The story of Janta Meals
Prabhat Agarwal, Janta Meals’ lead investor, runs an NGO named Aravali Scholars in the Sikanderpur basti of Gurgaon. This bustling informal settlement is full of migrant workers, especially from Bihar, West Bengal and the North East. Prabhat’s NGO coaches young bright children and help them get admission into good colleges. While working in Sikanderpur, Pabhat noticed an acute need for nutritious and hygienically prepared meals for the population. These low income families depend on food from roadside vendors, dhabas, small restaurants or home cooked meals. Home cooking takes almost 2 – 2.5 hours per meal, an added burden on members of the family who work long hours already. Also, small cramped rooms with makeshift cooking options and primitive fuel like wood makes home-cooking a difficult task. Roadside vendors serve fast food like chowmein, samosas, etc. that cannot be consumed on a daily basis. Dhabas offer full meals that are more expensive. Moreover, dhabas are often in unhygienic circumstances, like over open gutters, and the raw materials used may not be fresh.
People who consume these foods do not get enough nutrition and are at a risk of other health problems. Sick leaves and low productivity directly affects their income trapping them in a vicious cycle. Prabhat wanted to address this food problem and that’s when the idea of Janta Meals came to him. This idea was then taken forward by Dutch entrepreneur, Jesse van de Zand. Jesse was in India then to expand the activities of Enviu, a Dutch impact incubator. He was looking for interesting potential startups in the social sector. He met Prabhat while accompanying someone else in a meeting. A healthy food junkie himself, he loved the idea and immediately decide to take it up himself!
A couple of months later, Jesse moved to Gurgaon and started Janta Meals by simply walking in Sikanderpur for a day, spotting a good location for a restaurant and setting it up within a month. He hired ladies from the community to cook delicious recipes that they would make at home and a manager to oversee operations.
Right before the Sikanderpur restaurant opened, Apeksha Porwal joined him on the management team of Janta. Apeksha met Jesse in Mumbai, where she was then working with an impact enterprise incubator. A few meetings and a trip to Gurgaon after, she joined Jesse to set up Janta Meals in Gurgaon.
With a keen adviser and investor, a team of two founders, a trusted manager and a group of talented lady cooks, Janta Meals moved fast with changes and tweaks to the business everyday. With the first restaurant opening in July 2013, Janta aims to establish around 30 outlets, feeding nutritious meals to around 10000 people everyday by mid-2015 in Gurgaon.