Aussie Mark Wright loves India and London. He’s a fan of good food and keeping healthy. He’s dynamic, demanding, determined – and certain that what Londoners need is funky, fresh Indian food… fast. And, with his brand new twisted-Indian healthy fast-food business, Mark reckons he’s the man for the job – man with naan, if you will.
rōla walas star menu item is based on said naan – the thin, soft specimens forming the base of a gorgeous gorge-on-the-go. These rolls are loosely based on the kati rolls so popular in Calcutta, but it’s in inspiration only. When it comes to fillings, flavourings and frills, rōla walas rolls are unashamedly untraditional.
Mark’s made quick work of creating his fast food feasts – working his behind off to create a brand that represents his vision for the next wave of modern fast food. rōla walas food range roams beyond the roll, with colourful juices packed to the pinnacle with raw fruit and veggies. You just know that vibrant, almost violent rainbow riot of a spread will do you good – assaulting your tastebuds but caressing your insides.
Due for a catch-up following rōla wala’s appearance at London’s Coffee Festival and an Action Against Hunger charity auction, I rolled over to the wala himself for a chinwag and some chaat. Licking pungent, piquant chutney from my fingers, I tell Mark he’s more than welcome to be as fast and fresh with the interview as he is with his food.
How did you get into foodie business?
I started my career in a digital agency in London 7 years ago, and was inspired by their innovation-led approach to problem solving. I’d spent long enough working on awesome ideas for others that I had to do it myself. Street food gave me a way to combine my passion for amazing food with business – as an individual and as an entrepreneur I’m all about ideas, as is my medium – food!
What appealed to you so much about Indian food?
I’ve always loved Indian food – I eat it 3-4 days a week! You’ll learn the basics in a day and spend the rest of your life discovering.
What convinced you that Londoners would love what you wanted to get down their necks?
When I went to India in 2012, I discovered a new side to Indian food – it’s so deeply rooted into health and lifestyle. I ate Indian food 4 or 5 times a day and came home feeling great – who could walk away from the local ‘standard tandoori’ after even a single meal and say that?
This put me on a mission – I wanted to bring some part of that back here and make it fast, fresh and healthy for modern Brits (I’m half Brit!), as something to enjoy every day. When I got home, I booked myself a stall at the Southbank’s ‘Taste of India’ festival, learnt to cook a couple of dishes, and went along armed with 800 rolls and a mission to prove myself wrong. I failed so badly that I had to finish early… Because I’d sold out!
How did the rōla wala name come about – and what were the ones that fell by the wayside?
We’ve had loads of names for this business but ‘rōla wala’ represents more than any of the others who we are and what we do. Essentially ‘person who rolls’, it’s really our mission statement. It’s very simple – our goal is to roll amazing, flavourful Indian food, fast & fresh!
What were the biggest challenges in taking your concept from brainwave to brand-new brand?
‘It won’t work’; ‘people won’t like it’… Basically listening to my own doubts! The hardest thing is taking that first step in what you know will be a long journey. You feel like a crazy person when you start to actually do it – but if you’re like me, you’ll die of exhaustion committing all of your waking hours to your imagination.
In the real world – my own lack of industry experience and contacts was tough; it can be hard to be taken seriously when you first start out…
Both problems are simply solved – by picking up the phone and asking one simple question, phrased just like this: ‘I’m trying to do this thing, and I see you do that thing, how can we do our things better?’
What’s been the response to your edible offerings – and which items are selling like the proverbial hot cakes?
Beetroot & paneer dal rocks from Kingsland Rd to Kerala! It will make even a hardened meat eater weak at the knees – I don’t know any other vegetarian dish that will convert a die-hard carnivore to veg, yet still be subtle enough for health fanatics to seek us out across London to get their fix. It still totally spins me out, it’s incredible – and, best yet, I invented it!
What advice would you offer to entrepreneurial folks looking to set up similar enterprises?
Keep it simple and follow your own path to inspiration. Always be authentic. Be ambitious but not selfish – find a cause that resonates with you and give something back – rōla wala supports a charity called ‘One Feeds Two’ – every single roll bought from us buys a meal for underprivileged children in India.
What lessons have you had to learn – are there mistakes you’d never make again?
I spent too long looking for answers from others; seeking opinions; paying for advice when I just needed to realise that I already knew what to do; you’ve just got to get on with it! Trust your instincts and you can’t go wrong (because even if you do, you’re right).
You’re obviously pretty proud of your brand new baby – let’s celebrate the success with a rōla wala feast. What are you ordering?
It’s all about the proteins and greens! For my protein, I’m having beetroot & paneer dal; for the greens some smashing fresh coriander, minted red onion and a load of carrot and cumin salad. For my chutney, I like to mix it up – a bit of pear and tamarind lathered up with 3-chilli tomato for some punch. All finished off with a load of sev mumra to make it CRUNCH.
To drink the choice is simple – our apple, cucumber, and fennel raw juice – good for the insides!
Where can we catch you next – are you happy living like a rola-ing stone, or are there plans to put down permanent roots?
We’re happy rolling anywhere and everywhere! More street food events, festivals, and bricks-and-mortar are all firmly on the menu!
- Follow rōla wala on Twitter @rolawala.
- For more on rōla wala, click here
- For more on rola wala’s chosen charity, One Feeds Two, click here