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September 30, 1999
Ghee (Click), Kilbassa (Click), Burito (Click), Baklava (Click)
M J Shenoy
A few clicks, and you could have Polish sausages, Belgian waffles, vindaloo masala, Russian caviar, and the latest Daler Mehndi CD delivered at your doorstep, never mind if you live in the middle of Nebraska or close to the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas.
The first-ever serious and extensive Internet shop for international groceries -- www.EthnicGrocer.com, which was launched last month -- will make sure that the craving for ethnic groceries (and several other consumer products) is catered to within 24 hours.
The idea for the site began germinating about two years ago when Parry (Parminder) Singh was visiting his brother in Burbank, California. He discovered that his sister-in-law drove some 50 miles to Artesia to shop at Indian groceries twice a month.
Singh, who has a bachelor's degree in computer engineering and a master's in electrical engineering, was then in a MBA program at the Kellog School of Management at Northwestern University.
He discussed the idea of starting a web shop to sell Indian products with Subash Bedi, his buddy and college-mate at Kellog who had also earned a degree in computer engineering, and within a few months they had the web site to sell food products from India. Bedi and Singh are in their late 30s.
The new Indian virtual store, which first began as a project at Kellogg, sought to make driving miles to buy Indian ingredients for dinner, a thing of the past.
Singh and Bedi conducted extensive research about people's shopping habits and discovered that a professionally managed online Indian shopping site would help eliminate the hassle and frustration of shopping for Indian ingredients in the US.
"We recognized that there was a growing need for a site like Namaste.com," said Bedi, COO, Namaste.com.
"We knew first-hand how difficult it can be to find Indian ingredients needed to prepare authentic meals. We wanted to create an Internet site that provided customers with a convenient way to enjoy Indian food and flavors at home, with the highest level of customer service."
The testimonials from many customers began to pour in.
'No more spending half of Saturday to go shopping for some masala, dal or hunting for lemon pickle,' wrote Manisha Sharma from Thousand Oaks in California . 'I just spend 15 minutes at home and get all my groceries right at Namaste.com without paying anything extra. So amazingly convenient.'
'Atta (click), Basmati rice (click), ghee (click), garam masala (click) -- done. Shopping for Indian groceries from the comfort of my home makes it possible for me to get back to my project,' Anju Vats, a graduate student in New York wrote.
Soon the new entrepreneurs would discover that other immigrants too might embrace an alternative to driving for a long time to buy kitchen ingredients and food products. This discovery led to the creation of Ethnicgrocer.com.
Today, their company, which offers products ranging from vindaloo sauces to baklava, has 26 employees, including "ethnic tsars", the chefs who sample dozens of sauces and food products each week.
"We have been around for less than a year but we have received publicity in major newspapers, including The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune," says Devi Mohanty. A former advertisement executive, Mohanty wanted to start a similar venture, but decided to join Singh and Bedi when he realized their business was about to roll.
"Our goal is to make authentic ethnic cooking simple for everyone," said Bedi. "EthnicGrocer.com offers consumers a solution to the problem of not being able to purchase ethnic ingredients needed to cook their favorite meals on a daily basis."
EthnicGrocer.com was developed to cater to consumers interested in experiencing and preparing foods from different cultures.
The service, based in Evanston, provides next day UPS delivery service directly to a customer's doorstep.
The products include kirsch black dried mushrooms from Poland and octopus in garlic sauce from Mexico. The service promises to feature 20,000 products from 50 countries. Prices range from $ one chocolate-filled Belgian chocolate wafers to $ 240 Russian caviar.
For information, contact Ethnicgrocer.com, 990 Grove Street, Suite 202, Evanston, IL 60201; (847) 475 7715, extension 19, (847) 475 7717 (fax). Or go to the web sites at www.namaste.com or www.ethnicgrocer.com
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