Love to order a takeaway dinner but hate all that wasteful packing it arrives in? We all appreciate the convenience of food delivery but when the meal is done and a sack of rubbish remains, it’s hard to justify when we’re living in a climate crisis. Fortunately there is a bold, colourful, zero waste, ethically minded, deliciously spiced solution. DabbaDrop is plant-based takeaway service that delivers meals in reusable containers.
I love their food (and I have not been paid a penny to say it!). Read our chat with the founders of DabbaDrop, two mums in Hackney who have a small business hit on their hands.
Please introduce yourselves and DabbaDrop…
We are Anshu (40) and Renee (39), neighbours who met when Anshu moved into the house across from Renee in Hackney (E5). We both have two children – Anshu two girls and Renee two boys, the same ages (7 and 4). Anshu used to work in television production as a Series Producer, and Renee as an Event Producer and in restaurant design until DabbaDrop was born.
DabbaDrop is a new way to takeaway – we deliver in reusable, stainless steel dabba boxes that we swap over when we deliver to our customers. Our food is 100% fresh and plant based and we work on a pre-order basis so that we can reduce waste in our kitchen.
How did you start working together on DabbaDrop and when did the business officially launch?
Renee, my friend and neighbour, was one of the recipients of a dabba delivery trial during the summer of 2018. She loved the concept and was excited to bring her restaurant and design experience to the idea. She came on board in September and we officially launched in November.
Why was it important for you to create a waste-free and emissions free food delivery service?
I love getting takeaways but the guilt that came with ordering one (greasy food, plastic packaging, noisy scooters, low paid riders/chefs) made me want to create something new. We both believe that good food and convenience shouldn’t come at the cost of the planet or society – DabbaDrop was created on these principles and we feel very proud to be the first takeaway of its kind in London.
You’ve recently expanded your delivery area and number of evenings each week you deliver. How has the business has grown?
We’ve built the business through word of mouth, going from feeding 40 people to 400 in the space of a year with no real marketing push. We have an Instagram account that we post regularly on but apart from that, our growth is all down to the love and support we have received from our customers. We’re just starting to expand the business (we no deliver Thursday nights and to lots more post-codes across North and East London) and we’re so lucky to have been able to build a small, close-knit team over the last 6 months that believe in the same things we do.
DabbaDrop is still very much our (third) baby though, and we are still very much involved in the day-to-day, we’re there for every service, tasting the food and making sure everything goes out looking great, talking to customers, ensuring they have the best experience – that’s what it’s all about for us.
What is it like running the business and being a mum? What are your hours like?
As mums to young kids it was important for us to be able to work the business around the family. We’d left corporate jobs so that we could have a more balanced life with the kids so when we came to launching the business we knew it would have to all about flexible working. We work around the kids school and nursery hours, often working for a few hours once the kids have gone to bed. The kids love to get involved when we’re doing markets or delivering to events at the weekend.
What are the biggest challenges of running the business?
Just like any small business, it’s been about trial and error for us. As it was a completely new concept we didn’t have anyone to look to for guidance, we just had to trust our own instincts. In the early days, that was hard, and we analysed every new idea or decision thoroughly before going ahead with it. Now, in our second year, we’re a bit braver and we trust ourselves – we know what works and what doesn’t!
What are the best bits of having your own business?
One of the main reasons for setting up our own business was so that we could have a better work/life balance, and we have been able to achieve this so far. In our old jobs, there was always guilt about having to leave early to collect the kids from school/nursery or vice versa – being late for the kids! We don’t have that any more, we set our own schedules and there is no guilt about being a bad mum. Or being bad at our jobs!
Do you eat the food on the DabbaDrop menu each week? Do your kids eat it?
Absolutely! You would think after over 100 weeks of living and breathing our menus we would be bored of it wouldn’t you?! The honest truth is that we’re absolute spice junkies and we would eat South Asian food every day if our families didn’t want slightly more variety. If it’s not a full curry or dal it’s little hints and flavours here and there – Ginger Jam on sourdough or a sprinkle of Gunpowder on a lunchtime soup… always searching for the spice!
The kids… let’s just say they’re slowly coming around. Both Eli and Rosa (our eldest) have shown a keen interest in cooking and we’ve found that including them in the cooking process makes them more interested in eating what they’ve produced. They’re getting more adventurous with spices but they’re still not keen on much heat from chilli. The youngest, Lola and Marlon are more fickle but they’ll eat the likes of Bombay potatoes, dosa and a mildly-flavoured dal. We shall persevere!
Where do you source your ingredients? Who creates the menus and tests the food before it makes the cut?
We have a small number of local suppliers who deliver fresh and dry food to our kitchen each week. The great thing about our pre-order model means we always know exactly how many people we are cooking for each week and that means zero waste in the kitchen.
Most of the recipes which form our meals have either come directly from family recipes that have been passed down through Anshu’s family, or they have been inspired by our travels through South Asia. We have a good think about what dish might go with what and we spent time thinking not only about complementary flavours, but also colours and textures.
As it used to be just the two of us, together we would come up with and test the menus but as we’ve grown, now when we have a new menu concept, after a rigorous testing-session, the whole team is involved.
How has business been since London restaurants had to close due to Covid? Is it stressful? Have you had a surge in sign-ups?
We have seen an increase in the number of new sign-ups but then some people have gone elsewhere to self-isolate so have paused their subscription, so it’s pretty-much evened itself out.
We feel very lucky that we’ve still been able to operate and deliver food to our customers and we’re happy that DabbaDrop is encouraging people to stay home and protect the NHS.
We have a lot of friends and family in the restaurant industries who have not been so lucky and our hearts go out to them. We’re looking forward to the time when we can once again go out to eat, drink and be merry with friends and it will more important then, than ever to support your local and small businesses.
The most important thing for us during this time is of course to keep our customers and our staff as safe as possible. To do this, we have taken a number of precautions including contactless deliveries across the board and the issuing of protective gloves and clothing to our cyclists.
Any sneak preview of upcoming developments for DabbaDrop?
At the moment, due to the current circumstances, we’re working with limited supplies and a smaller team, so we’re focusing on our existing customers and making sure they get the best food and service possible but we can tell you that there are some exciting new Summer dishes launching, we’re working on a very exciting breakfast delivery concept and also some ‘make your own at home’ cooking kits so watch this space!
DabbaDrop currently have a wait list on their website to start receiving these gorgeous South Asian meals, but do sign up, they are working their way through the list as they get more dabbas (reusable boxes) in stock. If they aren’t delivering to your postcode yet, let them know you want them in your hood!
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