On the up · 16 June 2016

Dhaba Lane: The Indian food brand being gobbled up by Spotify, Uber and Moo

Food brands that can balance health with taste are in big demand these days
Food brands that can balance health with taste are in big demand these days

Declaring that getting through a day without any drama is an achievement for any new and small business, Dhaba Lane’s Upma Arora shares her colourful and inspiring story of using the inspiration of good Indian cooking to create an offering and brand that is already experiencing strong demand from corporate clients.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I, Upma Arora, along with Arti Bareja started Dhaba Lane to change the perception of Indian food in London. We bring healthy yet home cooked Indian meals to your desk for lunch or home for dinner at a reasonable cost and promote sustainable eating habits. We also cater to various corporates for their team lunches and events. Everyone can order and pay online making it super simple.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We have been in operation for around a year.

(3) How do you make money?

We make money delivering lunch and dinner to individual customers as well as for team lunches and corporate/private events. Our sharing platters or individual Indian tiffins makes for a great team treats. We cater to various startups and corporates for their team lunches and events for the likes of Transfer Wise, Spotify, Nexmo, Moo, Uber various startups and charities.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

We are the only ones in town bringing healthy yet tasty food flavoured with Indian flavours delivered to you at a reasonable price. As a farmer’s daughter I grew up with lots of fresh vegetables, lentils and good grains in our diet and vegetarian food was never an afterthought with limited options. We missed simple yet tasty Indian meals whilst working in the city and we couldn’t find an Indian option like we could for Thai, Mexican, Chinese, burgers, etc.

Our food brings something that will remind our customers of home away from home, or of their travels in India. Our food is also very healthy, with most meals being less than 600Kcal yet not tasting like diet food. Our meat options are fresh, with a blend of vegetable and lentils giving more variety and character to food.

We are giving people a chance to cultivate sustainable eating habits with food that they enjoy and is good for them, and to top it up it doesn’t break their bank.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

To be honest there was no lightbulb moment contrary to a lot of other stories, just a constant desire to do something of our own.

Feeding people gave me a lot of joy and satisfaction. I am very passionate about good and simple food with no drama and frills. Where the ingredients speak to you and your heart which was missing when it came to Indian food or general healthy food options. And there it was – our idea of bringing simplicity with health to everyone. We started very small from my home kitchen and have grown organically so far.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

For a small startup, getting through a day without any drama is an achievement to be honest. We have this thing where we try to work out not the “thought for the day” but the “problem of the day”.

Getting featured in Harper Bazaar as great gourmet lunches to go in London was great, and feeding over 500 people at a huge event in Trafalgar Square for the mayor of London was amazing.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Loads! When we were in our research phase and trying to get into a street food market to trial our product we were rejected plenty of times because we did not have a cool enough look. It took us many samples and calls before we started getting a spot.

Getting any branding on a budget is near to impossible in London unless you have creative friends. We learnt how to use InDesign and other software to do it ourselves until we could afford and source help in India.

We had our share of bad mentors (paid ones) but we have learnt from our experiences and mistakes and now working at Bathtub 2 Boardroom we get plenty of the right support and advice for any questions we have. I wish I had discovered them earlier.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Dhaba Lane will be the place you think of when you want healthy Indian food that makes you feel happy. We will have a few hubs in London with a strong clientele and looking towards further expansion.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Research and try it out. Sell your product as soon as you can, everyone loves something free, the real test is to get people to pay for it. Also, don’t be scared you never fail, you only learn a bit more.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

I can name the ones you hear about all the time but someone who has inspired and guided me when I started Dhaba Lane was David Muniz of Outsider Tart (Chiswick), an award-winning bakery which started by selling at markets and has built something amazing over a period of time with a lot of hard work and love for what they make. Their food is amazing and they are amazing human beings, David lifts me up and makes me believe I can do it. He was one of the few people who offered to help us and give advice without asking for anything – and he continues to do that.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.

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