Pune Inc: How the humble modak saw a Pune startup make 10x profits this Ganeshotsav

This year, before Ganeshotsav, Rushikesh Ade, Mayuresh Tanksale and Kalyani Tak had the idea of making fresh, homemade ukadiche modak (steamed sweet dumplings) for college and school students in Pune who were missing the taste of home during Maharashtra’s biggest festival. They called the startup ‘Modaks over Momos’ and set up a stall near the canteen of Pune University. The trio’s calculations, however, were way off the mark — the modaks found a market that far surpassed homesick students. By the time Ganesh Visarjan (immersion of the Ganesh idol) was over, Modaks over Momos had generated a huge demand in all corners of Pune, especially among non-Maharashtrians.

The business that began with a capital of Rs 10,000 registered a turnover of Rs 1.10 lakh during the festival with Modaks over Momos delivering a mind-boggling 3,500 kg of modaks.

“In the world of fast food and packaged food, people chose us for the authentic taste of ukadiche modak,” says Ade, a poet and performer, who completed his MA in Anthropology from Pune University. Tanksale is completing his post-graduation in Music at the university, and Tak in Commerce. It was in Tak’s family kitchen on the university campus that the business was carried out, with the three taking turns to prepare the modaks.

“Ukadiche modak cannot be stored for more than two days. You cannot freeze it. If you do, the taste changes. Only if you grate the coconut freshly, will you get the authentic taste. We were ready to stay awake all day and all night to prepare fresh modaks that would taste like those that used to be made by our grandmothers,” says Ade.

It is only in a few homes that ukadiche modaks are still prepared. In shops, it is often pedas that are shaped like modaks and sold. Modaks over Momos gained an edge over retail outlets by delivering their product to doorsteps and went as far as Bhor and Saswad. Orders flowed in, sometimes from customers who had just received the product, say the founders.

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“The rains that lashed Pune during the last few days of Ganeshotsav threw traffic out of gear in many parts of the city. When we were carrying modaks, transport became a problem. We used to prepare fresh modaks and cooled them before transporting long distances,” says Ade.

At a time when India is witnessing a movement towards traditional and healthy cuisine in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Modaks over Momos clicked. The first spurt in demand came from the families of the Pune University faculty to whom the trio had distributed samples. People were even ordering after Ganeshotsav.

The startup is now developing its business model to include all festivals, starting with Navratri and Diwali, when they will offer authentic delicacies to doorsteps. “Once a month, there is chaturthi, when people fast so modaks and other food will be supplied. When we were delivering modaks, we spoke to customers and realised that there was a market as people wanted traditional food products, made at home and good for health,” says Ade.