A sommeliar turned entrepreneur to serve food on a truck

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Sandeep Paudel, a certified professional sommelier has worked at many esteemed Michelin rated New York City restaurants.. But his willingness to do something good for the society and his motherland is what drove him back to Nepal. Now he plans to disrupt the food industry through his business idea of running a Food Truck which is a completely new modality here in Nepal. 

As the finalist of Udhyami Yuva Challenge, Blincventures.com had a small chit chat with him. Read the full interview to know more about him, his idea and his experience as a participant of a 5 day long intensive UYC bootcamp. 

Sandeep-Paudel

1. How was the concept of Food Truck ideated?
I have worked in restaurants for a long time in the States. But I felt something was missing, so I decided to return back to Nepal with the motive of doing good for the people and the nation. In the process of making a difference in the society and nation while sustaining myself, I decided to work in the food and hospitality sector that I was well accustomed to, but with a modality that is completely new to Nepal by running a Food Truck.
Also, coming from a middle class family, I always found eating in restaurants intimidating and expensive, while with the local khaja ghars the food items were affordable but there is the trade off of the hygiene and quality. Also, the ambience of such places is not appropriate for all. Hence, my own experience and knowledge in the food and hospitality sector along with what I felt as a child led me to the concept of Food Truck in Nepal. 

2. Can you tell us more about your idea of Food Truck?
Food Truck is a moving restaurant where I will be serving vegetarian dishes to the  customers with food items made from seasonal vegetables. Likewise, I am also planning to source only organic vegetables from local farmers. We will also be experimenting with the dishes. For this, I plan to collaborate with a chef to experiment with the dishes while making them look delicious as well as healthy.

Moreover, I will be using solar lighting for the lighting purpose inside the food truck. Adding on to that, Nepal is a beautiful country with great potential in tourism, so I personally think that we need to systematize street food in Nepal and Food Truck is surely going to help in that process which is what my idea is all about. 

3. How will the Food Truck be able to compete with the well established restaurants?
Restaurants are fancy and fun but the problem is they tend to be intimidating for some people, especially those from middle class families who have to stick to the budget. Once you enter a restaurant, it is awkward to see the menu and not order anything, so you are compelled to order the cheapest possible food item. But in the case of a Food Truck, the menu will be hung outside and there is no obligation to order the food after going through the menu. Moreover, I am planning to offer only vegetarian food items  which will be relatively cheaper.
Also, the major plus point that Food Truck has is that the customers can in person see how the food they have ordered is prepared and what ingredients goes into making the dish. So, this ensures high quality and hygienic food.
Apart from these, the operational cost is low when starting a Food Truck than opening a restaurant in a sense that you won’t need many staff. That also provides new business opportunities for people here in Nepal with one time investments. So, rather than competing, it will be more of co-existing. 

4. Do you have a prototype of your business idea?
Yes I do.  Actually I operated the Food Truck here in Nepal after I came back for around 5 months in my hometown. I have designed the truck and it was a huge success with the locals in Pokhara. But there were some issues, mainly legal, which made me halt the Food Truck business. I have definitely learned some important lessons during those 5 months of operation from customers’ preference to the need to be self dependent. Now I am much more confident and prepared in restarting my Food Truck.   

5. What do you think will be the major challenges for you in the journey?
The legal aspects I consider would be the major challenge. FoodTruck is a new concept here in Nepal, so it is obvious that there are no proper guidelines and rules to operate one. So, the governmental authorities may be a bit hesitant in this area. 

6. How do you think the current COVID-19 situation will affect your business idea?
Going and eating out in the restaurant is going to be a challenge for the people even after the lockdown is over. So, I personally think rather than a problem, the situation possesses an advantage for the FoodTruck. We don’t have seating, tables, chairs; it will be more like the take outs. So, the concern of physical contact is very minimal. People can get the food they ordered  from the window.
Also, people have become more concerned about what they consume and with a food truck people can actually see how the food they  have ordered is prepared. So, rather than hurdles, it is an opportunity and a perfect time from the launch. 

7. How was your experience as a participant of UYC bootcamp?
The experience was surreal. It was great knowing and networking with people. Also, it felt really good to see a lot of youth trying to do something meaningful in the area of peace,environment and tourism. Likewise, this journey in time can be really frustrating, you start doubting yourself and your idea. But seeing other 14 participants who are creating and have been creating something meaningful and impact oriented is really uplifting. Some of the sessions were refresher for me while some sessions like Investment and Legal were new for me.

8. Has your business idea evolved post bootcamp? If so, how?
Yes, definitely.The goal setting session required us to develop specific goals for our ideas, so I was urged to think deeply into the various aspects of a business like HR, investment, finances, sustainability which I wouldn’t have given much consideration to, if I hadn’t been part of the bootcamp. Also, the boot camp was like a much needed time for me to ponder really deep regarding my business idea. My core principle has not changed but there have been changes in the way I see things, the best way to reach the same goals.  So in that sense my business idea has definitely evolved post bootcamp.

9. Is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
I am a professional sommelier, so I personally think that if my career is focused on that particular area, I will surely be able to earn a lot of money easily and in a short span of time. Also, there is minimal risk involved.
However, no matter what, I will always choose that path of entrepreneurship. Leaving everything behind I decided to invest my time in doing something meaningful which is going to bring immense value to my life, my family and my society. Life is more than the wealth you make. So, I would just like to say that if you want to do something meaningful then plunge into it, don’t worry about finances because at the end your satisfaction is what matters the most. 

For more information about this idea, please connect with Sandeep at winesandeep@gmail.com.

Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya