The first new Kati Rolls will start rolling out next year, with a goal of at least three company-owned ones and two franchises in the area. The early locations will likely either be in New York City or nearby, like New Jersey, Bathwal says. Later outposts will be focused on major metropolitan areas. Like the original ones, they will have open kitchens and a menu of kati rolls designed by the restaurant. Each one will also offer a unique "staff roll," a local offering intended to make the Kati Rolls feel more like a corner street vendor.
Saha and Bathwal considered expanding earlier, but various factors stopped momentum. "For the last ten years, we’ve been receiving two to three franchise inquiries a week," Bathwal says. There were personal issues (and a copyright lawsuit against copycats that they ultimately won), and up until recently, Bathwal worked a full-time job in advertising. He eventually came on to the restaurant full-time to help Saha look at logistics for expanding, things like supply and training consistency.
The timing makes sense now, they say. Indian fast casual restaurants are popping up all over the country right now, a sign that people’s taste and knowledge of different kinds of Indian food are expanding. "I think the perception is slowly changing," Bathwal says. "It’s not fully changed yet. People are seeing that Indian food can go beyond curry and rice." And they’ve been heartened by the rise of chains like Shake Shack, where growth doesn’t mean a downgrade in food quality, he says. "That tells us that it can be done. That’s the new way forward," he says.
'The more you have a break, the happier human being you are.'
Besides focusing on food quality, the ambitious expansion play took time as the husband-wife team calculated how to maintain one of their core beliefs — that employees should get paid time off. A few years ago, Kati Roll started offering staff two weeks of paid vacation time and one week of paid sick leave, a benefit that’s still fairly rare in the fast food industry. After six months, they can start taking any paid time off, and after a year, they get the two weeks. Most of Kati Roll’s employees are immigrants from places like Bangladesh or Ecuador, and visits to friends and family can be pricey, Saha says. "You don’t want to go for less than a month," she says. "It’s an expensive trip. The more time they have off, the better off it is for them. You can go in peace." Eventually, she wants to offer three weeks of paid time off. "It’s a huge quality life of issue," she says. "The more you have a break, the happier human being you are." The restaurant also offers English classes and has previously helped pay for school.
They haven’t measured the numbers regarding turnover after they implemented the benefits, though other companies have found that added benefits have helped with that. Still, when they decided to grow, they knew they wanted that to happen at all the locations, too. Saha and Bathwal want Kati Roll to be ubiquitous — and 40 locations in the next four years is a lot — but it’s taken a while to figure it out since that first location in Greenwich Village. "It’s a struggle," Saha says. "We’re not a mainstream brand that has a lot of money. We’re doing things at a slower pace and at a smaller scale. We’re taking our time."