An interview with Tiffinbites founder Jamal Hirani

The Tiffinbites founder reveals how a passion for healthy home-cooked Indian food led to his chain of restaurants

Indian cuisine is not normally associated with healthy lunchtime food. But Jamal Hirani, has forged a place among the cafes and sandwich bars of the city with Tiffinbites, a chain of food outlets turning over £15m.

Hirani was a buyer at Marks & Spencer when he was headhunted by cost comparison site Pricerunner.com to become UK managing director. Having headed up the UK launch of the site, and with a new born baby at home, he decided it was time to be his own boss, and like so many entrepreneurs before him, the promise of independence outweighed the risks of leaving a comfortable salary.

It was a lot to give up – a £2.5m budget with complete control of the project. But for Hirani, it was nothing more than a learning curve – a precursor to launching his own business.

“Being at Pricerunner was a bit like driving your dad’s Ferrari,” he explains. “It was exciting, but there was none of my money involved.”

With his strong retail background, Hirani was meticulous about his research. Still at Pricerunner, he sent out an email asking people if they would consider Indian food at lunchtime if it was quick and healthy. The email was targeted at city workers, aged between 18-35, earning over £30,000.

“I had a 40% response within 24hours saying ‘yes, where can we get it and do you have a menu?”

Confident there was a market for his idea, Hirani handed in his notice the next day and Tiffinbites was born.

The business plan was six months in the making. Hirani spent hours sitting in places like Starbucks and Pret a Manger measuring customer flow.

He also put together a team of lawyers, corporate financiers and auditors – all working on a success related fee – to give the business plan creditability in the eyes of the potential investors.

Initial funding consisted of £300,000 from private investors alongside the £200,000 Hirani raised himself through savings and a re-mortgage. Most of the funds went on research, shop costs and product development, culminating in the launch of the first restaurant in Soho in 2003.

Three months later the second Tiffinbites opened, and Hirani stresses he was always working to a multiple outlet business model.

However, Tiffinbites stretches beyond restaurants. Hirani’s team also caters for 250,000 employees of companies such as Barclays and HSBC every week. Each Wednesday Tiffinbites takes over the on-site canteens.

“The food is all made centrally by us, but the staff wear Tiffinbites uniforms. Tiffinbites day is always the most popular day of the week and turnover is 30% higher when we’re serving the food.”

With four restaurants and the company canteen model, this year’s profits are around the £1m mark.

“We had years of hard grafting, and most was spent raising funds,” says Hirani. “If I were to do it again I’d get some extra funding in place to act as a buffer. Entrepreneurs often look through rose-tinted specs but you have to look at the doomsday scenario.”

With a further three restaurants in the pipeline and a plan to roll out 19 more over the next two years, doomsday scenarios now seem a long way off.

 

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