Chef Umesh sat down for a conversation with foodie reporter Popatlal, from IEatFreeEveryWhere Times!
Popatlal: How many interviews have you given for this food truck?
Umesh: Well, this is the very first interview of ANY KIND in my life! I feel VIP already!
Popatlal: Who are you and what inspired you to start this little truck?
Umesh: I am Umesh Patel, the chef and owner of Pav Bhaji Hut ®. Now, to answer the second part of your question, I need a little more time. Anyway, you are enjoying Pav Bhaji, so my long answer is not going to bother you… [laughs.]
After watching the movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, at AMC Mercado 20 in August 2014, I decided to start my own restaurant and turn my lifelong passion into a profession. Embedded in the Silicon Valley lifestyle, it’s important for me to pursue a dream deeply seeded in the back of my mind since I was a little kid watching my mom prepare simple and yet deeply satisfying delicious food.
I’m not going to give 100% credit to the movie, but yes, it definitely accelerated my decision to leave a successful IT career and take the risk to start this food truck.
[Interrupted by Popatlal] What??!! You’re in the IT industry?! But…I thought you’re a chef! You must be working with Google or Apple right?
Umesh: Well, they won’t hire me even as a janitor! But, let me explain to you in detail while I honor you with another Pav Bhaji with extra bread and butter!
Almost 50 years ago, my uncle Ramanbhai started a restaurant called Surti Bhaji Pav on Ashram Road just next to Vallabh Sadan Mandir. It remained the numero uno Pav Bhaji center in Ahmedabad for over three decades! After witnessing his success, other competitors such as Honest, R.K., and other Pav Bhaji centers popped up, but he was the pioneer in Ahmedabad. So, I would say it has been “cooking” in my genes all along and the secret recipe that makes our Pav Bhaji unique, handed down to me. But, I have a master’s degree in computer science from George Washington University, with over 15 years of experience in the government defense IT sector.
It’s a step to the right direction that took me a long time to take. But, I’m finally here, and have boldly taken a leap of faith.
Note: Pav Bhaji is not originally from Ahmedabad; it’s from Mumbai.
Popatlal: Why is your Pav Bhaji expensive?
Umesh: The day I decided to start this little eatery, I had only one thing in my mind: to make authentic Bombay Pav Bhaji from scratch on original Indian Tawa with 100-percent Amul butter (which costs more than any organic butter sold in Whole Foods). Even our Pav Bhaji Masala – typical spices just blended for Pav Bhaji – is completely custom made in Mumbai, per the U.S. quality standards. Most of our ingredients, such as tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, etc., are sourced locally. Moreover, we only use the finest non-GMO, and whenever possible, organic ingredients. The pursuit of Bhajiness!
Quality is like oats
If you want nice,
fresh oats, you must pay a
If you can be satisfied
with oats that have been
through the horse…
that comes cheaper.
(Not mine. I read this in one of the classes from 2016 International Pizza Expo, Las Vegas, NV)
Popatlal: What is your favorite Pav Bhaji place in India? Let me put this in a different way. If you had 24 hours to live, and there is one place you can go and eat, which place would you prefer?
Umesh: (hmmm…I don’t know what this guy is thinking of me! How can I think of food if I know I am dying in 24 hours?! I would be panicking. I would rather remember God and spend time with my family – like Steve Jobs did – before the curtain closes). Anyway, since you asked me, I am going to be honest with you. The best Pav Bhaji I have ever had in my life (of course, apart from my own!!) was from Sardar Pav Bhaji, Tardev, Nr. Mumbai Central station. In every visit to India, we always stop by there first, before heading anywhere else. The taste is exactly the same as it used to be 30 years ago. With twice the butter compared to other places. I know if you are health-conscious, then you won’t appreciate that, but hey, once in a while, it’s okay!
Popatlal: Is your business eco-friendly? Are you promoting the go-green movement?
Umesh: Yes, absolutely. Our 100-percent eco-friendly, plant-fiber plates and bowls are made from wheat straw and bagasse, all-natural and sustainable renewable resources, which is healthy, hygienic, nontoxic, harmless, sanitary, compostable and biodegradable! Our clear recycled PET lids are made from recycled water and soda bottles and are 100-percent recyclable. To top it off, it’s 100-percent made in North Dakota, USA.
Popatlal: What’s up with Indian city names in green color?
Umesh: When I decided to start this project, I wanted to revolutionize each and every aspect of the business. The first thing that caught my attention was the ordering system. Every restaurant you go to, they give you an order number, which is kind of boring! I started thinking about how I could change it. Initially I thought I would go with big name tech leaders (for instance, Steve Jobs.) Then I thought, I want something that connects with India! What I came up with were names of cities in India.
When it came to colors and fonts I tried several combinations, but still wasn’t 100% satisfied. I wanted a connection between USA and India. One day, on my way to drop off my son at Preschool, I was stuck in traffic due to an accident. While waiting patiently for traffic to move, I suddenly had an idea. I looked around my surroundings and just it clicked – ROAD SIGNS! We found the exact color and font from US road signs and replicated them for our ordering system. US signs, with Indian destinations. In a nutshell, I put the Indian heart in a US body! That’s the story behind our signs. By the way, these signs are also available for purchase if anyone would like a souvenir.
Popatlal: Apart from you, who else in your family deals with your crazy cooking experiments?
Umesh: My sweet and lovely mom; the love of my life, my beautiful wife; my life and soul, two little kids.
Popatlal: Who do you want to dedicate your achievement or success to?
Last Word: This food truck is dedicated to millions of those street vendors in India and across the globe who are barely making ends meet, but true to their passion and entrepreneurship spirit, inspired someone like me!
Popatlal: Any last word?
Umesh: With that said, let’s make Pav Bhaji great again!