Ali Dewjee, managing partner of Bombay Wraps, Chicago’s first fast-casual Indian concept, was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. His mom ran her own beauty salon in India, where he was born and raised, and he helped her manage the business when he was young.
He brought that business acumen to the United States 23 years ago when he came to earn his MBA. Dewjee earned his degree and went on to work for Campbell’s, Tropicana, a dot-com company before the dot-com boom, and eventually went back to the CPG industry.
He ran the innovation team at Quaker Oats for over a decade, an experience that helped him hone the skills necessary for building a restaurant brand:
“Working at big packaging companies, you understand consumer needs, everything from what’s the pain point all the way to delivering a final product on the shelf. The experience was amazing, I learned all the elements and facets—be it branding, be it insights, be it finance, packaging, operations—all while toying with the idea of getting back to our entrepreneur roots.”
And eventually, that’s what he did. Five years into his time at Pepsi, Dewjee’s wife, Falguni, started Bombay Wraps.
The restaurant was Chicago’s first fast-casual Indian food concept, even though the city has the nation’s third largest Indian population. After two years, Bombay Wraps began to feel like more than a hobby or passion project, so Ali left Pepsi to help his wife build the business.
“It’s amazing because she’s an awesome compliment to my skillset.” Dewjee said, “I’m more strategy and big picture. She’s got the operations and finance down. So together we make a strong team.”
Bombay Wraps has a small but highly customizable menu. The best seller is the Chicken Tikka wrap, which Ali says is unsurprising, because most customers who are familiar with Indian cuisine have heard of Chicken Tikka before. The restaurant offers the Chicken Tikka and other options in a variety of ways: flaky, indulgent wraps, lighter whole-wheat wraps, bowls with basmati rice or chopped greens, and soon, on sandwiches.
The concept has been very well received in Chicago. The Dewjee’s have expanded from their original location in the Chicago Loop and added a second in Streeterville. They have a food truck for events, and another location to come.
“The runway continues to be exciting for us as we look at what’s next in the Bombay Wraps horizon. We’re getting very close to opening up a third one.” Dewjee said. “We’re all in, so we want to expand out and continue to feed different neighborhoods in Chicago.”
Aside from adding a food truck, the restaurant has already made an effort to expand its business beyond its two brick-and-mortar locations.
Bombay Wraps began serving lunch in Chicago office buildings after partnering with Fooda. The partnership has been successful for both companies, 60% of customers who try Bombay Wraps go back a second time.
“Fooda is a conduit directly to the consumer,” Dewjee said. “the customer doesn’t have just one choice, coming to Bombay Wraps. Now, through Fooda, I’m literally in your office, I’m literally in your lobby, and that to me is a fascinating relationship.”
“Think of Fooda both as a strategic partner, not just another order aggregator”, Alli recommends. In his own words, here are two things Ali suggests Fooda partners should be doing right now:
1) Take full advantage of the additional exposure. “Fooda connects you to new and incremental customers, who may not otherwise have the opportunity to know your brand. At popup events, you often find yourself in very heavy traffic areas. Maximize that opportunity for exposure as much as you can. This is an obvious one, but if you have any kind of print collateral, cards, or bounce backs, you should be bringing them to your popup events. It is free advertising in front of hundreds of people. Make sure your staff is telling your popup fans where they can find your brick and mortar location and when your hours are. Help them picture themselves there. If you have a nice outdoor seating area, mention that. You want them to think of you as more than a popup.”
2) Think of Fooda as a platform where you can test new products. “Before fully investing on a new menu item at your restaurant, you can bring that dish to a popup event and learn how well it sells. Gauge people’s reactions and see if they would want to see this dish more frequently. Chances are if it’s a hit at popup, it’ll be a hit when you introduce it to your restaurant.”