Arjun Panchal

Founder & CEO, PapaZapata - Mexican-Indian fusion

Let’s start by telling us a little about your background, parents, family, where were you born, and where do you live?

I was born in a small town called Nagda (near Indore, India) to a business class family. My dad is a retired businessman and my sweet mom is a housewife. We are four siblings; I am the youngest and hence sweetest to all. My career has been through Nagda – Indore – Boston – Los Angeles. The Indian food streets always had a distinct connection with my soul that brought me back to India to start a business. Currently I am in Pune.

What did you want to become growing up? And what did you go to school for?

I never knew. Everyday had a new plan in my fickle mind. Business was prominent in my mind but entrepreneurship was not much known at that time, moreover in which field? – Not even god had an answer. After high schooling from my hometown, I joined a herd going to Indore to become engineers. I was selected in Satyam Computers in 2008 and it turned down due to heavy recession. Here, I got an opportunity to find my own path besides engineering.

Being gregarious and outgoing, I tried working for a small animation start up as Marketing Head. Guess what! I was the only one in the marketing team.. haha! I used to drive my ever-petrol-devoid motorcycle to countless miles to do sales in scorching weather. Where my other friends in other IT companies were earning Rs. 25K a month, I got my first paycheck – Rs.7K. ABYSMAL! I tasted the naked reality of Indian jobs.

This forced me to accept the importance of a degree. My interest towards management side encouraged me to pursue MBA from the most aspired destination – USA. With persistent efforts, I got admission in The University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMass Boston) that provided extensive learning and exposure. But still there was a question? – What next? Again job? L The inertia had to be broken at one stage.

Who/what are you?

I am a dreamer and risk-taker. I take chances because regret of not trying is bigger than any failure.

In a couple of sentences, describe your profession, business, most recent project.

My partner Vikas Vohra and I started a chain of Mexican outlets - PapaZapata (Under Hola Foods LLP) in Jan ’16 at Xion Mall, Pune. The second outlet is starting next month in Cubix IT park, Pune. The third is in pipeline.

The second baby of Hola Foods is Chaat Bazaar - Indian-street-food outlet at the same venue Xion Mall, Pune. This is a franchise. The purpose of starting this: the Indians can live without luxury but can’t live without chaat.

The third baby of Hola Foods for which we are utterly excited about is the exclusive brand of Indian Chai with its exclusive name – Chotu Chai Lana! J The first outlet is expected to start in Aug ’16.

We have total staff of 17. The total capital infused to this point is purely done from our savings. Now we are all set for 1st round of PE funding for both PapaZapata and Chotu Chai Lana.

Curious to know about your recent novel, “What Happens in America”. What is it all about?
It’s a story of Kartik from a middle-class family who aspires to go to US to pursue Masters and eventually make it. It addresses all the expats who have experienced the shocking difference in culture, education, systems, relationships, etc staying in US. As in, the experiences of classrooms, all night house parties, cooking food & cleaning up washroom, a trip to Vegas, a trip back to home town, and finally getting a lucrative job. The events are weaved with humor and emotions what people usually feel when staying away from family in other side of the world.

Fantastic! But how did you come up with the thought of writing? No connect with restaurant and MBA?
I used to write poems in school times but never imagined writing a novel. I had written most of the part while I was working in US as 40 hours of job there gives you good enough time to pursue your hobby and I leveraged the opportunity. Secondly, I was overwhelmed to see Indians in US talking more about differences between India and US in their day-to-day conversation. What they say, “You can take out an Indian from India but you can’t take out India from an Indian.” Same happened with me as well.

How is the response of the novel till now?
More than I expected. I have been receiving positive feedbacks and reviews though Amazon and personal messages. It’s a beautiful feeling.

How did you get started in the industry/ this startup/company/ project?

Doing marketing job inspired me to never do a job again. It was very hard to accept the low salary in return of the efforts put in. Furthermore, my manager never gave the genuine credit of my hard work. Job was not for me or vice versa.

