Innovation on a Plate
Taste meets technology at Vishwa Maskey’s G Cafe in Boudha.
Vishwa Maskey says he never backs down when faced with an obstacle, he simply finds a way around it. When he was unsatisfied with the sound of his Fender Telecaster guitar, for instance, he’d modified the pickups to create his own tone. And it is with a similar approach that he runs his restaurant.
“If you want to be noticed, you have to be different,” says the proprietor of G Cafe, a fast-food eatery in Boudha, now in its sixth year. Maskey had stepped into unfamiliar territory when he first established the restaurant. At that time, he owned the now-defunct Gemini Supermarket and was well versed in retail. The food and beverage business, however, was a new world for him.
When G Cafe was set up, he wasn’t entirely on board with what the chef prepared. “I realized that everything tasted the same,” he says. “There was nothing that distinguished G Cafe from other eateries.”He decided to start by creating his own dressings.” I went into Gemini, got different varieties of sauce and blended them together,” he recalls. It proved to be a good call; the sauce combinations that came out from that effort would, in time, the fledgling restaurant’s trademark.
Half a decade later, Maskey still makes the master sauces himself, some of which take months and even years to create. But he doesn’t mind experimenting, he says, and enjoys working with new flavors. “It took me four years to come up with a pizza sauce, but it is still a work in progress.”
The work isn’t without its problems, of course. The taste and acidity level of tomatoes, for example, is not the same in each batch. What follows is a tedious task of measurement. The in-house bakery has similar issues with flour. “Unlike the flour sold abroad, flour here is not categorized. We have to use the same for every item,” says Maskey.
But, as is his nature, the proprietor has found ways to mitigate the problem to some extent. There is the measuring software he’s developed, for instance, that enables him to check the amount of gluten in the flour.
Maskey has also written a point of sale (POS) software that he calls Smart Plus. “When you buy a readymade software, some features may be missing,” says Maskey. “How would a developer know about the specific needs of a cashier or a manager?” he reasons.
Technological innovation is, in fact, one of G Cafe’s most defining features, and something Maskey has a history of doing. He claims to have introduced the barcode system in Nepal along with his brother when Gemini Supermarket was in business. And at G Cafe, he proudly shows off a prototype kiosk that’s on display at the food counter. “I hope to install such kiosks around the cafe so that people can place their orders without having to go up to the counter,” he says.
According to Maskey, with the amount he has invested in G Cafe, he could have easily brought in a foreign franchise. “But would you prefer to continue to pay royalty to a company or would you be happier building a company of your own?” he asks.
The counter at G Cafe, along with the kitchen, has computerized bump bars for ease of use. Maskey is particularly fond of the POS terminal bump bar. “You might have heard servers at places such as KFC call out orders. You don’t have to do that here,” he says proudly.
Although Maskey does not come from a food and beverage background, he says his interest in food was sparked around the time he ran away from home in 1976, when he was 14.
“I had just completed my SLC in second division, which wasn’t enough for my father,” he recalls. “At the same time, I had acted as an interpreter for a foreigner who had been arrested.” So, when an opportunity to take off to distant Goa with the tourist in question arose, Maskey, who had been on the receiving end of his father’s ‘lectures’ due to his bad grades, couldn’t say no. It was a decision that would change his life.
“Their camper van had a kitchen,” he recalls. “I actually had my first taste of spaghetti in that vehicle.”During the journey, Maskey, who had only known how to make tea, learnt to cook. Within a few weeks in Goa, he ran out of money. It was then that Maskey put his new-found cooking skills to use. “I started selling porridge on the beach, and finally earned Rs 960,” he shares. “That was my first earning.”
Years later, Maskey regularly went on cycling trips with his group of friends. This was when another seed for what was to become G Cafe was planted. “At that time, there weren’t many places to eat on the routes. We didn’t want to keep stopping to eat either, which is why I started looking up food with low glycemic indices. That’s how I got introduced to different culinary concepts and inspired to experiment.”
Although the menu at G Cafe has regular fare, Maskey insists that each item has a signature twist to it. “It might seem like the same stuff you get elsewhere, but our dishes taste different,” he says. Part of this is because G Cafe has its very own research and development team that experiments with to find the best way to bring out new flavors. For instance, G Cafe bakes its burger patties instead of frying them.
G Cafe’s biodiesel-run delivery van is another example of Maskey’s desire to try different things. He came up with the idea while watching TV. “There was a program on the Discovery Channel that showed McDonalds using waste oil to power its delivery vehicles,” he recalls. It was a sight that piqued Maskey’s interest, enough for him to order an oil filter from China that cost him Rs. 100,000.
Once the filter arrived, he poured expired soybean oil into the tank and went on a test run on during a Nepal bandh. It worked. Five years and 38,000 kilometers later, the yellow Kia van has been working without a hitch, even sporting a proud slogan that says: “This vehicle runs on biodiesel.”
It’s not just the van that runs on biodiesel; G Cafe’s backup generator too is powered by the 30 to 40 liters of waste oil that the restaurant produces each day. “There’s a huge potential in biodiesel,” says Maskey. “Instead of letting restaurants sell their waste oil to street vendors, who, in turn, end up reusing it, it could be harnessed to run engines.”
Another similarly-colored vehicle parked on the cafe’s premises turns out to be a food van. This is a prototype for a series of mobile food vans that Maskey wants to introduce. “We had a test run that went very well but it also ended up being very chaotic since people would not stand in line,” he shares, adding that he plans to have eight of these up and running soon.
Maskey hopes to eventually expand G Cafe to other parts of the city, but it’s among a host of other ideas he has in the pipeline. The first is Donut Dreams, a donut shop which will open in front of the cafe in two months, and the other is an outlet called Dosa Express, serving South Indian food.
Maskey might appear to have a lot on his plate at the moment, but for a man who thrives when challenged, one suspects that’s just the way he likes it.