It was never part of the Bundobust masterplan to become a flagbearer for vegetarian cuisine.
Founders Marko Husak and Mayur Patel shied away from the idea of marketing it as a meat-free concept in the early days, worried that such a tag could put off committed carnivores from trying it out.
Yet five and half years later the world changed and vegetarianism has arrived firmly into the mainstream.
While the founders have no plans to drastically change course on how they market the Indian street food and craft beer concept, they admit they could do a little more to emphasise their vegetarian credentials.
“I think it’s a probably a good time to start promoting it a bit more”, Husak says.
“Historically if you put vegetarian, people were a bit stubborn, they might not want to go in.
“We branded it as Indian street food and beer, and got people in.”
The direction of consumer trends clearly puts Bunodbust in an opportune position, yet Patel says there was no calculated play behind the angle.
“I wish I could say I told you so!” he says. “But it wasn’t necessarily planned out like that.”
The food style goes back to Bundobust’s Gujarati-inspired origins, with Patel brought up vegetarian, above his family’s business, Indian deli turned upscale restaurant Prashad.
While no longer vegetarian himself, Patel sees the food style as staying “true to the Bundo roots”.
“It was what I knew how to cook,” he says. “But we cook veggie food in way that we don’t think of it as being veggie.
“You could say it’s a missed opportunity that we haven’t made a big deal out of it. It means we surprise a lot of customers.
“The best thing is when someone eats the food, steps away and realises there’s no meat in there. It changes people’s perceptions of how their meal should be constructed.”
Bundobust also sits happily on the intersection of two other complimentary trends: Indian street food and craft beer.
Pioneers and beneficiaries of this wave, the space has become increasingly crowded in recent years, and was one of the key reasons for changing things up with their fourth site.
Due to open this summer on Manchester Oxford Road, the next Bundobust will be a more wet-led proposition, with an onsite brewery, in what they say is a first for a UK restaurant.
Set to brew a core range including a session pale ale, and unfiltered lager and an IPA, it puts clear water between their competitors, while taking the brand back to its more bar-oriented roots.
While the food/drink split has levelled out at a fairly consistent 70/30, the original idea for the concept was for a craft beer bar, with Indian snacks on the side, with Oxford Road set to reverse that.
“We always want to innovate”, Husak says. “That’s why we’re doing the brewery, we saw a few other Indian street food and craft beer restaurants, so us putting in a brewery in one of the restaurants is a big statement.
“We are trying to set us apart, to keep innovating and pushing ourselves.”
The new site, in the more night-time drinking area of Oxford Road, will have more stools and high seats for a more vertical drinking approach.
For Husak and Patel, the brewery is part of a natural progression for the brand, and while it has had plenty of critical acclaim for its food, they hope their move into brewing will further put them on the map in the beer world.
There is also the theatre of the tanks, something consumers have seen in UK brewpubs, but rarely in a more restaurant environment.
“With the beer community and the food community, there still could be a bit more pulling together. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“It hopefully puts us on the map as a credible brewery,
“We’re not doing a brewery for the sake of it, it’s an investment. We want to hire the best brewer, we want to make the best beer possible that we can.
“Even though we’re only brewing for our own restaurants, it needs to be up there with some of the best beer that’s available in the UK commercially.”
The new site comes amid work behind the scenes to improve operating systems and bolster the senior team.
Byron founder Tom Byng has come on board as an investor and advisor, while Andy Dibb, formerly of Hix and East Coast Concepts, has come in as operations manager.
Meanwhile long-time chef Gopi Singh has been promoted to exertive chef.
With Patel previously spending hours a week in the kitchen, and Husak on operations, front of house and marketing, the appointments free up time to focus on strategy and expansion.
“We were doing really well, the numbers were great,” Husak says. “But allows us to look for sites, and think about the bigger picture,
“We’re ambitious now, and there was a bit of tidying up to do back at house. We’ve put systems in place, making it slick
“The business was running well but the wheels would have fallen of, sooner or later if we didn’t had a look at back end.
“Our ambition now is to look for sites. We want to open one or two restaurants a year ago, we don’t want to have to stretch ourselves.”
On the food side, Patel has kept the menu relatively consistent over the years, honing the a variety of flavours and textures into a tried and tested greatest hits.
Rooted in his family’s region of Gujarat, Bundobust puts its own spin on dishes from across the sub-continent, including South Indian dosa and the Indo-Chinese inspired gobi mushroom Manchurian.
With the menu well-specced, Patel looks for passionate, not necessarily super experienced chefs.
“I like people who want to learn and work”, he says. “We have a structure of how we cook and the reasoning behind it. Our approach is about nurturing and training.”
And while looking for a certain degree of consistency in execution of dishes, central production is not a consideration.
“It would never work”, he says. “If you blast chilled our food and transport it to another site, it would turn to mush. Veggie food doesn’t hold together as well.
“For consistency it’s a nightmare. We want things to be identical in size and taste, but sometimes those nuances can make it more real.”
The interplay between food and drink is crucial to Bundo, and Patel welcomes consumer tastes easing away from the super hoppy IPAs, towards more understated beers which better compliment his food.
“I prefer to keep it clean with Indian food. It resets every flavour. If you look at beer trends, before you had all these crazy, hoppy, chewy knife and fork beers, and now everyone’s going back to the kellers and the crisp lagers.
“We want to play with the little subtleties and nuances in beer, with the yeasts and the oils. It should be cleansing and keep you eating drinking more.”
Bundobust: ‘We always want to innovate’
It was never part of the Bundobust masterplan to become a flagbearer for vegetarian cuisine. Founders Marko Husak and Mayur Patel shied away from marketing it as a meat-free concept in the early days, worried the tag could put off committed carnivores. Five and half years later the world has changed, and vegetarianism sits firmly into the mainstream. While the founders have no plans to drastically change how they market the Indian street food and craft beer concept, they admit they ”could do a little more” to emphasise its vegetarian credentials.