Industry facing a big challenge from aggregators, says MealBox Inc founder Prateek Pawan

“The restaurant industry is currently facing a big challenge from aggregators, who are offering deep discounts,” said Prateek Pawan, a Bengaluru-based former data scientist. This 28-year-old should know. After all, he opened his third hospitality venture inthe city on Saturday: MealBox Inc, which is a dine-in experience at OYO Meridien Rooms in Marathalli.

In the industry for two years, Prateek has managed to do what many people in the restaurant business can’t do these days. He started off with cloud-kitchen venture Maa Bhook Lagi — the umbrella company — and then opened The Paratha Company.

MealBox Inc is the next in line, and Prateek is using a lot of lessons he has seen from his time in the industry to try to make a hat-trick of successful ventures.

‘Many think restaurant biz is lucrative’

Speaking to Times of Food on the sidelines of the launch of MealBox Inc, he explained: “Most people who come into the restaurant industry think it is very lucrative. However, they do not have their unit economics in place and therefore have to close down their establishment within six months.”

That, he said, is the reason many restaurants close down within six months of opening.

“Most people also do not realise that this (running an eatery) is a full-time job, and cannot be done part time,” chuckled Pawan. “And sometimes it can even be a 24-hour job!”

The challenge, he explained, is to retain customers despite hurdles like the fault of a partner that may sully the restaurant’s image.

And Prateek knows this because he has had to deal with situations such as these for more than two years now.

The journey to MealBox Inc

The MealBox Inc dine-in experience at OYO Meridien Suites in MArathalli, Bengaluru, India. | Picture Courtesy: Arkadev Ghoshal/Times Of Food

Like many entrepreneurial stories, Prateek’s started with a simple problem: home-cooked food at night. “I like cooking, and cooked on the weekends. But cooking everyday was not an option,” he said of his days working as a data scientist.

The problem was solved when this Bihari lad’s mother came to stay with him. And that got him thinking: Why not make a living out of providing home-cooked food to those who crave it?

Thus was born Maa Bhook Lagi, where his mother cooked at their home in Bengaluru and he was among the delivery boys. The business grew so fast that they had to set up a separate kitchen within two-three months.

Since then, Prateek has also set up The Paratha Company, which, along with Maa Bhook Lagi, serves five regions of Bengaluru.

MealBox Inc is different that way. While both The Paratha Company and Maa Bhook Lagi are cloud-kitchens — they offer only takeout and delivery — MealBox has a dining section,and is present conveniently at an OYO establishment. Prateek, by his own admission, now has a different set of challenges before him, as does anybody entering the restaurant industry. It remains to be seen how they overcome them.

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