CHENNAI: On an Insta-worthy cheeseboard, P Narayan lays out a variety of hand-picked, fresh artisanal cheese from across the world. There is hard, soft, liquid, and even vegan cheese — from gruyere and brie to parmesan and smoked cheese. But, people who know their cheese are sure to be impressed by the range he houses at his month-old shop, JK Cheese n More. What started as JK Enterprise in 2010 — a non-glamorous operation that diligently provided cheese and meat to five-star hotels and supermarkets — is now a swanky 2,000 sq-ft-store that promises to be the one-stop solution to all your gourmet needs.
“My dream of three years has finally come true,” says Narayan, founder. “Ever since I got into this business, I have dreamt of owning a gourmet store, selling all the top quality products to my patrons. It took me three years to find a spot to move out of a godown and open a shop,” he adds. Right from coming down to Chennai from a remote village in Rajasthan, getting cheesed off by employers to becoming the cheese-man of Chennai — Narayan details his journey.
Moving to a new city can be daunting for anybody. Take us through your humble beginnings.
I belong to a village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan. I studied only till class 8 as my family could not afford my education. My father’s friend, a jeweller, brought me to Chennai under the pretence of offering me a job. But, for two years, I was just at his house; I didn’t even step out of the house. He refused to pay me. I asked to go back to my hometown. Once I went back home, I realised that I have to work. I checked with my cousin, who was working at Nuts and Spices, about getting me a job and it brought me back to Chennai. I was employed there for a decade.
How did you move from that job to set up your own cheese business?
After ten years at the job, I realised my dream of owning a business. Getting into the gourmet business was by chance. A friend of mine was working with Cream Centre and he told me that they were finding it hard to source good quality cheese. I asked him for a used cheese packet, and found an e-mail ID on it. I dropped them a mail and asked to become the vendor for their cheese here. I learnt about sourcing and selling by trial and error. Now, I sell cheese and meat to many five-star hotels in Chennai.
What were the challenges you encountered?
I was raised a vegetarian. As a child, these butcher shops used to scare me. Three years after starting JK Enterprise, my customers told me that I’d have more business if I sold meat too. I told them of my predicament and they suggested frozen meat. That sounded like a good option and I started selling those too.
Since you deal with international cheese, you must be travelling often. What has that been like?
Yes, I get to travel a lot. I have been to Singapore, Dubai, France and Germany. I mostly attend expos that deal with cheese. That is where I get to update my knowledge and learn about what’s new in the market. I also go to cheese factories. My trips are learning opportunities for me. I like Germany a lot, especially their cheese factories; I got to learn a lot there. Sanjay Tandon of Epicure Frozen Foods in New Delhi is my guiding force and he takes me on international trips.
This year has been a testing one for most of us. What has kept you going during the pandemic?
We used to work out of a 100-sq-ft godown, selling cheese and meat to even individual customers. We realised that we cannot continue that during a pandemic, as we cannot house a lot of people. I was in the process of procuring a spot for a shop for the past three years. But, it materialised in a matter of months during the lockdown. That way, the lockdown came as a blessing. Since I had already decided on the design and colour palette for the shop, everything moved very quickly and we pulled up the shutters on November 1. While this work was on, we also started a takeaway pizzeria called JK Pizzeria.
How well has Chennai adapted to the gourmet products you offer, would you say?
Initially, retailers turned me down, saying no one will buy these products. I felt that they were not respecting gourmet products. Hence, I decided to start my own shop, where I can talk to customers about the different kinds of cheese and make them aware. Now, I have customers who come back to me with suggestions. That is what I like about the Chennai crowd; they are ready to experiment and help the business grow. My customers give me feedback and sometimes even guide me on products I should introduce.
How do you plan to keep this interest alive in your customers?
We will have a new kind of cheese every month, besides our regular good quality cheese and meat. For the launch, I got cheese from Austria called pecorino. It is made of sheep milk and has truffles and saffron. It was sold in three days. We have ordered for other flavours like ones with pine nuts and pistachio. We also sell exotic fruits and berries.
JK Cheese n More is located at Apex Plaza, No.3, Nungambakkam High Road, Nungambakkam. For details, call: 9841131008, or visit jkcheesenmore.com