A familiar face to residents, Mr Seby Mascarenhas has been plying his roadside cart since 1999. Getting him to sit back and talk is a major task. To busy to specify the key elements that go into running a food cart successfully, he says , satisfying foodies and tickling the taste buds of street food aficionados is “a full time job”.
A typical work day is 12-hour shift that begins at eight in the morning and finishes at 9.30 at night . Morning hours are spent in cleaning, de- boning, marinating the chicken in a special masala, and also kneading dough for the bread; all this is time consuming work that spills over to late afternoon. Business starts at 4.30 in the evening after which it is leg aching, non-stop work until pack up time.
Says, Seby, “I sell about 300 pieces a day. The business is in profits, allowing me to pay the salaries of the four boys who work at the stall, support the family as well as save for a rainy day.” The cart operates nearly all year, except in very heavy rain days. Although there is other fast food on the menu like hot dogs or burgers, virtually all of the sales are in the Shawarma, an extremely light meal that is basically shredded chicken meat with spices and veggies, wrapped in roti-like bread.
Explains, Seby, “Other items have been kept aside because the demand is only for the Shawarma, an essentially Arabic dish taught to me by parents who worked in the gulf for many years.” But even in that there have been innovations such as Turkish or Spanish variants which are never found in their country of origin.
So is business good because of location at Miramar beach? “Not really” is the answer because 90 per cent of the clientele are locals who come from far or near, and only 10 per cent are outsiders. Most of the tourists at this beach are Gujaratis who go for vegetarian snacks. Yet some of them are repeat customers who after revisiting the place have come up saying, “the taste is just as good as it was two years ago” says Seby
He continues, “The only reason why I have survived and done well is because of through knowledge of the dish. Staff is a major issue, so any person who wants to run an eatery needs to be capable of doing the job themselves.”
Interestingly, operating a food cart is not what Seby set out to do after completing schooling and education. An offset printer by training, he holds a diploma in printing and technology from ITI,Verna.
However working with inks brought on health problems. So he switched professions to take up a job with Cidade de Goa before plunging into a start-up on his mother’s advice.
The Miramar beach food zone has about 15-20 carts, most of which are run by non- Goans, from UP or Kerala. Searching for a resident vendor among them is like looking for proverbial needle in a haystack. Some of the outside cart operators are working on the licenses leased from local boys. Says, Seby, “ Locals are perhaps shy of being associated with a street eatery.”
Meanwhile, he adds that getting officials approval to legally run a cart is near impossible. Although permit from the FDA can be achieved , getting clearance from CCP is an insurmountable obstacle. The pain of running around for a license nearly made him give up in the initial years.