She was walking down the streets of Brooklyn tasting the cheese from New York City when her friend informed her about her interview published in The Independent UK. Mentioning on the national daily about launching Popup Restaurant was a breakout session for her calling. Being a woman of her words she wanted to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk ahead. On her return back to London, Shrimoyee Chakraborty launched the Calcutta Street Popup Restuarant.
From marketing in the most obscure parts of London to visiting Brighton for photo shoots and prawn shopping, from making the local paturis to blending cocktails with mango, Srimoyee left no stone unturned to walk her talk. The Calcuttan wanted Britain to get a taste of the untapped food market of her hometown Calcutta.
Highlights of this episode
- Her journey with Calcutta Street.
- The story behind the glitz and glamour of the culinary profession.
- The culinary industry of London and why she decided to start Bengali cuisine in the city.
Quotes and Takeaways
- Don’t just talk the talk, walk the talk.
- Try to work on your attention to detail and patience is the key.
What was your inspiration to begin with Calcutta Street? How has been your journey so far in this voyage?
When I moved to England more than 5 years back for my masters, I struggled to find a good Indian restaurant here – they were either too expensive or too tacky and finding bengali food was completely out of question. To solve this problem I started cooking at home myself and started a blog eatwithmeshrimoyee which grew in an organic way. Blogging however was just a passion as I had to focus on my Job (I have worked with WPP, Yelp, Sunday Times and Asia House). I started getting TV show offers and other projects through the blog on the side, that is how I landed up doing a food show on Channel 4 and following that The Independent newspaper did a full page interview with me. I was travelling for 4 weeks in North America when the newspaper got published and on that very day I was at Brooklyn, New York (It is known for the popup restaurant scene and its incredible food market) checking out all the PopUp stalls etc and that is when I made my mind that I am going to start a Bengali Food PopUp – Calcutta Street.
The journey has been very difficult and satisfying at the same time. When you have to pick up all the heavy shopping or cook for 100 + people in a hot kitchen it’s not that much fun physically but it is very satisfying. And the best part is when a random person comes to your PopUp and leaves with a smile on his or her face and then comes back again with more people. It is a great feeling to make a global audience aware of my own culture.
What about the food industry excites you the most?
I love the excitement that the food industry has – it’s creative, it’s crude and it’s a lot of fun. I am a sucker for experimentation and innovation and nothing can be more innovative than cooking or even creating a concept for a restaurant. The decor, drinks development, menu development, music, lighting – you need to think about every little thing. Also getting to make and taste cocktails at 12 pm in the afternoon on a Monday? You can’t complain!
What has been your most thrilling experience so far in the journey?
The most thrilling experience is still going on as my business is still at a very nascent stage. Now is the time when the real work is happening when I am having to sit down and finish my Business Plan and pitch to investors and convince them to shell out a lot of money for a concept I believe in.
Have you had any mentors so far in your journey?
I have not exactly had a mentors but have had a lot of well wishers who have helped me out in my journey. Paul Bloomfield, chef helped me find the right workforce and kitchen staff for my first popup; Edward Francis (Restaurant consultant) has been a constant support in terms of logistics; Angus Denoon (Celebrity Chef) has been a big support and Lord Billimoria (MD Cobra Beer) was extremely kind to become my alcohol partner without even tasting my food!
Can you tell us about the response which you received from Londoners for Calcutta Street?
Londoners love anything that is exciting and different. Calcutta Street hence is right up their street in terms of the fact that it’s not your regular restaurant or regular Indian curry. I take a lot of effort to organise every popup where I think about not just the menu but the design, look, music, costumes everything! I try and give people a wholesome experience, so the response to that has been very encouraging so far.
While setting up a Pop Up for Calcutta Street, what are the commonalities which you have in mind?
You need to think about a lot of different things – Find a venue, find the best date and time (if there is a football match that day, you will not get any people); find the best local vendor and try and buy the food at the best price; pricing the dishes; coming up with a theme; doing the design and marketing; finally finding the right kitchen porters and helps and then on the day organisation. It’s a combination of all of these.
What do you think are the most essentials of a food entrepreneur?
Having a strong idea about food and customer experience. Also someone who is not very rigid and is open to adapt to the ever changing trends.
Do you like to follow any specific route for marketing for Calcutta Street?
I focus heavily on Online Marketing and Word of Mouth.
Behind the smiles, glamour, jazz and intoxicating flavors, what is truth behind the tale?
There has been days when I have gone to the most obscure parts of London, shopped for all the right ingredients I required and come back all way with the heavy shopping bags to report back for my Popups. After which I had to cook for twelve hours at a stretch and be the perfect host with a smiling face and graceful charm to greet my guests. It has been a lot of hard work. But I’ve been a firm believer of my work. One of the small incidents where I met a girl at a Popup who volunteered to intern with Calcutta Street because she loved the way it worked! All of these moments keep pushing me forward.
What is your word of advice for food entrepreneurs?
I am not that wise yet to give any advice (laughs) But if I had to then it would be: Try and work on attention to detail and also patience is key! (I am working on these things myself too)