from farm to table
How do you lower the prices for a restaurant that serves only organic food? Without compromising on the food quality, Rato Mato is doing it their own way. Learn how here.
Ambesh Rajbhandari, co-owner of the Rato Mato Organics Barbecue Bistro in Bakhundole, did not plan on opening a restaurant. He had returned from Australia wanting to do something in Nepal. “Farming came to mind because so many Nepalese are involved in it. Although Nepal is blessed with rich soil and a wonderful climate, we import so much food. I wanted to explore ways to make our agriculture more efficient and productive,” he says. He set about doing that by starting an organic farm. Soon he was producing more than he could sell, so he thought of putting the extra produce to use by opening a restaurant.
The restaurant also buys from farmers with small land holdings, thereby promoting the system of growing year-round rather than just for one or two seasons. Rajbhandari also wants to reduce the exorbitant prices of vegetables by removing the middlemen, taking the produce directly “from farm to the table.” He also opened the restaurant to promote organic farming and organically grown food. Dishes made from numerous varieties of locally grown vegetables and herbs, as well as pork and chicken dishes make up the restaurant menu. They also sell raw vegetables and herbs. Rajbhandari says that serving fresh organic produce at a reasonable price is his restaurant’s USP
Rato Mato started with minimal capital. It was slow to draw customers as Rajbhandari didn’t advertise strongly. So it was endorsed mainly by friends and acquaintances. Organic food is generally understood as something expensive, so its popularity grew slowly, as people began to realize that healthy, locally grown food was available at Rato Mato.
To ensure that his restaurant wouldn’t be a place that people went to once and then forgot about, Rajbhandari put his produce on display. In the beginning, he even gave customers small packages of an assortment of his vegetables and herbs. Once they tried the produce at home, they realized its superior taste and came back, to eat as well as to buy.
While researching the market before opening Rato Mato, Rajbhandari learned that organic produce was popular but there weren’t enough restaurants to supply to. Also, the price was a big deterrent for people. “Since we had our own farm, we were in a position to sell at lower prices. My concept is to grow and eat locally,” says Rajbhandari. The rule for what to sell at Rato Mato is simple: What is not available locally is not on the menu.
Challenges of Growing Organically
Organically grown produce (because no preservatives are used) also goes stale faster than those with added preservatives. Unusual weather also affects yield. Rajbhandari says that raw materials required in the farm, like hay and compost, are also not easily available. Farmers growing organically are also scattered, so a steady supply is not easy to get. It also increases transportation costs.
Strategy for Success
Organic food at reasonable costs is what Rato Mato prides itself for. But that is also its biggest challenge. Rajbhandari believes not spending too much on the restaurant décor helps keep the prices low. “Keep it simple,” says Prashiddha Gurung, co-owner and head chef of Rato Mato. “You don’t want to begin with a bang and then peter out.”
Janakpur Dahi Lassi Bhandar has quickly become a landmark in Indrachowk. Located just a few metres away from the Aakash Bhairav temple, there’s never a quiet moment at the shop. A spectator will only see hordes of people slugging down one glass of cool and creamy lassi after another. The jugs of lassi seem never-ending and the money transactions are so quick that the only thing clearly visible is an empty glass on the counter. Popularly known as Indrachowk ko lassi, the place was started by Shiv Shankar, in a modest space that hardly fit two. Fifteen years down the line, the shop has now moved to an adjacent larger space and employs seven staff . While a tall glass of their creamy lassi costs Rs. 50, the shorter one goes for Rs. 25. Take-away lassi is priced the same. It’s a local favorite that seems to get more popular with every visit. (Samyak Moktan)