April Spotlight on Niraj Shah and DgN Factory!
What is dgn Factory?
dgn Factory is a contemporary South Indian vegetarian quick service restaurant chain. We plan on taking all varieties of Indian food to the global level, wrapped up in a dosa.
Who is your ideal target audience?
We believe our target audience is anyone looking for healthy, gluten free, vegetarian or vegan food. Basically food that is truly what it says it is, not cross-contaminated with non-vegetarian or non-vegan foods. When I came to this country 10 years ago, I was extremely reluctant to eat out because I didn’t know what would be in my food. I didn’t know what I was putting in my body. So we’re trying to create a brand that is recognized as pure and trustworthy. It understands the reluctance of people to go out and eat and gives them a place with delicious food that they can trust.
Who/what does it compete with? What competitors exist already?
Honestly, there are no exact competitors. Of course we compete with every restaurant that serves vegan/vegetarian food, but if you compare the type of food we offer, there are no analogues. It’s about the quality of food, the variety of options, and the trust we offer. We believe that what we give to our customers is unparalleled.
How did you (your team) come up with the idea behind dgn?
We had a food booth at a Garba event and it did better than expected. We were selling dosas there and we thought, why not something like this where all we’re doing is selling a variety of dosas? The idea initially came about while selling dosas at a booth at the convention center. It started with a small idea with my sister and now its given us all a larger purpose.
What unmet need were you trying to solve?
We are trying to go global. Only thing non-Indians are familiar with is North Indian, they don’t know about the huge variety of options all over India. Everyone knows Italian, Chinese, Mexican, but not everyone knows Indian food. That’s what we’re trying to do. We have 30 different varieties of dosas, and they include a mix of popular foods from all over India. We chose dosas because its immensely popular all over India and basic, you can do anything with it. So we offer Pav Bhaji dosas from Bombay, Pani Puri dosas from Gujarat, Palak Paneer dosas from north India, and coconut kurma dosas from the south, among others. We chose a product that can cross over and built on it.
What are some recent successes dgn has enjoyed?
We have been named among the top 100 new restaurants in the country, by UrbanSpoon. And we were second most popular in 2014 in Houston. We’re pretty excited about this past year and what’s to come.
How did you deal with setbacks, if any, as a start-up?
The setbacks we’ve had were a result of growth. It is really different to run a company with one restaurant versus a company with multiple restaurants. To maintain the quality across the brand, to maintain the consistency day in day out, to give the same experience every time a repeat customer walks in – pose challenges in itself. Hence, developing a company with individuals that help us maintain the integrity of the brand has been the most challenging and most crucial. Thankfully, so far, we have been able to build the brand without compromising our standards. However, opening restaurants as quickly as we had originally planned has been extremely challenging.
What advice would you have for other budding entrepreneurs?
The biggest piece of advice I would share, something I realized when starting my own company, is that it’s extremely important to work on the business and not in the business. It’s such a challenge because I was so hands on everything and for me, to learn how to delegate and accept the methods and processes of your employees, became crucial. I had to learn how to delegate, to accept other peoples’ ways of doing things. I’d say, “don’t get too caught up working in the business, focus on working on the business.”
How has Jainism influenced your business decisions? What challenges to Jain principles have you had to address, if any?
It’s funny, I discuss this question with my mom on a regular basis. She’s a staunch believer of Jainism, so am I of course. But she reminds me that use of electricity, wasting food, these are things that matter when you’re trying to be true to your religion. But the satisfaction I get from young people who come to my restaurant and say, “I’m so glad dgn is here” and, “ I can trust you to offer food that I enjoy and don’t have to worry about,” is inexplicable.
Of course there are other challenges. On one hand, I don’t eat onions and garlic, but I’m feeding onions and garlic to others. There is solace in reminding myself that lots of places are vegan/vegetarian but we like to hold ourselves to a higher standard. When we get a Jain order, we clean everything, all our kitchen utensils, the grill, etc. We make sure nothing is cross contaminated. We take extreme measures. But still, it’s extremely difficult to make sure we follow all the details of our religion. I like to think that, while on one hand I’m using electricity, I’m giving people the satisfaction of good Jain food. I like to think that what
I’m doing is for a larger purpose than myself.
What is your long-term objective for dgn?
One restaurant in every city where there are Jains.
What’s coming up in the next few months for dgn?
We’re about to open our 4th and 5th locations this year, and early next year, we’ll be franchising!
How can people learn more about dgn?