Mehul Patel A.K.A Mr. Paanwala, whose dedicated efforts has lead to the formation of a chain of cafeterias solely for paan. Remember the iconic “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” from Don which made paan the newest sensation of the late 70s? Sr. Bachchan made paan the talk of the town.
The founder of Paan Casa picked up paan-making from his beloved Nani, who was the first to highlight the innumerable health benefits of paan to a young Mehul. From making paan as a hobby to establishing India’s first paan cafe in Surat, Mehul’s initiative stands on a cause. All products and paans created by Mr. Paanwala are completely free of tobacco and nicotine and also aim to revive the lost glory of paans in India and abroad. Dig deeper into the fascinating tale of paan-making, the benefits of paan, Mehul’s vision and much more in this chatty conversation with Storiyaan.
MEHUL PATEL: WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS PAANWALA
Questions and answers
What made you decide on the name ‘Mr. Paanwala’ for your startup?
I have been making paan as a hobby for over 15 years now. During this period, a lot of people started calling me ‘Mr. Paanwala’ as they were unaware of my name. Gradually, I got recognized in the community by the same name and therefore I decided to stick with it for my business.
How long did it take for you to master the art of making the perfect paan and who was your first customer?
It took me almost 10 years to master this skill before I got into the business.
My first customer was my family because when I was developing the paan-making skills I first offered it to my wife and family.
There is a very sentimental link between you and paans which originated with your grandmother. What was the most fascinating part of this lineage?
The most fascinating part of this lineage is that my Nani Maa consumed paans not only for their taste but also because of their several health benefits. As a child, I was awestruck at how a single paan could have so many health properties and ingredients.
What has been the most challenging aspect of setting up a company of a food item specific to an indigenous palate in a country that has a different approach to food altogether?
When we started our company, we faced communication challenges. People expected us to sell tobacco and nicotine products. Therefore, it was a struggle to enlighten people about tobacco-free paan and its benefits.
You mentioned that most of the ingredients are very region-specific like the supari should be from Kolkata and kattha from Kanpur. How did you manage to get hold of these living in the US?
Our market research team visits local places and inspects the ingredients for quality. After the ingredients pass the quality check, we source them directly from the supplier or farmers to the warehouse. Thus, we rely on this dedicated warehousing system for our business.
Can you inform us about some of the major health benefits of paan and how it can be incorporated into the diet?
Yes sure. To begin with, the betel leaf (paan ka patta) helps in digestion and increases metabolism. The chunna is a source of calcium whereas the fennel seeds aids in maintaining body temperature, especially in summers. Similarly, the betel nut (supari) aids in blood purification. Likewise, several other products used in paan also have their perks.
Among the majority of people, paan is a source for fulfilling their nicotine cravings. When you remove that from it, how does it bode in the market?
To be fair, it hasn’t affected our market at all. I will explain it with an example, suppose you stir clear of all nicotine products but you still wish to enjoy a paan. This is where we come in, our paans are made for everyone irrespective of age and are free of any addictive ingredients.
What made you realize that a startup for paans would be a successful startup and what did you do about your IT job?
The paan industry in India is worth over 32000 cores annually and is one of the biggest of food industry in our country. Yet the market is localised. We come in the market with a standardized product and business model, and a unique tech-integrated business with guaranteed hygiene standards.
I am still working in my IT job and I love the fact that I get to learn and implement those technologies into my business.
Mr. Paanwala and Paan Casa are an initiative to bring that spread the awareness of tobacco issues among the young generation all over the world. What drives you so passionately towards this cause?
I have had friends and family whose nicotine addiction resulted in cancer and even loss of life. Therefore, I was headstrong about excluding any tobacco products from our paans. Moreover, we also wish to inspire a young generation to enjoy the beauty of a paan without worrying about its adverse effects.
You have been experimenting with different flavours and types of paan for a long time now. Which has been the most challenging one so far?
We conduct continuous research about new flavors. Once we curate a new flavor we offer it to our regular customers for trial and if 8 out of 10 customers approve then we go ahead with it. Sometimes, it is challenging for employees to carry out the process and meet the standards. However, we have an internal learning system in place through which they can learn and adopt.
1. The most satisfying aspect of your job – Passion
2. Your greatest support system – Wife
3. One piece of advice for those planning on a startup of their own –Start today
4. Your favourite traditional dish – DahiBalhe
5. The most important ingredient to make the perfect paan– Kattha