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The juicy story of a Mumbai entrepreneur couple

P C Vinoj Kumar | Mumbai 18 Nov 2016, Vol 7 Issue 47

Hailing from middle class families, Manav Shital and Niti Agrawal were school buddies who met for the first time when Manav was in Class nine and Niti was in Class seven.

Their friendship would later blossom into love and marriage. However, theirs is no ordinary love story, but a heart-touching tale of two determined lovers who literally worked hard to stay together.

Manav Shital and Niti Agrawal, co-founders of Juice Lounge, a multi-national juice retail chain head a company whose turnover has touched Rs 2. 5 crore (Photos: H K Rajashekar)

“When my father came to know I was in love, he said if the boy lived in a rented house he would not let me marry him,” says Niti, co-founder of Juice Lounge, a fast growing juice retail chain based out of Andheri, Mumbai.

That was just the challenge that Manav and Niti needed to get even more focused on what they had already been doing right from their college days – working part-time and saving money.

While Manav was doing his bachelor’s in commerce from Mithibai College, Niti was studying fashion designing at J D Institute of Fashion Technology.  

“We did a lot of market research surveys and took tuitions for primary school children,” says Manav, now 40, looking back on the good old days.

He also took up DJing assignments at night, while Niti started designing clothes for friends and relatives from home and took up some modelling assignments as well.

But in the midst of all their work, they never forgot to spend time with each other. “We went to movies and ate out almost every day. We spent a lot, but also saved a hefty portion,” recalls Niti.

Around 40 employees work under Manav and Niti in their corporate office and company owned outlets

Nearly two decades later, the couple has built a chain of more than 50 juice shops under the brand name of Juice Lounge, a food chain called Rollacosta that sells shawarmas, sandwiches and pastas, and a chaat chain, Chaat ok Please.

They operate on a franchise model and some of their outlets are located in foreign countries like Malaysia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Maldives.

“Juice Lounge serves juices and energy boosters. These are blends of real fruits, and we sell over a million juices and smoothies annually,” says Niti.

Chaat Ok Please outlets serve Indian street food in hygienic settings.

All three brands are owned by Black Orchids Private Limited, where both Manav and Niti are directors and equal stakeholders.

Except four company owned outlets, the others are franchised. The company’s current turnover is Rs 2.5 crore and their income comes mainly from franchise deposits and royalty.

The couple at one of their Rollacosta outlets in Mumbai

“We charge around Rs 3 to 5 lakh for a franchise and royalty of four to six per cent on the sales from the franchisee. The total turnover of our outlets, including the franchised ones, will be around Rs 20 crore,” informs Manav.

While the couple have their eyes set on expanding their food business now, the first serious venture they got into after years of doing part-time jobs had little to do with this profitable sector.

Back in 1998, they invested their total saving of Rs 25,000 in getting the franchise of a courier service and set up a shop in Juhu.

“For the first five months we operated out of a friend’s garage. Then we took a commercial garage on lease. We borrowed some money from my dad to pay the rental deposit and paid it back to him within a month,” says Niti.

Manav predicts a bright future for quick service restaurants in India

As their income grew, the couple invested in real estate. “Those days real estate was not very expensive. You could purchase properties for a few lakhs of rupees,” says Niti.

Their first real estate investment was a shop in Malad they purchased for Rs 9.5 lakh.

“The courier business was profitable, but after more and more people started using email for communication, our revenues began to drop,” adds Manav.    

As cyber cafes were mushrooming across the city, they bought two computers and set up a browsing centre in a portion of their courier shop.

Manav was continuing his DJing work and they also organised corporate events for additional income.

Niti and Manav spend a lot of time together discussing work and have been enjoying each other's company

“We decided to open up a juice bar in 2005 as we had knowledge about the back kitchen during our work with clubs and lounges,” says Manav.

That incidentally was also the year they got married – and yes, the marriage had the blessings of both their families, and the couple had by then bought a house of their own.

“We started our first outlet in a 250 sq ft space in Andheri with two employees and it offered us a great opportunity to learn and try out new blends of juices,” says Niti.

They invested Rs 4 lakh in the first outlet which did well from day one. By the end of the first year they had opened their second outlet and achieved a turnover of Rs 30 lakh.

Manav is gung-ho about their future prospects.

“QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) format will rule the future. We want to penetrate the tier two and tier three cities within India, which have loads of potential.

In the next five years, we are looking at opening more than 200 QSR stores spread across India and around the world,” he says.

Manav and Niti have plans to expand pan India and globally

So how do Manav and Niti feel about working together?

“For many people these days the main issue is lack of communication between husband and wife.  They don’t talk much with each other. Here we talk a lot. We have a lot of things to talk about,” they say, laughing.

Indeed, the chemistry between the two is absolutely fantastic as they pose for our photo shoot.  

The couple has a 4-year-old daughter, Dia Shital.

This Article is Part of the 'Amazing Entrepreneurs' Series 

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