by Prasadita L Raveendran and Anaswara PC
Ever tried a sip of Jackfruit coffee? Try the new Alnas restaurant, a first of its kind Jackfruit themed restaurant based out of Muttippalam town in Malappuram district of Kerala. The restaurant is a brainchild of agriculturist turned entrepreneur couple Shaji Kurian (47) and Shiji Kurian (40) – and it serves only jackfruit based dishes.
The meticulously curated menu offers over 40 jackfruit based edibles including pakkodas, payasam, dosa, rolls, halwa, jams, squash, juice, milkshake, cake, biscuits, burfi, ‘chakka varatti’ (dish with Jackfruit and jaggery), dosa and puttu pudi. For those who love meat, the unique menu offers a host of chicken and beef meal course with the fruit.
However, the item that stands out in the menu is the jackfruit coffee, says Shaji. "It is prepared by mixing Jackfruit seed along with coffee-seeds,” he says.
Although Shaji says that the patrons have given a positive feedback for this signature brew, he is quick to add that in Malappuram, which is a tea consumption district, coffee is preferred less and is yet to pick up in the local market.
“We wanted to try the tea version, but the Jackfruit seeds do not mix well with the fine particles of tea-powder," he explains.
The restaurant named after the couple's youngest daughter – they have three children – was recently inaugurated by Kerala Agriculture Minister Sunil Kumar, who about a month ago proclaimed jackfruit as the State Fruit of Kerala.
However, it is not the recent move by the state that motivated the couple’s foray into the business; these former rubber-plantation tappers foresaw the opportunity with the jackfruit way back in 2012. On learning about a culinary training using jackfruit offered by Anakkayam agriculture research station at Malappuram in Kerala, Shiji first enrolled herself, in a class with 150 others.
After the training, Shiji along with a few batch-mates initially started a domestic jackfruit food preparation unit, which got disbanded due to poor profit. Later in 2014, joined by her husband, they hired 10 workers and catered to a jackfruit exporter.
"The business did well, until our foreign collaborator imposed strict conditions that lead to business loss. Eventually, we cut ties with them and started selling products at agriculture fairs across Kerala and Karnataka," Shaji says.
Their products in the domestic market got popular, and Shiji received the best performer award at the Saras (Sales of Articles of Rural Artisan Society) Mela and Best agriculture entrepreneurship award from Ambalavayal agricultural research station in 2017.
Elated by their success, the couple came up with the idea of the unique jackfruit concept restaurant. “Kerala state government's announcement of jackfruit as the state fruit could not have come at a better time; it is not only giving us publicity but also boosting our business,” Shaji says.
Since their debut this week, the couple has had substantial footfall and witnessed a daily turnover of Rs 30,000. To ensure that the supply of Jackfruit remains year long, they source the fruit even from nearby regions like Ponmudi, Kumily and Idduki. "Further, we use only organic manure and keep our crops free from fertiliser, this is another reason people prefer our produce," Shiji adds.
While the family says they have no major expansion plan as they have to settle their previous dues, there have been enquiries for them to start similar venture in Palakkad, Hubli and in Bengaluru. "We are going to add an extension room as there is increased footfall. We may also start a training school probably from where we can train employees and ask them to handle different branches when we do set it up," Shiji says.
Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)