The secret ingredient in Mucchad Paanwala’s paan

The secret ingredient in Mucchad Paanwala’s paan

Mumbai would possibly have more than 5,000 Pav-Bhaji outlets and at least thrice that number of Vada-Pav stalls. However, there are just a handful that compare with Maruti Pav-Bhaji, Sardar Pav-Bhaji, Kirti Vada-Pav and Kunju-Vihar Vada-Pav. Likewise, there’s little that comes close to the quality of Bade Miyan, Mucchad Paanwala, Haji-Ali Juice Center, MM Lassi and the likes. Needless to mention it’s their product quality – or should we say product e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-c-e – that has taken them in a different league altogether.


And surely, it’s not a mean feat to have achieved and maintained that for decades now.

So, what is it that makes them so successful… I decided to meet with some of them and figure it out myself. (Of course, it also meant an excuse to visit these outlets and savour some of the delectable stuff.)

The first on the list was Maruti Pav-Bhaji, Vile Parle. As you approach the modest setting, the ‘butter’ in the air is unmistakable, as the aroma serves as the appetiser. And when the bhaji itself arrives, you look at it in complete amazement. The colour, sinfully dark, is unlike any other bhaji one has ever seen. At first you’re sceptical; after the first bite, you’re smitten, and after the entire experience, you’re a total believer.
I spoke to the proprietor, Vaibhav Mhatre, whose grandfather – Maruti Mhatre – started this outlet way back in 1972 (39 years back!). Within minutes of the discussion, Vaibhav’s passion about his Pav-Bhaji was apparent. The intensity with which he spoke about what he served was so palpable that it seemed for him the Pav-Bhaji was not just Pav-Bhaji – it was a mad passion. His singular purpose in life seemed to build on the legacy his grandfather, Maruti, had created. His singular customer feedback monitoring mechanism: “Sa’ab, khaane ke baad dakaar aana chahiye.”

Next on the list was the fabulously nicknamed, Mucchad Paanwala (Kemps Corner). What started off as any other paan shop has today become a legend in its own right. Jaishankar Tiwari, the humble and the proud owner of the legacy, now apparently owns a Mercedes (unverified!) and his kids go to some very expensive schools (we’ve heard that his son studies abroad, an unverified fact though). One of the first things I noticed about him is that he was an amazing conversationalist. Of course, the quality of his betel-leaves was quite delectable, but in his own words, his customers came back also for his conversations. He has an amazing view on life and shares them liberally with the who’s who that frequent his outlet. The net result is that what was once a meagre Rs. 100 a day business, is today an empire worth, in Tiwariji’s own words, “Zaroorat se zyaada”.

And another three interviews. And all of them confirmed my hunch. They all started with a mad passion. Wanting to do something really nice. And once that succeeded, they felt like doing more and more of the same. Live and die for product ‘quality’.

However strange it might sound coming from an account planner in an advertising agency, product quality hasn’t received a fraction of the attention that has been paid to ‘marketing’. How many product managers fight tooth-and-nail for superior product quality, genuine product differentiation and innovation that could be of any modicum use? No wonder then that you need no less than the handlebar-moustached advertising guru to wave his magic wand.

Somewhere amidst the powering persona of marketing, product quality has been overshadowed. You hire a firebrand ad agency, they conceive an attractive creative, throw in a celebrity, do an international shoot and up the media budgets. Voila! You have a brand on your hands! But, what about Product quality, Product innovation, Product e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-c-e?

Surely, I admit it is not product quality alone. (1) You need to create appropriate awareness – people need to know about your product. (2) You need to create appropriate distribution – people need to be able to conveniently buy your product. (3) You need to create appropriate branding – people need to know what is the product and why should they buy it. But I guess these simple requirements have now been so overdone that instead of focusing on the end-objective (of enabling businesses succeed), the journey (of advertising) itself has now become the focus. We’ve forgotten Arjun and his singular focus on the eye of the moving fish.

Let me get a little specific here on what I mean by product quality, excellence and such:
How many products have the ‘edginess’ of an Apple product? Did you know Apple Macs don’t need an anti-virus? The battery life can actually exceed 10 hours? The boot-up time is just a jiffy? The stability and reliability is unquestionable? Not to mention, the looks!
How many organizations boast of the distribution magic of Asian Paints?
How many organizations have been able to create the beauty of the user-interface and the experience of Facebook?
How many movies have the characters as well-defined as in Sholay?
Needless to say, it is difficult to maintain ‘quality’ while scaling newer levels but it’s not impossible. If there is a passion – a mad passion – that is willing to sacrifice growth and much more, to maintain winning quality.
So what is the secret ingredient of Mucchad Paanwala and the likes? Kung-Fu Panda, a cute little animated movie, perhaps sums up the philosophy beautifully: “There is no secret ingredient. To make something special, you have to believe it is special.” Yes, believe madly.
I’d say, the secret lies in the madness. I am reminded of Jagjit Singh who in one of his concerts had shared an amazing couplet.
Log poochte hain humse ki ishq ka kya fayda,
Koi jaakar unse pooche ki fayde ka kya fayda.
And believe me, it isn’t difficult or anywhere close to being a rocket-science. I am just going to quote another superb couplet I once came across (and which has stuck to me more than my ‘permanent’ tattoo).
Kaun kehta hai ki aasmaan main chhed nahin ho sakta,
Ek tabeeyat se patthar to ucchalo yaar.
And now I guess, it’s time to take a KitKat break? Or would it be a paan from Mucchad.

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