About five years ago, Priya Osuri had a solid career working in marketing for huge medical companies like Roche Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly and Company — but her real passion was cooking. After long days at the office, she would trudge home and "cook my heart out" as a way to relax.
The idea for Anar Gourmet Foods, which packages readymade spice mixes for concocting Indian curries, soon emerged as her part-time side hustle. Her recipes trace back to the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where Osuri grew up eating her mother's delicious meals. "It's basically home cooking," she says of Anar's product, and she began selling a local farmers market where she lived in Indiana. When Osuri's husband got a new job that required a move to Pittsburgh, she remembers thinking it's now or never. She decided to leave the corporate world and work on Anar full time.
Osuri continued to refine her recipes via a method she jokingly refers to as "peer-reviewed curry," churning out batch after batch of samples for her trusted circle of advisers. One neighbor who works in quality control went as far to devise a detailed checklist for spice, consistency, and other attributes to evaluate her chicken tikka masala. This intense period of trial-and-error (she proudly boasts no formal culinary training) ensured a smooth transition to boutique grocers, and, as of late, four Whole Foods in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland metropolitan areas. Osuri also sells direct-to-consumer through her website. "When I started doing my demos in the grocery stores and at trade shows, people said it’s the best Indian food they’ve ever tasted," she says.
That mass appeal might stem from a pragmatic view of her potential customer base. Indian folks, Osuri realized, can probably cook Indian food, which means the recipes must be calibrated for Western palates. That's why each Anar recipe includes specific instructions on how to adjust the spice levels to more sensitive tastebuds; recipes also call for readily available jalapeño peppers as opposed to more "authentic" sources of heat. "I make sure even the ingredients I asked people to buy are from the regular grocery store," Osuri explains. "No busy person is going to make a trip to the Indian market."
As for the business side, Osuri can't say enough about the value of forging personal relationships. For Anar's branding, she worked with a graphic designer she knew from her former corporate job. Her bookkeeping is done by her Mary Kay saleswoman. Best of all, she linked up with her co-packer — a "heaven-sent" man she trusts dearly — via a connection she made at a breakfast networking series. "I’ve met the most amazing people lately," she says.
There are more tedious moments, however, like trademarking her product to protect it from duplication by private labels. Then there are marathon applications to get accepted at Whole Foods or to gain recognition as a certified woman-owned small business. "It took me a good six months," Osuri says of the WBENC process, "but I find the value of being in that organization because it’s so important to network and keep motivated."
What does the future hold for Anar Gourmet? Given the rising popularity of prepackaged foods — products similiar to the beloved frozen chicken tikka masala lusted over by shoppers at Trader Joe's — Osuri sees the freezer aisle as part of her company's future. Market research suggests that Millennials love the time savings of prepackaged meals, and Osuri hopes to land her product on college campuses to appeal to busy students.
Consider it all just one step closer to making Osuri's mission — "authentic Indian food made easy" — an everyday reality.