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Meherwan Irani Says Successful Entrepreneurs Don't Have Plans—They Have Goals.

Adrianna Freedman

From Men's Health

For the last eleven years, Meherwan Irani has been very successful in the dining business. As the chef/owner of Chai Pani (an authentic Indian street food restaurant) and founder of the brand Spicewalla, Irani’s approach to working in the food industry has been an ever-changing work in progress—something he’s always been proud of.

The restaurateur chatted recently with Men’s Health’s Deputy Editor Spencer Dukoff about how he got started in food, which comes with a rich history. An immigrant of India, Irani moved to the United States at 20 years old to pursue a higher education. After receiving his MBA and working in sales/marketing, he had an idea that would change his world forever: introducing authentic Indian street food to the American cuisine. The result? In 2009, he opened Chai Pani in Asheville, NC at the age of 39 (in the midst of the recession), where he also became the head chef.

“My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘you know more about your cuisine than anybody you can hire and train,’” he said. “‘Why don’t you just do this yourself?’ And here I am.”

Photo credit: Tim Robison
Photo credit: Tim Robison

Bringing authentic cuisine to the American market might’ve been something another person would be scared about—but not Irani, who’d seen his family do something similar with opening a Bed & Breakfast to foreigners back in his small hometown outside of Mumbai. It was something that felt natural, and when it came time to open his own restaurant, the concept of creating his own take on Indian street food made sense to his clientele in both Asheville and Atlanta.

“You don’t have to create [food] the way it is back home,” he explained. “Whatever you do should have a sense of place. And when people came to Chai Pani, they remarked—Indians included—on how authentic it is. And yet it could exist nowhere except in Asheville, North Carolina or Atlanta, because it feels like it belongs as a part of the community.”

It’s clear to see Irani is passionate about his career. But it had to be difficult making a complete career change from the world of marketing. While it might’ve been a setback to some, being unfamiliar with the restaurant industry never phased him—he just decided he was going to change the method on how to succeed, whether it be using his limited resources or learning to make decisions while moving through fear of something going wrong. Irani relates this idea to a very specific Indian concept called jugaad, based on making things work on limited resources.

“[Jugaad] literally means to ‘MacGyver’ it,” he laughs, “but you don’t let not having what you need stop you from getting there. Have goals, not plans. Plans can go sideways on any given day. Reaching a goal has many ways to get there.”

It’s a pretty impressive outlook to have on business, especially given the world is still going through a pandemic. But it’s also an idea that can help him succeed in his future goals, which is all about making the world better in any way he can help.

“It’s a personal obligation to make where I live and the world I’m in better because I’m around,” he says. “I wake up thinking about that. What am I doing to make the world a better place? And there’s always a lot of opportunity… there’s this middle space that exists between two extremes and I’m just trying to figure it out.”

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