An Entrepreneurial Stint for Your Palate
What does one call a bunch of college graduates, who love to eat and don’t know to cook, when they enter the kitchen looking for food?
They are called Hungry Hogs.
That was the name that struck three engineer friends—Darshan Ramanagoudra, Nag Manohar and Rahul Cherian—from CMR Institute of Technology in Bangalore, after they decided to decline plush job offers from major IT companies and start something on their own.
The entrepreneurial epiphany came to them in early 2006, after they attended a session in college conducted by the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN), an organization that provides mentoring and resources for budding entrepreneurs across India.
On one hungry night after graduation, in 2009, they decided to start a venture in the food space because they believed that food was something that would always sell. Karan Hasija, another school friend of Manohar and Ramanagoudra, joined Hungry Hogs as a partner in March 2012.
To figure out what the younger crowd loved, they surveyed a group of friends. They realized that hot dogs were still an unexplored food item in the market, unlike pizzas and burgers, which were around for two decades now—recipes tweaked to appeal to the Indian palate.
“Most of our friends are also like us, they love to eat. They were our guinea pigs. We went to a supermarket and took everything on an entire aisle...jalapenos, olives, mustard sauces, mayonnaise and all the sauces possible. We went home and started mixing everything with the basic sausage hot dog,” said Ramanagoudra.
Of all the mix-and-match recipes they came up with, they zeroed in on four basic hot dogs that night. Their personal favourite hot dog was Sev the world—a chaat-like hot dog with sev (spicy Indian crunchy noodle-like snack), tamarind sauce and mint sauce.
In October 2009, they started Hungry Hogs with an initial capital of less than Rs.1 lakh, raised from their families. The parents did not worry much because the investment was small.
They chose the catering model, where they set up hot dog stalls for college fests and other parties—all by themselves. Initially, there were some fire accidents and a lot of burnt hot dogs, but eventually they learnt the art of making perfect hot dogs.
The four hot dogs on the menu were Plane Jane, a simple hot dog with barbeque and mustard sauce, Say Cheese, a cheese hot dog with the sauces and generous helpings of mozzarella cheese, Jus Chillin, a spicy hot dog with lots of Mexican chillies and spicy sauces, (Ramanagoudra describes this hot dog as the only reason they sell so many soft drinks), and Sev the world.
In early 2010, the three founders realized that college fests happened only during a few months of the year, and they needed something to do the entire year. They shifted to the outlet model, with the first in Koramangala, in Cherian’s house.
It was the first outlet that specialized in hot dogs. They had hordes of people, mainly college students, visiting their Koramangala outlet every day. In a short span of time, they opened two other outlets, one in Indira Nagar and the other in Whitefield.
What was it about Hungry Hogs hot dogs?
“The sausages are pan fried, not boiled like the competition does. This makes the hot dog taste so much better. Also we are not mean to the vegetarians. We have a special vegetarian sausage, made of potatoes and other vegetables, instead of tofu or soya, which we can use for all our hot dogs. People just love it,” said Manohar.
It took them two years before they agreed to use tomatoes in their hot dogs. The reason—they hated it. Also, the innovations did not end that night.
The Hungry Hogs menu, which started with only four hot dogs, today has evolved into one with a wide range of hot dogs, starters and beverages to choose from, attracting people from across Bangalore city to frequent its outlets.
“We introduced two new items every quarter. Some were sausage-based starters like the sausage bonda and the sausage fest, while the others were hot dogs like Jackie Chan (a Chinese flavoured hot dog with chopsuey sauce and noodles),” added Manohar.
The most popular hot dog is the Italian Job, which replicates the flavour of a pizza in a hot dog, with olives, onions, tomatoes and cheese.
Hungry Hogs hot dogs are priced between Rs.60 and Rs.110 for a single hot dog, and costs Rs.90-160 for a monster hot dog. The company sells around 3,000 hot dogs per month across the three outlets.
“Basically Hungry Hogs was one of the first places I ate hot dogs in. It was so different that I loved it and came back for it twice or thrice a week. Later I noticed other brands of hot dogs in the city, but none of them ever had so much variety. I always got so confused with the number of options they had,” said Noella Cresence, one of the many fans of the hot dogs at Hungry Hogs.
According to experts, hot dogs are a niche market in India with only half a dozen specialists in the country.
Though they did not have specialized competition in the hot dog space, Manohar said that “all the vada pav, burgers and kathi rolls dudes were competition”.
The company does not work like a corporate firm. They do not have hierarchies or designations, and more interestingly, they started without any management education or experience.
“We got help from friends, family and NEN mentors. We met a lot of people and implemented their suggestions too. But there is also the learning that comes from taking your own decisions and making mistakes. That is invaluable. We learnt from that mainly,” said Ramanagoudra.
Hungry Hogs will soon explore malls in the metros as an opportunity to crack the franchisee model of businesses. Today, they are happy to pump all the revenues into expansion, but will soon start looking at external funding.
This post was first published by Mint, a strategic partner of TATA First Dot, and can be accessed here.