“You went to Harvard (Business School) to sell chow?” That’s the question Steve Seetahal’s mother asked him after he told her he would be venturing into a small business with his brother-in-law and a friend. The three men are successful in their professions but for sometime had been brainstorming business ideas. They found the market to be saturated with people selling clothing and electronics online via Facebook.However, last September they found the perfect retail idea—pineapple chow. But it was not going to be any “ole, run-of-the-mill” kind of chow. They wanted their preparation and surroundings to follow strict health and hygienic guidelines to produce a distinct flavour. “We discussed it, worked out the logistic, and opened on June 1,” Seetahal said.
Together, they pooled their resources and opened The Chow Master on Papourie Road, Central Barrackpore. It’s fully equipped with a pineapple peeling machine, slicing machine, blenders for freshly-made seasonings, chillers, labelled bags, a sealing machine and of course, hundreds of pineapples.
Stringent daily routine
The five in-house workers adhere to a daily routine of wearing their aprons, gloves, hairnets, boots, and also steaming the preparation area and machines. Each day they prepare and package close to 400 bags of chow in about three hours, which go for sale at strategic points in Marabella and Debe.
Seasonings such as shadon beni, hot peppers and garlic are blended every day and incorporated into the sliced fruit with salt and black pepper to make the tasty, mouth-watering delicacy which is sold for $10. In just two months, The Chow Master catered for a corporate event and had requests to export the product, Seetahal said. So why would this accomplished trio decide to sell pineapple chow? Simple—it’s the most business-friendly fruit. Not only does it have a juicy and irresistible taste, pineapple has several health benefits. It’s also available year-round unlike other local fruits, said Seetahal. “If you look at the most popular chow, it is pineapple. When I talk to the farmers, it is something that I can get year-round once the crop is controlled.”
“Mango is seasonal and so are most other fruits used for chow.” He said it was also easier to clean and cut using machines. The chow remains edible for up to five days, once chilled. He said: “Pineapple was the most business-friendly fruit for this venture.”The Sunday Guardian visited The Chow Master on July 23 to find out how Seetahal, a Fulbright Scholar and senior lecturer at the University of T&T ended up “selling chow,” and similarly, Ramlagan, an IT manager and Rampersad, an inventory manager, both graduates of The University of London, External Programme. Only Seetahal was present during the interview. He said pineapple chow was a healthy snack with a low calorie content and instead of eating a pack of yellow corn curls, school children could eat a healthy, yellow snack—pineapple chow. In the next few months, the trio will look to market the product in supermarkets and schools. However, to extend the shelf life of the chow, Seetahal said they would invest in a vaccum sealer. Vaccum packaging enhances the quality of a product and gives it longer shelf life up to three to five times, depending on the product.
A bunch of red tape
Even though it’s a small business, it wasn’t an easy road setting up The Chow Master. The idea was rejected twice by banking institutions. Seetahal’s advice was to “know what you’re getting into.” From having all the necessary documents to a comprehensive business plan and years of theoretical knowledge, according to him, “it is a bunch of red tape.” He said: “Banks are very risk averse.”Seetahal said in the initial stages banks shunned the plan, despite his position on the board of directors at the Central Bank and being a lecturer in entrepreneurship. He said some people may get burned on their first try with the banks and may not wish to execute their idea, but he said perserverance was critical. “A business takes time to grow. If you can’t support a business for six months on your own, you are in trouble. There will be good days and very bad