- Age: 40
- New York, New York
- Software Sales Director, Part-Owner of Village Tart and Permanent Brunch & Burger
- Restaurant Concept: The Tiffin Box
Sudhir Kandula received his masters of science from Michigan State University and became a minority owner of two restaurants in 2009. Kandula's life resembles the movie "Up in the Air," because of the amount of travel his current job entails. He eats out about 20 days every month, and has wanted to make his vision a reality for quite a long time. Kandula has shamelessly been calling his concept the "Indian Chipotle" for years, ever since he had his third meal at Chipotle. The Tiffin Box is a Chipotle-enthused idea that brings fast, casual, balanced meals inspired by the traditional Indian tiffin box.
- Exit Interview:
What inspired your fast casual restaurant concept?
A number of influences and events served as inspiration for my fast casual concept - The Tiffin Box, now called Spice Coast: First and foremost, the incredibly delicious and vibrant cuisines of coastal India - which also have the unintended benefit of being very healthy. As a newly minted American, I want to introduce America to the dramatic diversity and flavors of my old country. I want to hold my concept in sharp contrast to the cookie-cutter fare that masquerades as Indian food in America today. Secondly, my fervent belief (which in no small part was bolstered by the success of companies like Chipotle and Le Pain Quotidien) that fresh, delicious and flavorful fast casual fare can also be healthy and balanced while using very high quality ingredients. I want to stay true to these principles as I introduce the foods Indian mothers and wives make in an affordable and accessible fashion to America. Lastly, my time in France and Italy and the recently increased focus on the quality and sustainability of produce in America. I strive to deliciously nudge Americans to eat slightly less meat by offering a balanced menu prepared fresh daily. I basically love feeding people and building successful businesses.
What was it like to make it to the Top 10 and compete on the show?
I always had tremendous faith in my concept and would have pursued it even if the show didn't come about. I did, however, enter the show quite aware that I would be an underdog and would face a rather uphill challenge to convince the investors and public about the viability of my concept in an extraordinarily short time frame. Given these circumstances, I was incredibly thrilled to make the Top 10 and to have a chance to tell my story to a broader audience and further refine my concept. The massive cut from 21 concepts to 10 was quite jarring, but clearly I was overjoyed to end up on the right side.
What moment or moments on the show were most surprising to you?
I group such moments into two categories - those that reinforced the viability of my concept, and those that starkly pointed out how much I have yet to learn to emulate the success of the investors. The two contests where I won the popular vote, the food truck challenge and the positive feedback from the investors and diners on my take on Indian tacos stand out in my mind as moments that fall in the first category. The difficulties I had with the kids' challenge, not planning for all contingencies at all times and the sheer amount of things that can go wrong at any time make up the second category. The almost fanatical attention to detail Steve Ells had for every aspect of his business, even at this stage in its evolution, was an absolute revelation as well.
What was the best part of your experience? Did it change you?
The opportunity to simulate and test various aspects of my concept under the watchful guidance of successful and savvy investors is easily the best part of my experience on the show. Not many aspiring restaurateurs get a chance to do anything similar before they launch their concepts and I am extremely thankful for it. I have learned a tremendous amount on the show and will carefully build a team to realize my vision. It has certainly made me develop a healthy respect for the challenging but extremely rewarding career I plan to pursue.
Did you make any lasting friendships and/or business relationships on the show? With whom?
Barring very rare moments of frustration towards the end of the show, I had a great time living with and competing against the rest of the contestants. I am friendly with all of them, but expect to be great friends with Steph, Marisa, Greg and Krystal for the long run. Alex wants to pitch a future TV show with me (I hope he was only joking), Greg wants to do a travel show with me (could be fun), and Krystal maintains that we should get married. :)I would work with Steph in a heartbeat. She is the kind of person I like to hire very early into companies I helped build to date. She brings extraordinary smarts and a great ability to execute.
Do you think you should have been eliminated? Did you agree with the investors' decision?
Barring very rare moments of frustration towards the end of the show, I had a great time living with and competing against the rest of the contestants. I am friendly with all of them, but expect to be great friends with Steph, Marisa, Greg and Krystal for the long run. Alex wants to pitch a future TV show with me (I hope he was only joking), Greg wants to do a travel show with me (could be fun), and Krystal maintains that we should get married. :)
I would work with Steph in a heartbeat. She is the kind of person I like to hire very early into companies I helped build to date. She brings extraordinary smarts and a great ability to execute.
Did you think you should have been eliminated? Did you agree with the investors' decision?
I was thrilled to be in the finals.
Are you going to continue to pursue your restaurant concept?
I absolutely intend to pursue my restaurant concept regardless of the outcome of the finale. Given that I got to simulate various aspects of my concept on the show, I am brimming with confidence on the potential for my concept and my ability to launch it on my own. I am ready for the years of hard work this entails. That said I would be incredibly excited to win it all and have a chance to work with Steve, Bobby, Lorena and Curtis. There is simply no substitute to their collective expertise and guidance.
Which one of your competitors' restaurants would you eat at regularly?
Assuming that all of us get to execute our respective culinary visions to high standards with delicious food, I could see myself frequenting the following concepts:
Steph's Harvest Sol
I would also enjoy an occasional meal at the following concepts:
Greg and Krystal's Grill'Billies
Jamawn's Soul Daddy
Joey's Brooklyn Meatball Company
These choices merely reflect my current food preferences and eating habits.
What have you been doing since being on the show?
I continue to work at the business plan on my own.
In the interim, I have joined a well-funded San Francisco based start-up called eCert, Inc. as their Vice President of Sales. I am having a great time building a company from the ground up. I am also advising a childhood friend on his software/food venture called GlassCart. Lastly, I am looking forward to working with some friends on a stealth food project called American Dirt. I should be running and working out a lot more.
What has the experience of being on the show taught you?
I went on the show not knowing what to expect and for the most part not caring about being on a TV show. My mission was to have a chance to tell the story of my fast casual concept (inextricably linked with my life), learn from the expert advice of the investors, and ultimately have a shot at partnering with them to realize my dream.
The show has been a very humbling and an extraordinary learning experience. Over the course of the show, I was able to catalog the components of my concept that are on the right track and those that need improvement. It has become very clear that it takes more than a clear vision, great food, and passion to succeed in the restaurant business - I need a strong team to augment my strengths and complement my weaknesses. I also need to communicate my vision with great clarity and above all be prepared to deal with the unexpected.