Sunday, March 29, 2015

Say Yes to whole wheat bread

We discarded the Tandoor oven and the naan (white flour bread) on Feb 16th 2015 at Nirmal and let me share some of the reactions from our patrons during this one month period. It took us almost a year to make this decision. No surprise we may be the only Indian restaurant with full offerings without naan out of 3500 or so in the US. There are some like Udipi or other restaurants offering south Indian fares or Nehee (in Canton, MI) who offers Indian street food, don’t have naan.
  • Very first day someone orders Garlic Naan, the most popular kind of bread  and we tell we don’t have naan as we made switch to only whole wheat bread (roti or chapatti) and we have Garlic roti. He says I care about Garlic flavor and don’t care about the type of bread.
  • One regular patron who visits us 2-3 times a week for the food box ($5 for 5 items), a far better substitute of the buffet for the people who wants to eat Indian food regularly. He was kind of disappointed as he liked naan. He mentioned how his family adopted the whole wheat spaghetti after lot of discussion and 2-3 months of switch-over time. And he is eating roti now.
  • One patron ordered ‘Lentils Roti’ and got fond of it. No surprise there is no stuffed bread concept specially with lentils or green peas or chickpeas in any other cuisine. Lentils or other legumes are very good source of protein as well as dietary fiber.
  • One patron started arguing that Roti is not soft like naan and she was right. All Indian restaurants with naan offering make roti also in the Tandoor oven and it makes it hard or crisp. We make roti on Tawa like we do at home. And trust me Tawa roti stays soft even for 5-6 hours. The naan gets chewy and hard just after an hour. She ordered only entrees without breads.
  • So far we have missed 2 orders due to naan and it is very heart warming. When we stopped doing the buffet, we lost almost 50% of the sales. No change in the sales so far now.
Our reasons for discarding the Tandoor oven and the naan were very simple. Very few may know that the naan is made by pasting the flat bread on the walls of Tandoor oven which maintains the temperature of 900 F. And the oven remains continuously ON to maintain its wall temperature. Tawa operates at 500 F max. Normally Tawa is a circular iron pan of 10-inch diameter but we use normal non-stick pan at the restaurant.
  • Tandoor oven consumes 3 times more energy than Tawa as evident from the savings of $200 for the monthly gas bill of the kitchen.
  • We have had huge turn-over of Tandoori chefs (who works at Tandoor oven) as we used 8 persons during the last 4 years, job duration varying from 8 days to 8 months. Let me admit the working condition for the Tandoori chef is very tough as one is putting his hands inside the oven to paste the bread on the walls and basically your whole body is near 900 F for the better part of the working hours of 8 hours or more. I know it first hand as I learned to make the naan in Tandoor oven during the switch-over between the tandooris. You can’t take naan out of the menu if you lose the Tandoori chef.
  • And this turn-over is not only in Michigan. Indian restaurants in the US advertize and hire the personnel from the India Abroad, the weekly magazine. And 8 out of 10 ads is for Tandoori chefs.  You can imagine the hassle of hiring the tandooris. And naturally they command a salary of $800-$1000 a week. Tawa is easy to operate and with no Tandoor oven, we need just 2 persons for our kitchen instead of 3.
  • I was aware of the research that just switching over to the whole wheat reduces the risk of the heart disease by 20%. What hastened our decision was a commentary on NPR (national public radio) in which an expert was telling that eating white flour bread of any kind is as good as eating nothing. It just spikes your blood sugar, gives you a feel of full meal for a while and again makes you hungry. And you go on eating again and again. The whole wheat bread or any food items with low glycemic index makes your meal more fulfilling and helps in the weight loss too.
So the big question is why something not good for health, not good for the working personnel and not good for the business (saving the utility cost as well as the cost of Tandoori chef) is still synonymous with Indian cuisine here in the US. On top of that 60% of the population in India eat roti or chapatti at home, 30% don’t eat bread (mostly in the eastern India) and 10 % eat some kind of naan at home or in the restaurants.
Basically we are differentiating from all other restaurants if we offer only whole wheat bread. Go to Chipotle or Taco Bell, they have while flour tortillas. Mediterranean restaurants have white flour pita breads. Go to Kroger or Meijer, you would find 10 options for white flour whereas whole wheat flour would be tucked in some corner or on the back of the racks. It baffles me why people have to make an extra effort to eat whole wheat bread. Yes whole wheat flour costs 20 cents per pound more if you buy 20 pound bag. But the benefits of eating whole wheat any day is worth spending more.
For an Indian restaurant, this extra cost would easily be covered with the savings of almost $3000 per month on the account of gas bill and the tandoori chef.
Have you ever wondered why there is no Indian food chain anywhere in the world? At least I don’t know anyone having more than 50 odd locations if you compare with Panda Express (Chinese, 1200 locations), Chipotle (Mexican, 1700 locations) or Olive Garden (Italian, 800 locations). I am not mentioning Subway with 35000+ locations or Domino’s Pizza with 8000 locations globally. In India it is hard to imagine in the sense that for every 100 miles or so, we have different food and the different language.
We started our journey in 2009 with the pursuit of making an Indian food chain and we believe Nirmal could prove to be the basic building block, devoid of 2 main impediments ~ the buffet and the tandoor oven and with a message of ‘disruptive eating.’  With no Tandoor oven, we can convert any closed American or Mexican restaurant with 10 ft kitchen hood into Nirmal franchise. And now we can envisage all women staffed Nirmal –a first for any restaurant chain. 
Please see ‘Franchise’ tab on our website If you have entrepreneurial streak, you believe in making positive difference while earning profits, we would like to hear from you. The 'disruptive eating' is best suited for Indian cuisine but we are open to other cuisines if it fulfills our basic criterion.