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From Mumbai pop-up to London: How cloud kitchen Goila Butter Chicken took Indian food global



Did you know that ‘butter chicken’ is one of the two most searched Indian dishes globally? (It shares this honour with biryani.)

On average, butter chicken is searched 400,000 times per month, according to SEMRush (a platform tracking online buzz). It is also one of the most ordered dishes in India and at desi restaurants across the globe.

But celebrity chef Saransh Goila wasn’t content with this. He believed that the much-revered dish had, over the years, lost its authentic flavours, and was being served in some bastardised form — either too creamy or too sweet.

Saransh wanted to restore butter chicken to its original glory.

Saransh wanted to restore butter chicken to its original glory.

Saransh wanted to restore butter chicken to its original glory.

That was his one-line business idea when he started Goila Butter Chicken (GBC) in 2016. Joining him in the journey was his friend from catering college, Vivek Sahani.

From one iconic dish to a 40-item menu, a 1,500-sq-ft central kitchen, and seven outposts in Mumbai and Pune to this month’s London launch, GBC wants to put Indian food on the global culinary map.

In four years, the cloud kitchen has served 300,000 meal portions, including naans, parathas, appams, biryanis, tikkas, chaats, kebabs, kulfis and more, and grown its yearly revenue by 60 percent. Now, it wants to scale up globally.

GBC looks to open 25 outposts by 2021-end, and 100 by 2023-end. It will launch in several new Indian cities, and in Dubai, New York, and Melbourne.

Even though the pandemic’s impact was “large”, GBC claims its order volumes are back to 75-80 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels. “We lost our lunch business because of work from home, but dinner orders have picked up really well, and we hope to reach pre-COVID levels in December,” Co-founder Saransh tells YourStory.

Taking Indian food global

The idea, Saransh says, germinated almost two years ago.

“The curiosity around GBC started after we were a part of Masterchef Australia [in 2018]. People from Australia, Dubai, and Canada reached out to us, and we realised that there was a dearth of good North Indian food in these markets,” he shares.

Incidentally, MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris called it “the best butter chicken in the world”.

Then, in February 2020, GBC did a food pop-up in London, which was a “huge success”. “We did 1,400 orders in two weeks. That told us that the sample size was quite large, and we could build GBC as an international brand,” he says.

Even though COVID-19 delayed GBC’s London launch, the co-founders were convinced that 2020 had to be the year when they would go global.

GBC London has opened a franchisee outpost in partnership with Templeton Brothers; and started its own ordering portal (goilabutterchicken.co.uk). It will also deliver via Deliveroo, one of the UK’s top food ordering apps.

Its business expansion comes at a time when cloud kitchens are seeing an upswing. The format is said to be better suited for a socially distanced world, and is poised to become a $2 billion industry in India by 2024, as per RedSeer Consulting. That is a 5X growth from $400 million in 2019.

Besides the famed Butter Chicken, which makes up 80 percent of GBC’s sales, Londoners can also treat themselves to other Indian delicacies such as Dal Makhani, Jeera Rice, Sourdough Naan (specially curated for the UK), Pickled Shallots, and Coriander Chutney. Vegetarians can replace the chicken with paneer.

While global expansion is a big part of GBC’s future plans, initially, Saransh found it hard to believe that it was possible without him being actually present in the kitchens.

“But scaling up in India taught us a lot,” he says, “We realised that it is all about detailing the recipes and quantities right till the last grammage. Only math can scale up Indian curries globally.”

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