Lunchbox Men in India are battling food delivery start-ups due to the pandemic.


Lunchbox Men in India are battling food delivery start-ups due to the pandemic.

The 130-year-old “dabbawala” network has teamed up with a trendy restaurant chain to take on India’s billion-dollar start-ups after the epidemic closed offices and put Mumbai’s legendary lunchbox deliverymen out of work.

Neither terror attacks nor monsoon deluges could stop Kailash Shinde from bringing hot lunches to Mumbai office employees for two decades, until lockdowns compelled the father-of-two to take a year off.

“It’s been quite challenging,” the 42-year-old stated. “To make ends meet, I had to sell everything I could and perform odd jobs.”

Shinde, who wears a Gandhi cap and wears white Indian clothing, is one of 5,000 dabbawalas – or “lunchbox men” in Hindi – who have garnered global fame for serving home-cooked food with precision.

Bicycles, hand carts, and a wide local train network help the primarily illiterate or illiterate workers gather, filter, and distribute 200,000 meals around Mumbai each day using a complicated system of alphanumeric codes.

Their work has generated personal visits from Richard Branson, Prince Charles, and executives from global delivery giants FedEx and Amazon, among others, and has been evaluated as a “model of service excellence” at Harvard Business School.

However, since April last year, many dabbawalas have been struggling to feed their own families due to protracted lockdowns requiring millions of Mumbai’s white-collar professionals to work from home.

“Our members have had to work as security guards and laborers in addition to looking for work as restaurant deliverymen,” said Ulhas Muke, a representative of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust.

However, in a world increasingly dominated by mobile apps, delivery jobs are harder to come by, especially for people who can’t read or write, like Pandurang Jadhav, 39.

For the first time since becoming a dabbawala at the age of 17, Jadhav was laid off and returned to his home village, where he spent the previous year planting rice.

The pay was pitiful, and he yearned for Mumbai, where he oversaw a team of 30 guys.

He told AFP, “I used to love working as a dabbawala,” calling it “the ideal job.”

In May, Jadhav and 30 others were able to return to work thanks to a partnership with some of Mumbai’s most prominent eateries.

Instead of bringing home-cooked meals in stainless steel tiffin boxes, he now delivers restaurant classics like nachos and spaghetti carbonara to time-pressed professionals who are working from home for a second year.

The program provides restaurateurs with an alternative to the current local duopoly of delivery behemoths. Brief News from Washington Newsday.


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