Ever since the Burger King at 1740 Orrington Ave. shut down in late 2020, Northwestern students have hungered for late-night food options.
Through their Garage startup Naan Knights, McCormick senior Sidharth Runwal, McCormick junior Vedant Ambani and Weinberg junior Sara Adurkar sought to fill this gap while also bringing a taste of home to Evanston.
“Food just allows people to connect and a meal can be the beginning of so many great things,” Runwal said.
The three founders, all from Mumbai, India, became friends after arriving at NU. Over dinner at Allison Hall last November, Runwal and Ambani said they wondered if there was a market for late-night Indian food in Evanston and decided to test the idea. That weekend, they went to Devon Avenue to stock up on supplies for garlic naans, samosas, butter chicken, paneer makhani and dal.
On the first day of orders, they sold out at 9:45 p.m. –– 15 minutes before their order window of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. even began, Runwal said.
“I was expecting to get maybe like two or three orders from friends and family,” he said. “We ended up getting 11 legitimate orders.”
With friends sprinting to Whole Foods for more ingredients, more than 10 people cooking and packaging food in his apartment, and others using everything from electric scooters to campus shuttles to deliver the food, Runwal said the experience was like a movie montage.
In its first four days, Naan Knights completed more than 40 orders, making $400 in revenue and $100 in profit. McCormick senior Shourya Agarwal, a friend of the co-founders, helped deliver food during Fall Quarter. Agarwal said seeing people appreciate a cuisine they don’t often cook on their own brought him a lot of joy.
“Good food makes you feel good. With Indian food especially, a lot of people don’t cook it because it’s time-consuming. So when you get to eat it, you appreciate it,” Agarwal said.
Getting feedback from customers was also eye-opening, Agarwal said.
Although surprising at times, Agarwal said the startup’s test runs have helped them learn that some of their assumptions differ from customers’ desires.
“As Indians, we think naan is something that’s a complimentary item along with dal or something,” Agarwal said. “It was strange that some people were just ordering like seven naans.”
Alicia Ross (Communication ’21), evening administrative assistant at The Garage, was among Naan Knights’ first customers. Born in New Orleans and raised in Texas, Ross said food has been central to her experience of community.
Ross said she intentionally dedicates part of her paycheck to good food and loves places like Naan Knights and The Table because she gets to support NU students’ companies — which is exciting to her as a staff member at The Garage.
“Living on a college campus and eating dining hall food for weeks on end makes you appreciate good food so much more,” Ross said.
Naan Knights is currently working to partner with a local Indian restaurant to expand its cooking capacity. The team said they hope to create a sustainable model to bring authentic Indian cuisine to the late-night table in college towns everywhere.
“You can take a class in business management or the supply chain, but here you’re actually doing it. And I’m a big fan of learning by doing,” Runwal said.
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