Business: Meet the Owners of The RollPod in Seattle, WA
Interviewer: Nandini Daga, August 22, 2020
Interviewee: Anubha and Pramal Kumar, Co-Founders @ The RollPod (IG: @therollpod; therollpod.com)
The Rollpod offers yummy, fresh, and balanced Indian food with a multitude of vegan and gluten free options (The RollPod).
Could you tell us about yourself and your occupation? Can you tell us what’s special about your restaurant?
ANUBHA: I am the founder and the chef of the Rollpod. Besides that I also have another job, so the RollPod is, I would say, my passion. Since I am the chef for the RollPod, it's my food, my recipes. It's my product that's out there.
PARMAL: I’m PK, and I’m the co-founder -- I work for RollPod day-in and day-out. I take care of everything from business planning to execution.
PARMAL: What keeps us very unique in this area is that we’ve stuck to a niche. Indian food is very varied, different parts have different food. We’ve stuck to a particular niche where we make wraps and rice bowls. Our statement is ‘yummy, fresh, balanced, Indian food.' We have a bunch of vegan options, some gluten free options, that’s what keeps us separate from most of the other places.
How has COVID-19 affected your restaurant? What worries you most regarding the effect COVID-19 has/will have on your occupation?
PARMAL: So it has definitely had a big time effect because our office crowd suddenly stopped coming. In the beginning less and less people were coming, and that made sense, as they were concerned. Then came the government’s order to follow certain rules and regulations, so we were only doing takeout which impacted the business. There was a time when we were almost 80% down sales at one point. We had to support our employees who are very much dependent on the business.
"There was a time when we were almost 80% down sales at one point. We had to support our employees who are very much dependent on the business."
We tried to support them through whatever cash we had, which was limited, and eventually by downsizing the business, scaling it smartly. So we have been able to survive, and are now doing much better. But yes for 3-4 months it had definitely affected us. It still continues to affect us because while we have navigated and made changes accordingly, I’m pretty sure once this is all over we will be doing much better. But at this point I would say we are 50-% down sales-wise currently, and we lost some employees, though we tried to keep most of them.
ANUBHA: And I think the major effect was on our food trucks, because they used to go to the Amazon campus, and right now there aren’t many people in the South Lake Union area. So our truck is very much down, there is no comparison to the revenue pre-COVID versus right now.
So is the food truck still going out?
ANUBHA: Yeah, one still goes out to the South Lake Union area, we didn’t stop for even one day. In the beginning it was down 95%, almost to zero. It’s now at around 30% of what it used to be.
Have you had to change menu items, or in-person eating, other things? Is it mostly pick-up now?
ANUBHA: One thing that was good for us is that we were always doing takeout Indian food. We’re not like that sit-down restaurant where people come and sit for hours, it’s not like fine-dining, so that in itself helped us a lot. A majority of our customers were already doing takeout, and that has increased.
It’s true that before there were people who were coming directly and ordering, but now most people go through the delivery platform, and there’s a cut that we have to give to them [the delivery platform]. But the takeout aspect was not affected much.
So your menu remains the same, you’re able to continue offering what you did before?
PARMAL: Yes, yes.
So what do you see happening in the future?
ANUBHA: One good thing that COVID-19 has done is that we have been forced to market our whole business more to get it out onto the delivery platforms and on social media, so that’s a good side effect. It’s our personal belief that public memory is transient, so once the scare goes away or there’s a vaccine and things start getting better, then things will fall back into normal, and business should be as usual. And the visibility that we got during this time will only help us from now.
"It’s our personal belief that public memory is transient, so once the scare goes away or there’s a vaccine and things start getting better, then things will fall back into normal, and business should be as usual."
Awesome! How has it been for staff, how many people do you employ?
ANUBHA: It has been a very tough time for the staff, for some period of time. You understand that when a business loses 80% to 90% of its sales, and we had 23 employees who often worked a lot of hours, their incomes suddenly drastically reduced. We tried to give as many hours to them as we could, even if it was tasks we could do on our own. Instead of the business making money, it helps them get an income and put food on the table.
What do you believe others can do to help ease problems encountered by your restaurant?
ANUBHA: I believe right now there is a general fear of the public, that eating in a restaurant is going to give them COVID-19. We take a lot of precautions, our employees are always wearing masks, always washing hands and wearing gloves. So the contamination of the food--and even the research shows--is very low. People should come out and support small businesses like us, because this is what makes the U.S. economy run. If they don't, the small businesses will collapse, and it’s not going to be good for the rest of the economy.
"We take a lot of precautions, our employees are always wearing masks, always washing hands and wearing gloves. so the contamination of the food -- and even the research shows -- is very low."
Are there any other comments you would like to share?
ANUBHA: We are hopeful that things will fall back into place and we will come back stronger after this phase.
PARMAL: Actually, there is one other thing -- recently, it's a very sad thing, not sure if it's directly related to COVID -- in the last 2-3 weeks a bunch of restaurants, not only in Seattle but also in the Eastside, have seen a rise in burglary. At night,they have been vandalized and broken into. Everyday we are hearing that a restaurant’s windows have been shattered and these burglars go in and steal cash, Small businesses are already struggling, and this only makes things worse. This isn’t like an isolated incident, this is happening almost everyday. Katsu Burger, Afghan Cuisine, today two places in Kirkland -- actually even our food truck was broken into but that was way back, during the protest time. But this is something we have never seen, in this part of the country and it has suddenly increased. We are a little concerned. We might wake up in the morning only to hear that somebody broke into our windows. This only adds to the agony, and they haven’t been caught.