The popularity of cloud kitchens is one of the offshoots of the coronavirus pandemic; an alternative to what used to be (and should be) a quality time out with family and friends in your favourite restaurant, laughing over past events, dry jokes and just about anything else; table filled gourmet meals and glasses of red wine. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have made such almost impossible. Hence, the popularity of cloud kitchens.
In India, where food and family are culturally embedded in the lives of people, it is difficult to let go of some of the benefits of the family institution that Indians have held dearly for thousands of years. In Assam, food entrepreneurs have sought other ways to cater to the food needs of the people.
This is what has given rise to the growth and proliferation of cloud kitchens in several parts of the state. Cloud kitchens are as effective in delivering food services to customers as conventional restaurants. They require fewer staff, low maintenance and a reduced cost of seating space.
But it is one thing to establish a kitchen, and yet another to truly satisfy the taste buds and stomach of customers. One kitchen certainly stands out among many. Able to give customers that satisfying restaurant experience even with a take-out, these entrepreneurs are leading the charge and changing the course, ensuring that people can still get a delicious meal with or without a pandemic.
Guwahati based cloud kitchen On the Way, founded by Debdut Das and Rajib Sonowal, is certainly a place to be. On the Way prioritizes quality over everything else, thereby making them one of the most sought after cloud kitchens for delicious Assamese and Goan cuisines, alongside fast foods like momo, noodles and rolls.
Additionally, On the Way merges cloud kitchen benefits with those of a regular restaurant. While the kitchen allows for online orders to be placed, it also includes an outdoor area that can accommodate customers who want to sit in, play board games, and enjoy the experience that goes with delicious food. The area is adorned with seasonal flowers, trees and decorative lights that add ambience, colour and beauty to the overall customer experience.
The founding duo – born and raised in Assam – have always had a desire to entrench quality foods in the restaurant business. This passion was the driving force behind opening their own cloud kitchen.
“We started our cloud kitchen on the same day the lockdown began. We didn’t want to take too much risk as the entire state of Assam was inactive for almost 6 to 7 months, so we decided to start in a small way,” says Das.
If it was not for the pandemic and the lockdown, the duo’s initial plan was was to open a cafe with mixed elements that signified the food and vibes of Goa, Rishikesh and Manali, and there would have been indoor games, musical instruments, a library, Wi-Fi and many other things.
“We wanted it to be a place for youths to relax and work. We wanted to open a place where there would be no alcohol or smoking. We had to first postpone our plans because of the CAB (citizen amendment bill) protests and later because of Covid-19. Finally we just did it because of how the market is structured. To slowly improve on it and make the place of our dreams,” says Sonowal.
As for the chef in-charge of creating these special meals, the duo employed the services of Satyajeet Barman, who has over 9 years of experience as a chef in Goa. Barman is an expert in Indian, Chinese, Goan, Continental and traditional Assamese cuisines. Certainly, a lot of science and creativity goes into creating a delicacy and curating a menu, a process that Das says takes a while and lots of experiments.
“We try a variety of dishes from our chef before making our final selection. Both of us founding partners are special in our own way. Rajib is a pork specialist; he can prepare really good pork dishes and traditional Assamese meals. I can cook Bengali specialities such as macher jhol, mutton kosha, aalu posto and more. So we both cooked, tasted, and then decided on the menu,” he says.
There are several challenges that come with running a business, especially in the first few months. Navigating the hurdles wasn’t so easy. “We always wanted to bring positive changes around us, and we’re happy that slowly it is happening. We knew starting out would be difficult but surely, when we maintain the quality of our cuisines, it will keep us expanding. We now have many regular customers which means they are liking it,” says Sonowal.
Some of their best-selling cuisines include tamam chicken, butter garlic prawns, prawn rava, biryani, pork chop, pork lai saag, pork bamboo shoot, mustard steamed fish, momo, and fish fingers.
Maintaining the same quality since they began has contributed immensely to the success story of this cloud kitchen. With future plans like beginning homestay for tourists, opening a nice kitchen service along with a cafe and many more, these food entrepreneurs have shown they have what it takes to remain relevant in the food industry and even dominate it. At this point, we can only wait for what is next and watch as they seek to revolutionize the cloud kitchen industry, one meal at a time.
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