Garage startup Naan Knights brings Indian cuisine to the northwest

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Through their startup Garage Naan Knights, McCormick senior Sidharth Runwal, McCormick junior Vedant Ambani and Weinberg junior Sara Adurkar sought to provide late-night dining options for their peers.

From the Burger King at 1740 Orrington Ave. closed in late 2020, North West students crave late-night dining options.

Through their startup Garage Naan Knights, McCormick senior Sidharth Runwal, McCormick junior Vedant Ambani and Weinberg junior Sara Adurkar sought to fill that gap while bringing a taste of home to Evanston.

“Food just connects people and a meal can be the start of so many great things,” Runwal said.

The three founders, all from Mumbai, India, became friends after joining NU. While dining at Allison Hall last November, Runwal and Ambani said they wondered if there was a market for late-night Indian food in Evanston and decided to test the idea. That weekend they went to Devon Avenue to stock up on garlic naans, samosas, butter chicken, paneer makhani and dal.

On the first day of orders, they sold out at 9:45 p.m. — 15 minutes before their 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. order window even started, Runwal said.

“I was expecting to get maybe two or three orders from friends and family,” he said. “We ended up getting 11 legitimate orders.”

With friends sprinting to Whole Foods for more ingredients, more than 10 people cooking and packing food in his apartment, and others using everything from electric scooters to campus shuttles to deliver food, Runwal said the experience was like editing a movie.

In its first four days, Naan Knights completed over 40 orders, making $400 in revenue and $100 in profit. McCormick senior Shourya Agarwal, a friend of the co-founders, helped deliver food during Fall Quarter. Agarwal said seeing people enjoying food they don’t often cook for themselves has brought him a lot of joy.

“Good food is good. With Indian food in particular, many people don’t cook it because it takes time. So when you get to eat it, you enjoy it,” Agarwal said.

Getting customer feedback was also eye-opening, Agarwal said.

Although sometimes surprising, Agarwal said the startup’s testing helped them understand that some of their assumptions differed from customers’ desires.

“As Indians, we think naan is something that is complementary with dal or something like that,” Agarwal said. “It was strange that some people only ordered seven naans.”

Alicia Ross (Communication 21), evening administrative assistant at the Garage, was among the first clients of Naan Knights. Born in New Orleans and raised in Texas, Ross said food was central to her experience of community.

Ross said she intentionally spends part of her salary on good food and loves places like Naan Knights and The Table because she can support NU student businesses – something she’s passionate about as a staff member of The Garage.

“Living on a college campus and eating food in a dining hall for weeks on end makes you appreciate good food a lot more,” Ross said.

Naan Knights is currently working on a partnership with a local Indian restaurant to expand its cooking capacity. The team said they hope to create a sustainable model for bringing authentic Indian cuisine to the late-night table in college towns around the world.

“You can take a course in business management or supply chain, but here you actually do it. And I’m a big fan of learning by doing,” Runwal said.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @ava_mandoli

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–– The Table launches new late night food delivery for students

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