From being a single product company to opening an experience store, it’s Meen Satti’s distinctiveness that’s taking the city of Chennai by storm.
At a bustling space in Chennai’s Ekkatuthangal, you’ll find 23-year-old friends turned entrepreneurs, Aravind Suresh and Richie Richard. They’re constantly thinking on their feet to turn every stumbling block into a stepping stone.
And as a way of paying homage to the very foundation of their friendship, the duo has built a contemporary business model that revolves around delivering a traditional recipe of fish curry.
Their brainchild, Meen Satti (roughly translates to fish in a clay pot), predominantly functions as a cloud kitchen that delivers a signature fish meal for a group of four. A month ago, the duo inaugurated their first physical store which challenges a traditional dine-in experience at different levels. As the builders of this distinctive brand got candid with us, here’s some excerpts for you to enjoy!
For one, Chennai has an amazing coastline and we believe that its potential is not being utilised properly. Secondly, not many outlets are serving quality seafood and that is the gap we wanted to fill. We also wanted to stick to a traditional fish curry that is specific to Tamil Nadu. Hence, for delivering an authentic dish that is rooted in the culture that we take pride in, we took a 25-year-old family recipe that has been in Aravind’s family and gave it a contemporary delivery design.
Why an experience store and what can one expect from your store?
We decided to put up a commercial store a while ago but we realised that we didn’t want the hassles that come with opening a restaurant. So, we chose this concept to stay in-between wherein we function as a hybrid model and that’s how we arrived at an experience store. People can have a holistic experience at our store by trying our product. There is no waiter, menu to order from, or food for one. We deliver the same signature box at the store as well and we want people to indulge in it like they would at home. To make this experience count we also have trained dine-in experts who will teach them the right way to dissect a fish’s head to get the meat out, among others.
How have people been receiving this new dine-in concept?
Initially, some people would walk in and ask for a menu and get disappointed at the fact that we don’t serve anything but one signature meal box. However, we didn’t let that affect us. Part of being a new initiative is to be humble, honest, and accepting of some things. We are good at what we do and that is all that matters. We actually pointed some of our customers to the next nearest eatery. But it is getting better because people are slowly trying to comprehend our concept.
What was the thought process that went behind cooking and serving fish curry in a man satti (clay pot)?
Cooking and serving fish curry in a man satti, of course, has its own set of health benefits. [It] also acts as a scientific taste enhancer. But, for us, it is a social mission. By using them, we are trying to be a source of income for the pottery sector. Like most businesses, pottery has taken severe hits due to COVID. We mostly source our clay pots from the several struggling potterers from towns down south, including Madurai, Vizhupuram, Vellore, and Kundrathur. We have also started sourcing pots from other states with the hope of working with as many people as possible and empowering them.
Serving it in a clay pot at your store is one thing, but how do you package it for delivery?
A lot went into designing the packaging. For one, it was designed by Richie. The main thing that our research pointed out was that people weren’t ordering fish curry because of the packaging that it came in. Mostly they come in aluminium foils, with the oil collected on top. We were hell-bent on delivering the curry in a clay pot and being eco-friendly. Hence, we had six to seven reiterations for the design.
Our package is designed in a way that the hot pot is packed on top of the rice and fried fish. Naturally, this allows the box to stay hot since the clay pot acts as a heat conductor. We tested the design by sending it back and forth to each other. We checked with different consistencies and made sure that there was no spillage early on in 2021. We have sold 5000-6000 boxes till now and we have not had a single complaint of spillage.
Where do you take inspiration from?
Marina, Chennai, is a great example. It is a place that we have been going to as a family for years and they have a live fish counter with fresh catches. You can choose what flavour and style you want your fish to be cooked in and make it your own, which is a fabulous idea. Kappa Chakka Kandhari is another inspiration. It is a Kerala-style start-up and the quality of food they deliver is amazing. We want to set that as our quality goal.
Were there any major setbacks that pushed you to your limits?
Two days after we hit ten thousand followers on Instagram, our account was hacked. The hacker was asking for a ransom amount and we were struggling to retrieve our account. It tested our limits and we were ready to throw our hands up and drop it all. Luckily, we received help from a third party to retrieve it. But since then, we have increased our social media security by multiple levels. Now even we can’t log in that easily.
Were there any interesting situations where you were thrown in head first?
Every start-up comes with challenges that one wouldn’t be prepared for. It only gets harder when you are a young entrepreneur. We encountered one such situation in November 2021, when a red alert was issued due to heavy rains in Chennai. Unfortunately, we had already received orders and our delivery partners were stuck in flooded areas. We didn’t hesitate to get our hands dirty and so we stacked around 18 boxes in our car and delivered all the orders. We have been checking weather forecasts in advance since then.
What future do you envision for Meen Satti?
Right now, the immediate goal is to be present with cloud kitchens and one experience store per metro city. Coimbatore and Bangalore are our immediate destinations for expansion. We received an invite to set up our business in Mumbai too. But we are looking to go global because we have been receiving invites from countries like Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, London, and Abu Dhabi. From day one, going global has been the ultimate goal for us.