An erstwhile school teacher married an advertising professional and they moved to Bengaluru in 2008 to set up their home. But what they missed the most were the rolls they would eat in Kolkata. So they roamed the streets of Bengaluru in despair, searching for that perfect roll.
That’s when Arpita Sinha and Sujoy Das started ‘Chakum Chukum, Calcutta on a Roll’ in the heart of Bengaluru.
Speaking to The Better India, Arpita says, “Other than relishing good food, neither Sujoy nor I had any kind of experience in running a business, dealing with customers or even selling food. Chakum Chukum was born in 2009 out of our own desire to continue eating the Kolkata rolls in Bengaluru.”
The food scene of Bengaluru today is very different from what it was 13 years ago. “Back then, there were just a few stand-alone niche restaurants and some not-so-good, small joints. What was missing was something in between. We used to roam around in Indira Nagar in the hope of finding some new place. That was what led us to think about starting something on our own,” adds Sujoy.
Kolkata On A Roll
“We tried a few joints serving rolls across the city but the taste of what we grew up on was missing. We wanted to create a joint where we would serve exactly what we would want to eat. My yardstick for quality control was that I should be able to feed my child what was being served at Chakum Chukum,” says Arpita, for whom managing the outlet and her two-year-old son was a huge task.
Most of the rolls available in the market in 2009 were greasy and laden with too much spice. “We changed that – we made them extremely flavourful without loading it up with spices and ensured that we kept a check on the amount of oil that was being used in our cooking as well. We started catering to people who craved good taste but also wanted to eat healthily,” says Sujoy.
He continues, “It was interesting for us and we also learnt a lot. In Kolkata, rolls would always mean chicken or mutton. However, in the South, people also wanted vegetarian options. That is how we introduced various vegetarian options as well. We started experimenting with different vegetable combinations.”
The couple recalls their early adventures in trying to find the right space for Chakum Chukum. Sujoy says, “Once I wrapped up work at the firm, I would go home, pick Arpita and the two of us would set out in search of a space. On 100 Feet road, which today is the most happening spot in this part of town, was nothing more than a sleepy lane back then.”
Having zeroed in on one space on 100 Feet road, Arpita says that they spent almost two weeks going back every evening standing outside and staring at the space. “We had so many apprehensions. It was a dark and sleepy lane. We weren’t sure of the footfall. Honestly, we weren’t sure of anything. We took the plunge nonetheless,” she says.
Great Kathi Rolls Just Behind the Tree
“When we started, the place was so nondescript that we would often tell people to find the big tree and look behind it for Chakum Chukum,” jokes Sujoy. Eventually, the aroma of the kathi rolls started pulling people towards the space. “It was a lot of hard work that Arpita put in to make this a success. She was the lady in the front and the sweat, feedback and brickbats all came her way. I took the easy route of joining her six months post-launch, once things had stabilised,” says Sujoy.
The couple has stayed away from turning the joint into anything fancy. “We are not a fine dining restaurant and do not wish to become one either. Our focus is solely on the quality and the price point of our food,” says Arpita. Soon, office goers in and around 100 Feet road started visiting and found the convenience of eating a roll to be great.
All of this was being managed in a 130 sq ft space.
“By default, because the space was just so small, we had an open kitchen. This meant that we had to, at all times, ensure that everything was spic and span. People were constantly looking at their kathi rolls being assembled, we just could not afford to slip up,” says Arpita. This was reassuring for the person ordering the kathi roll and has continued to be how the kitchen functions even today at Chakum Chukum.
“We started the show kitchen, which is a hugely popular concept in fine dine restaurants now way before it was even a thing,” quips Sujoy.
Samuel Selvakumar, former CEO of Hutch who has been visiting the joint for over 9 years now says, “Chakum Chukum is one of our favourite choices, whenever we order in. The rolls and kebabs are delicious. What’s remarkable is the consistency and quality of the rolls for the last nine years. Sujoy and Arpita’s passion for good food shines through, always.”
‘We Have Never Been Excel Sheet Driven’
“We took each day as it came. We were naïve entrepreneurs back then. We were not driven by the Excel sheet culture. We would take stock of how many rolls we sold each day and pull the shutters down every night when we wound up,” says Sujoy. Eventually, they figured out that there was good money to be made by selling rolls.
While the staple continues to be rolls, they’ve added kebabs, daily specials and weekend specials. “This small tweak that we brought about increased the footfall and review for us,” says Sujoy. Over the years, the couple has served some very interesting and famous people. “Prakash Padukone [actor Deepika Padukone’s father] enjoys the rolls we make. On several occasions, he comes by, picks up his rolls and drives away. There was also one time that I went to deliver an order to the former Karnataka Chief Minister, H D Kumaraswamy,” says Sujoy.
It is all about the memories that people make around the food they serve, says the couple. Narrating an incident that occurred recently, Arpita says, “Last month a lady along with her husband and child came to the outlet. She walked up and asked if I remembered her. She went on to tell me how her love story with her husband started under the tree outside Chakum Chukum. They recounted their college courtship days and enjoyed eating here again — this time with their son.”
“Stories like these are what inspire us to keep going,” adds Sujoy.
“We have also had this pregnant lady who, before getting admitted for her delivery, made a stop at Chakum Chukum, picked up her roll and then went to deliver her baby.”
With the advent of online food delivery services, the nature of how business is done has changed and commenting on that, Arpita says, “While the online food delivery service providers have added value to our business, it has all become so transactional in nature. We miss being able to meet and talk to each of our customers.”
Today, Chakum Chukum is operating out of a 1,000 sqft space in Indira Nagar, churning about 300 rolls each day with seven employees on board.
If you are in Bengaluru and wish to grab a roll, then you can choose from a wide range of vegetarian rolls or chicken and mutton rolls, which range from Rs 110 to Rs 140. Find Chakum Chukum on Instagram here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)