Believed to be invented in 1966, also known as the taste of Mumbai, the Vada Pav has gained the reputation of being the most iconic food of the city.
The intriguing story behind this wide-spread dish originates from a roadside stall, in the area of Dadar in Mumbai.
Working in the mills in and around the areas of Parel and Worli, an enormous amount of workers passed by Dadar each day, for whom it proved to be an easy and pocket-friendly alternative, while also satiating their craving taste buds.
Ashok Vaidya, the parent of this dish, made it an immediate hit among the working class at the time, which would go on to be relished by all strata of society.
The precipitous rise of the dish, however, can be credited to the textile mills’ strikes which took place in the 1970s and 1980s, following which a substantial number of these displaced workers opened vada pav stalls, and understandably so, considering its rise. Vada pav quickly became all-pervasive in major parts of the city, contributing significantly to the informal economy.
Then came the arrival of McDonald's in Mumbai in the 1990s.
Was the vada pav industry under threat? Was its growing stardom already about to plummet?
Absolutely not. The burger proved to be no match for the beloved vada pav. While the concept was similar, the distinction was far too pronounced to be accepted as one for another. The patty didn’t stand a chance against the vada and the sauces failed in comparison to the spices.
So what was next for the vada pav industry?
With a background in Hotel Management, Dheeraj Gupta had no intentions of causing a development in the vada pav industry and followed the footsteps of his family business of selling Indian sweets. However, he decided to set up a sweets brand of his own considering the sweets industry was approximated to be of about 2 billion dollars at the time.
One would assume having your family in the same industry would make things easier but moving forward, a host of problems presented themselves making it an uphill task to make things work. He was in debt of around 15 lakhs and had lost about 55 lakhs in this business which kept sucking in more money.
Long story short, he withdrew from this business. No, it isn’t time for JumboKing just yet. A long respite of almost a year ensued.
He spent this year in gaining some clarity about his next steps, running his MBA studied mind. Just then it hit him. He decided to brand vada pavs.
The early 2000s brought with it the inception of the brainchild of Dheeraj Gupta. Dheeraj saw an opening in this space and franchised the vada pav chain under the name ‘JumboKing’.
With a borrowed fund of about 2 lakhs from his father in 2001, he opened his first outlet outside Malad railway station, with a humble portion of it as his office.
Not surprisingly, JumboKing made profits from the very first day, as vada pav was the single largest sold snack in the city of Mumbai.
"JumboKing vadapav bolo"
Ye "Nukad ka Vadapav" is too middle class.
So what made people drawn to JumboKing's vada pav instead of a regular vada pav?
Here’s where things get interesting.
JumboKing augmented the vada pav eating experience one tweak at a time.
JumboKing vada pavs were wrapped, giving it a premium experience for a snack that would ordinarily be slapped naked in your hand at a roadside stall. This became among the key differentiators contributing to JumboKings success, thereby establishing a strong point-of-difference.
With hygiene also becoming an increasing concern with the current generation, JumboKing resolved that too. With the shops being cleaner than the roadside stalls and the employees wearing gloves, it instantly removed the scepticism of hygiene from the minds of the people.
An oddly interesting factor that played a key role is the location of the outlets.
Initially, 8 out of 12 outlets at the time didn’t perform well. On studying the failure of these outlets with a mentor figure, Dheeraj learned about ‘Property Matrix’, a concept involving analyzing the properties and making fructuous changes.
Now here’s what’s odd but rather intriguing. On analyzing the outlets, they realized that it was the corner outlets with double shutters that were doing the best, while outlets in the middle of other stores even in a crowded place failed to garner the same amount of attention. They used this eye-opening insight for their future store locations.
Another feather in their cap was the relentless innovation with the types of ‘vada pavs’ JumboKing offered. After being welcomed by the masses for the original vada pavs, they became intrepid in their innovations of making various versions of it, feeding off the loyalty they had gained. They were purely pragmatic in their approach and solely relied on data to make decisions on which flavours stayed and which didn’t, leaving it for the people to decide. Being agile with putting flavours out and taking back the ones that didn’t work is what majorly worked in their f(l)avour.
While it's offline presence around the city is thriving, it is also present on all social media platforms, putting out engaging content regularly. It has all capitalized on influencer marketing by collaborating with many people on social media having a large following.
Lastly, here’s what stands out for JumboKing. With all that it offers, its items are priced in the same ballpark as that of roadside stalls. The reasonable prices make it an absolute no brainer for anyone to pick JumboKing. Here’s where it chooses to capitalize on selling a larger quantity of vada pavs with a marginal profit on individual items instead of making a higher profit on individual items at the cost of losing customers looking for a wallet-friendly snack.
At a whopping 100 million vada pavs sold as of 2014, JumboKing has become a force to be reckoned with.
As of 2018, JumboKing marked its store count of over a 100, serving in the major cities of Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and Indore among others.
So what’s next for this celebrity snack?
The vada pav has truly come a long way. What started off as a snack at one stall on the road, is now being served in various cities, feeding millions of people a day.
But JumboKing has got Jumbo plans. With an ambition to expand to other countries, don’t be surprised if you happen to see an outlet on your next trip abroad. The vada pav’s journey is far from over.