian food once a month indulging in a kind of extravagance not bothering about the health effect. We want the people to eat our food once a week. 
 I believe we have already impacted the lives of one million people or more since 2009.
During our stint at the campuses and at our present location since 2009, we served Indian cuisine to almost 100K people. Most of them almost 90% become the repeat customers for Indian food. So wherever they go almost 70% University of Michigan students leave Michigan, they stick to Indian food as it is healthy and flavorful and they can afford it easily.
In this internet age, we communicate through social media and people talk about what they are eating. Assuming 10% of these 100K people are on Facebook or twitter or other social media and has a average of 100 unique Facebook friends out of 500 plus friends, we are talking about reaching more than one million people. Then in addition we have more than 500 unique visitors to our website every month or 100 page views for our blog at this point and you need to multiply these figures by 100 at the minimum to get the social media impact. The sphere of our impact is growing by the day.
In our new avatar ‘Nirmal’, we are targeting the 80% of the population, the low income and the less educated people. Till now only 10% of US population could afford the Indian food always in the price range of $8-$10 for a meal. Now we brought it down to $5, competing with burgers or tacos to wean away that segment of population to Indian food. It still surprises me in 2009 we became the first Indian food vendor at the cafeterias at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
This is not one man’s job or I am not driven by profit. I want other Indian restaurants or even other restaurants to follow us at least for BMI and Calorie education. Then only we would achieve the ‘disruptive’ character of Nirmal. When I decided to pursue MBA at Ross School of Business, University of Michigan in 2006, I was inspired by Late Prof C.K.Prahalad at Ross and his concept of the business reaching out to the ‘bottom of Pyramid’ and eradicating poverty through profitability. 

Some pending future items would have huge impact in our effort as detailed below:

a.    Cooking classes with grocery at hand ~ At ‘Nirmal’ café, we plan to offer ‘free’ cooking classes to the local populace on Sundays, our off day and then guide them to buy materials for cooking at home from our make-shift grocery store provided by the local Indian grocery stores at the reduced prices . This would serve 2 purposes ~ first to dispel the myth about Indian food being spicy, messy or oily etc and bring the cost of lunch or dinner further down  for a family of 4 from $20 (assuming 4 food boxes) to $10 if cooked at home. We want Indian cuisine to be the part of regular meal for the low income populace. Later we want to take the 'Cooking classes' to the apartment complexes and the community centers etc.

b.    Bombay dabbawala & drive-through ~ To develop own delivery network to deliver the lunch or dinner at the offices and the homes on the pattern of Bombay dabbawala which is a delivery network in Mumbai, India. Also the drive-through would bring us at par with the other fast food restaurants like Wendy, Taco Bell etc.
These 2 items would be the integral components of Nirmal going forward as we need to expand our outreach. We are aiming for Fall 2014 launch.
c. The Book and the video game on ‘disruptive eating’ ~ We are working on both with the target of launching in Summer 2015.
The book titled ‘Disruptive eating’- Empowering everyone to change the world ~  would detail our journey from ‘Temptations’, a fine-dining restaurant with Full Bar to ‘Nirmal’,  a self-service café with the mantra ‘Eat Healthy Drink Healthy.’ We would explain how ‘disruptive eating’ can make our community, country and the world a better place and how each of us has a role to play. This would also contain a section on Indian food items with easy to cook instructions. This book aims to promote cooking at the home.
  The video game titled ‘Nirmal’ - Save the world(Nirmal means Pure) would be targeted at kids (8 -13   years of age). Kids would be able to calculate their BMI and observe the changes in their BMI as they go on eating at home or outside. Also how their veggie eating or use of bio-degradable products can impact the global warming.

   The idea is to let kids become aware of the BMI, the calorie values of the food items and the global warming issues at young age through the game they would love to play. Also they earn some points at the game converting them to the food box or the gift cards at the Nirmal.
       d. Expansion ~ The present location at Ypsilanti is 4000 sq ft.  For ‘Nirmal’ café with self-service, we need at most $1000 sq ft to operate provided we get food from CPD (central production cum distribution center) at Ypsilanti location as we serve at the campuses. We plan to expand at other towns like Ann Arbor, Canton and Detroit in the first phase in Michigan. Beyond Michigan, there are 3500 Indian restaurants in 1000+ cities in the US and it would be easier to convert at least one restaurant per city to Nirmal if we succeed in Michigan. Our aim is to become the first Indian food chain in the world.
This is the best time to bring Indian cuisine at the center stage given the fact that now we  have the first White House occupant who have had the college room-mates from the Indian sub-continent and who gets a birth-day treat (2013) at an Indian restaurant in Washington D.C. And needless to emphasize that President Obama has unflinching commitment to tackle the both issues which we are targeting with ‘disruptive’ eating.
Let us join hands together to make the world a better place to live and let live.
(The author of this article is an MBA from Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a Co-Founder of ‘Nirmal’ )