A year later, I got admission at UMass Boston. Attending lectures and making friends from other countries was a noble experience. But the worry still prevailed, as eventually the output was - ‘Job’. Starting a business was not possible as there was no money. Doing job became imperative. I moved to Los Angeles and joined ESRI that gave me extensive corporate learning. On the other side, the clock of life was running faster than ever. After a required saving, the moment had come! I went to HR office and submitted my resignation letter. That was the best day of my life.

The passion to customize food and serve friends encouraged me to start a restaurant.

What according to you are the most important life lessons you’ve learned that have made you better at what you do?

TRYING! My friends mocked when I discussed about going to US. Many colleagues and relatives advised not to quit job and stay in US only. But I tried and things happened. No matter how tough the task is, I just try and I get what I truly do from heart.

Describe your daily/weekly routine.

Being in business, the routine is never fixed. Also, I am a visiting faculty for Entrepreneurship at three B-Schools. I start my day at 7am, take lectures, go to the outlets for routine visit and meet people for other future opportunities. At days with no lectures, meditation and work out are my favorite.

Share some of the growing pains in the industry/ profession/ startup/ latest project, and any failures, setbacks. And how you dealt with or overcame them.

With no circumlocution, let me put this forthright:

1. Not sticking to the timeline is the main disease. Follow up becomes inevitable. You loose more energy following up than vendors put energy in delivering.

Learning: Never pay full payments to the vendors till the project is complete.

2. No rate standardization – Bargain as much skills as you have, as much as you can. Same thing happens back to you. The main reason is abundance of competition. Bargaining has become an engrossed entity in Indian system.

3. As far as restaurant industry is concerned – Staffing is the major issue. Staff switch job often for small salary hike.

Learning: Always keep a bit buffer staff if you are very particular about service.

How has being a Desi inspired, motivated, or positively or negatively impacted you-professionally and personally?

Being from a business class family, I never saw my dad taking a break from usual work. There were no special or long weekends: In fact he would work more. The schooling was tough, since morning school till late evening tuitions. My job was even more rigorous. There were no working hours kind of thing. This all made my mindset to work unstoppable, stretch myself.

All this WITHOUT appreciation and with HIGH expectations; My dad’s expectation was to see my photo on front page of Dainik Bhaskar (Indian newspaper) among school you kidding me! J My manager would give me target to meet 10 clients knowing the fact I have only 10 hours. Insane!

Why? Because perhaps there is a sense of insecurity in appreciating that children will go over smart and will no longer study. Or employee will ask for more hike.

This all never made me realize my true potential. I really don’t know how much to work now. My mind overloaded with the work day and night…like for most Indians, I believe.

What drives you? Approval of somebody/ anyone you are trying to impress (consciously or subconsciously)?

A desire to establish a brand that would be known worldwide!

What next? Where do you go from here?

- Seeing PapaZapata spread across cities in India. After 3 years, we aim to expand it to other countries.

- Seeing more people reading “What Happens in America” and finding it a good read.

- Continue with lectures at B-Schools and assist budding entrepreneurs in their challenges.

- Get married :P

Any practical and philosophical advice you would like to share?

1. Chose your career as soon as possible. Working towards what you love is richer than any luxury in the world.

2. Meditate. This is not only for retirees.

3. Exercise – this encourages to eat healthy. Else Chaat.. Zindabad J

4. Take risk. Don’t worry about society. They will be happy to see you successful.

5. Pass smile and give respect to parents and everyone around

6. In adverse situations, keep calm and let it go.

Please list any charity or non-profit you support that you would like readers to know about?

I devote my time teaching a batch on weekends at Akanksha Foundation – a non-profit organization for children from under privilege background. As team, we teach their school courses and conduct activities that help groom their knowledge and personality. It gives real sense of accomplishment.

Rapid Fire:

Favorite City/ cities – Pune, Boston, and San Diego

Favorite Movie – PK, Shawshank Redemption

Favorite Song(s) – Pehla nasha types in light mood, All Deep House by Kygo

Favorite time of day – 11:30PM, when the day-closing report is generated :)

Weirdest thing you have ever done

In high school, copy pasted the same poem to impress two girls. Life was happier than ever. Later they became good friends. Then what? I was called for prosecution right then and there :P