In the valley of innovation, a new aspiration has been rising—to make the dosa a household staple a sort of an equaliser between the East and the West. Entrepreneur Subramanian Krishnan of Shastha Foods, a company selling ready-to-cook and serve products online, has set a high benchmark for himself—to sell a billion dosas. He is undoubtedly the dosa king of the area and his kingdom is the 33,000-square-foot warehouse, where all the action takes place.
What he makes matters. In a world greatly driven by food preferences and aversions, Krishnan offers a bounty of different batter options—gluten-free, vegan, oats, quinoa, brown rice—you name and you have it. By the end of 2021, he had already reached the 150-million mark. One day, he hopes to see pictures of the dosa splashed across billboards on state intersections and highways just like other popular fast-food items such as burgers and pizzas. He dreams of putting the dosa on American tables too.
Krishnan and his wife, Anandhi, spend most of their time at the warehouse overlooking the operations. The 7,000-square-foot kitchen is always bustling with giant stone grinders churning batter. These have been imported from South India. There are cauldrons filled with parboiled rice and lentils. Fermentation in temperature-controlled rooms takes place round the clock. The yeasty smell is ubiquitous no matter what time of the day or night it is.
In March, Krishnan celebrated a little victory. His dosa batter reached Costco, the fifth largest retailer in the world. Out of its 35 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Shastha Foods dosa and idli batter are now available at 10. There is certainly a demand for it among the Indian American community but Krishnan hopes for non-Indians to develop a taste for it too.
It was not a bed of roses always for Krishnan who for 18 years was responsible for a business in which Intel processors were sold to Indian companies. The company tanked and he was rendered bankrupt. To make a living, Krishnan sold Coffee Day filter coffee —imported from India—to sell in the US.
This was a turning point. His interest grew in processed food. Being a South Indian, starting with dosa and idli was a safe place to start. In time, the batter pre-mix became such a hit and Krishnan had to accelerate operations to meet the increasing demand. Given the fast-paced life people live today, the dosa-idli batter serves as a convenient meal, especially a breakfast option. After all, for many South Indians who are well acquainted with the process of making the batter, it is still a time-consuming, multi-stage process that requires skill.
Not to mention, it is a healthy option too. The addition of black gram in the batter offers protein, niacin, thiamine, folic acid, potassium, calcium, and iron among a lot more. Besides, it can be had any time of the day or night. The versatility of the dish makes it dynamic too. From the traditional potato filling to cheese, cottage cheese, and vegetables, one can experiment with it as they like.
Shastha Foods then went on to expand its portfolio by stocking more than 600 products, including Heritage Rice. This comes as an initiative of the brand to support Indian farmers, especially Nature’s Master Craftsmen that work towards sustaining different rice varieties. This is of paramount importance to him as it is the only way forward, according to him, by which traditional grains, the local economy and the livelihood of a farmer can be maintained. Grains like millet require less water than other grains, for instance, and should be promoted. On his part, he has incorporated millet batter into his range of dosa and idli batters.
Add to this, Krishnan’s penchant for researching traditional grains of India. His interest makes him travel all across the Indian countryside whenever he visits the country. He moves from one village to another, talking to the village folk and farmers about what it takes to keep edible heritage alive at a time when the young generation is swiftly moving away from traditional grains to Western food options.
An extension of this is the wide range of regional snacks made available through the brand’s website. There is the murukku, thattai, seedai, nendhiram chips, mullu thenkuzhal, groundnut urundai and more from Tamil Nadu; jowar nippat, karasev, and hurigalu among other things from Karnakata; dry bhel, karla chutney, potato papad and more from Maharashtra; and a lot of other regional picks—all in the hope of keeping his grain and dream alive.
Good to know
✥ Shastha Foods was launched in 2003 in Bay Area, California, with just dosa/idli batters as an offering.
✥ At first the batter was distributed to a few Indian stores but later when the demand rose, Shastha expanded to online distribution to several other states.
✥ Besides its dosa and idli signatures, Shastha foods partnered with South Asian Heart Center to bring to its customers a range of healthy products.
One day, he hopes to see pictures of the dosa splashed across billboards on state intersections and highways just like other popular fast-food items such as burgers and pizzas