On a sunny afternoon, I head up to Anna Salai to meet up with Pradeep Rajadas, the director of Hungry Forever and Meghana Sumesh, the editor to discuss their humble beginnings and how they worked their way up to the top.
Pradeep has incredible sense of clarity and he always keeps it to the point. He feels the reason for his success is his ability to face failure “I’ve always felt that the cost of failure is very limited, it is good to fail, it’s easier to fail, you should never be afraid of failure. Success will come to you if you keep trying.”
Meghana wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to food. She talks with so much passion and zeal that it almost rubs off on you. When she was testing waters with many other career options, one call from Pradeep was enough for her to realize her true calling.
Why and how did you start Hungry Forever?
Meghana: We started off as a social media marketing company and most of our clients were restaurants. We started meeting restaurateurs who knew everything they needed to about food but in terms of marketing, not so much so that’s where we helped them out.
Up until then we were experts in digital marketing but as and when they gave us insights about the food, we were really inspired by the amount of work that went into it. As a customer, you only see the food that’s coming to you, sometimes even if the dish is not the right temperature, you have complaints. But the thing is, each of the ingredients of that dish comes from different places before it reaches your plate. While we already had a passion for food, working with them closely got the momentum flowing. We wanted to be a platform that gives the restaurant’s side of the story.
What are the challenges you faced when you started?
Meghana: When it comes to food, there is so much content and potential that we didn’t know where to start. So initially, getting an organized structure into this was a challenge. Also, we did a lot of travelling in the beginning. All of our writers are foodies who are interested in travelling so they would go to different places to try out food and write about it.
Pradeep: Differentiating ourselves from the products that were already available in the market was a challenge. Making people understand that we are not a Zomato or a FoodPanda wannabe took some time. There is a larger volume of content around the food space than just restaurant reviews. If you want to know how the food is at Sandy’s then you could go to Zomato. But if you want to know about Sandy’s, their founders and their vision for the company you need to come to us.
How would you differentiate yourself from the products that are already available in the market?
Pradeep: We focus on wider aspects of food. Interviews and recipes work for us. We publish traditional recipes you can’t really find online. For instance you can find a million recipes for Cheesecake, but for Avarakka Paruppu Theeyal? Not so much. On the interviews front, we got the first exclusive interview with the Grofers founders, we had a very detailed piece on them.
Meghana: Also, by a rule of thumb we don’t write any bad reviews. If the food is not good we just don’t write about it. Off late, there are a lot of people who threaten restaurateurs. If they don’t get what they want they will threaten to write a bad review about the place. That’s horrible.
Pradeep: If you are a regular at a particular restaurant and one day you go there and find the food to be bad you can actually tell them, they’ll fix it for you. If you thrash them on social media, what point are you trying to make? Are you trying to be an angel of goodness to prevent others from having the same misfortune that you did?
Does Hungry Forever plan to be a print magazine anytime soon?
Pradeep: Yeah, we’re thinking about it. I don’t subscribe to the belief that digital is the only future in India. I don’t think print will just die out. There are some targets we want to hit before that.
Meghana: I’ve always been a pen and paper girl. When you see food on paper or in a good quality magazine, there’s always a feeling to it. So we are definitely talking about it but we would like to be on a popular phase before we do that.
On what basis do you hire work teams in each of the cities you cover?
Meghana: We have writers over there who are doing the same thing that we’re doing here. They build their own contact web. We are very particular that our writers have an open mind, you can’t tell me you like food but don’t like a particular cuisine. If you are a picky eater, this is not the job for you. The other day I had to try lotus stem and I didn’t like it because it was gooey but you have to try, you have to eat it. If that’s a delicacy somewhere else, you have to have an open mind.
Pradeep: A lot of people think its all fun and games for us. They think we get free food wherever we go but it requires a lot of dedication and hard work to do what we do. If you miss the ball, you will have no idea of what’s going on.
How different is your focus with each city?
Pradeep: I don’t believe in ranking cities on how developed their food scene is. Each city has its own voice and each city needs to be viewed in its on light. We tend to view the cities we cover as a silo of what works best there and what we can write about.
How interactive is HF? How many reader posts do you get on an average day?
Pradeep: We get around 30-40 posts a day. As of now we allow the readers to post three kinds of content. They can do a general food blog on their own, they can submit recipes and they can create a dish list.
You concentrate relatively less on photographs, why is that?
Meghana: For our reviews and the places we feature we use our own photos. But for recipes we can’t do that because the volume of content is too high. We are toying around with the idea of setting up a full-fledged studio and a kitchen but we’re not in that place just yet. We do have people with great potential to cook but we don’t have the resources right now.
In your perspective, what is the food scene like in Chennai?
Meghana: More and more number people are realizing that Chennai is an untapped market. New restaurants are opening at the drop of a hat and I’m so happy to see so many different cuisines in Chennai. Did you know that we are the first city to have an Ethiopian restaurant? People claim a lot of these places have a five star pricing, I’m sorry but I would pay a kidney for amazing food!
What is your favorite cuisine/restaurant?
Meghana: Basil With A Twist is my favorite restaurant, I’ve practically tried everything there, but there’s this musty creamy chicken which is like my comfort food. On a rainy day, you sit by their beautiful window and have that musty creamy chicken, your day is made. There’s this Saltimbocca which is also very nice, but the absolute killer dish on their menu is their Mousse La Chocolate, it melts in your mouth, it’s insane, just amazing stuff. If I’m having a bad day and at the end of the day I go there and have a meal everything becomes conquerable.
Pradeep: Greek is one thing that I really like but I’m open to much more. I’m a hardcore meat eater so meat in many forms is really interesting to me. There was this one time when I went to the Madurai Amma Mess, I completely wasted myself on all the different kinds of meat they served. On my plate there were all kinds of things that were unholy.
What is the most adventurous dish you’ve tried?
Pradeep: Octupus Balls! Oh wait, you don’t get that in Chennai.
Meghana: I wouldn’t call it adventurous but I love the food and drinks at Sudaka. Chula makes these killer cocktails. She hates mixing aerated drinks so she makes them with natural fruit juice. Her Sudaka Island Iced Tea is the best.
How do you filter user recipes?
Pradeep: We just check to see if the content is understandable and we have a few mandatory fields they have to fill in. Initially when we were looking for recipes in the market, there was this really funny recipe that we found. She said something to the effect of “You take a pot; you put this sauce into it and rotate.” So you have to rotate?
Meghana: It can be a daunting task at times because there are so many funny recipes online. In fact one of them read, “Wait till you here the tch tch sound” I mean that’s not a recipe, what is a tch tch sound?!
What are your future plans for Hungry Forever?
Pradeep: Our first goal is to expand to more cities. By the end of this year we want to expand to three or four more cities. We want to expand to Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune and Kochi. We also want to expand to the South-East Asia.
Meghana: Apart from expansion we want to concentrate more on video content and maybe even have a full fledged kitchen setup.
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