In the life of Jaydeep Barman, the story of Fassos has been the story of a traditional food brand reinventing the whole restaurant industry and giving a new way of delivering food to customers through Dark Kitchens. Well, Fassos was never a brand that had a tech play from day one; the founders had their own tryst with offline stores which didn’t work well and led to the successful pivot. Talking about his love for food, Jaydeep Barman, Co-founder & CEO, Rebel Foods says, “I am a Bengali. I grew up on what we know here as Kathi roll. Since the time I left home, I was missing it all the time. If I had to do something entrepreneurial it had to be either around mountaineering or food. And of course, the large market is food. That’s how it came about.”
Before taking the entrepreneurial route the INSEAD alumni had been a successful professional. Talking about his professional stint before coming back to India to start Fassos, Barman says, “I really liked my time at McKinsey. I was part of the London office but I was mostly working in the pharma space, so I was in Switzerland most of the time working with some of the large pharma CEOs. I was loving it but at the same time, I wanted to do something where I was on the ground. I had this urge to do something more. By the time my daughter was four years old, I was at this crossroads on where to raise her and I wanted to do something on my own. So I took a sabbatical, came to India for about six months. And that is the time I decided I wanted to do something and not sort of go back.”
Started in 2011, by 2014 Fassos had 40-50 locations in three cities. These were offline locations and 70-80% of them were in Delhi. These locations were really tiny just 150- 200 sq. ft. where there was no sitting space as it was mostly a takeaway offering. Talking about what went wrong with this business model Barman says, “Everything went wrong in the offline location business. What we realized in these four years was the rent to sales ratio was crazy. Even at the size of our outlet; at that time we were really struggling with it. Not making money. But since 70-80% of these locations were only doing delivery, we did a survey of our customers. We asked one simple question to our delivery customers if they have seen our outlet. Some 74% responded saying no. It was like an epiphany. People were booking even without seeing the restaurant. We realized we don’t need these outlets. People are okay ordering Fassos on the internet or phone. So we just need a kitchen and it could be on the first floor of a building on the backside where rents are much lower. Now people call it cloud kitchen but at that time it was just a kitchen. That’s when we pivoted to the cloud kitchen model.” Sequoia capital was their initial investor who bought into the idea and even now they participate in every round. It took two years from 2014-2016 to convert the entire business to a cloud kitchen model.
From 2016 onwards Fassos became a sub-brand of the group and the company was renamed Rebel Foods which now has multiple brands under its portfolio. To the founders, it was like building a virtual restaurant using the same infrastructure. Today, they have more than 10 brands under the portfolio. Throwing light on the brands Barman says, “Fassos is the oldest. The second was Behrouz Biryani. There are brands that have crossed 100 crore revenue. Our pizza brand (Oven Story) is a 140 crore a year brand. Lunchbox is 120 crore a year brand.”
The company has already expanded to the Middle East and Asia to spread foot globally. Though the offline stores had to be shut down for Fassos when asked if any Dark Kitchen has been shut to date Barman says, “No Shutdown yet, we’re open.”