Spice Canteen Founder Carves Out a Niche: Spice Canteen

LEXINGTON, MA–Hema Gopalan’s love for food began at an early age, and her passion for cooking and entertaining never left her. In the spring of 2014, Gopalan joined the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts to formalize and optimize her self-taught cooking techniques and to immerse herself in Boston food eco-system.

Hema_Spice_SC_logo-52Last year, Gopalan started teaching and working as a private chef, creating dishes inspired by traditional Indian recipes. Earlier this month, she officially opened her Spice Canteen, a weekly subscription-based meals for pick-up, to public.

Gopalan, who believes that the best food is made with heart, says she combines her intuitive approach to cooking with unexpected flavors and techniques to transform simple ingredients into gourmet meals. She believes in giving back to the community and volunteers at soup kitchens around Boston, giving of her time and talent.

Gopalan was born and raised in Mumbai, and grew up watching her mother and grandmother in the kitchen, accompanying them on weekly trips to the market, and pretend-cooking with her own first set of pots and pans with borrowed ingredients from her mother’s kitchen.

Gopalan left for the US to earn a Master’s Degree in accountancy from Bentley College and has since built a successful career in corporate finance, holding executive positions at high growth and large companies.

In an email interview with INDIA New England News, Gopalan talked about Spice Canteen and her vision for her venture’s future. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

INDIA New England News: What is Spice Canteen?
HEMA GOPALAN: Spice Canteen serves spice-inspired vegetarian cuisine with weekly menus for subscription and fine catering serving the Boston area. Currently, the food is for pick-up only with plans to add delivery.

INE: Why did you choose the name Spice and Canteen?
GOPALAN: I wanted the name to be representative of the type of food that was being served. I preferred the word ‘spice’ to an Indian name which would anchor me to Indian cuisine and I wanted Spice Canteen to encompass all cuisines that cook with spices, which could be Moroccon, Thai, Latino, etc.

INE: When and how did you come up this idea?
GOPALAN: I came up with the idea in 2013-2014 as I was thinking of food and how it affected our well-being and health, and how for many people freshly prepared meals are not a reality either because of lack of time, know-how or resources.

INE: When did you become interested in cooking—from childhood, or it is a later interest?
GOPALAN: Honestly, I could burn water when I got married and came to Boston in 1991. I did not know the difference between Thur dal and Moong dal. Needless to say I was cooking some pretty weird stuff back then.

INE: When did you start Spice Canteen?

GOPALAN: I launched Spice Canteen through word of mouth in 2014 and just recently decided to open it up to a larger audience. I was baking the idea and the future of Spice Canteen, being a finance professional that has helped many start-up companies get funding and grow. Once I could envision the future of Spice Canteen I decided to open it to the public.

INE: What has been the response so far and how many subscribers you have?
GOPALAN: So far, I have a loyal subscribers of about 15+ each week and growing as well as catering orders.

INE: Who are your customers or, rather give us a profile of a typical customer of Spice Canteen?
GOPALAN: A typical Spice Canteen customer is one that is looking for a fully prepared, ready-to-eat meal for the week, that does not have either the time, resources (full-kitchen) or know-how. Really anyone who eats. With food, everyone is a customer.

INE: Where the food is made?
GOPALAN: While I cook from my kitchen, I also prepare orders at commercial kitchens in the Boston area.

INE: What is the next for Spice Canteen?
GOPALAN: Spice Canteen aspires to bring to solve the 5-Square-mile myth of prepared food and change the mobile food landscape in one city at a time. Spice Canteen is aspiring to build a community around spice-inspired cuisine and to serve healthy vegetarian food to families, individuals, corporate and university campuses, believing that healthy, delicious, wholesome food should be available to all that seek it.

INE: Your biggest dream with Spice Canteen?
GOPALAN: To grow the subscription business and to replicate to cities around the country, to re-culturize the palette to traditional Indian cuisine, one wholesome, healthful meal at a time.

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