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How The Roll Became a Phenomenon

Growing up, one of my fondest food memories was of bed class and strolling the streets of South Bombay with friends. We always stopped at the best red kiosk bus, located just outside the ticket counters at Churchgate station, to be absorbed into the amazing universe of Tibbs Frankie. The aroma of beaten eggs hitting the ever-hot, square pan, topped with the flatbread and flipped to be filled with everything from paneer tikka to Manchurian chilli sauce and a dash of their ‘secret’ masala, is an aroma, which I carry within my mind even today. A quick search on the internet recently made me realize that the frankie roll has not only been around since 1969, but that Mr. Amarjit Singh Tibb, the late founder of the company, was the pioneer behind the introduction of the portable meal-a-roll to the busy citizenry. of Bombay.

Fascinating as the idea seemed, in an era when the country was struggling to find its feet politically after independence, Mr Tibb brought to India a product of his travels in Beirut that would feature on almost every roll menu in street cart, many years later. As we sit down to chat with Harpreet Singh Tibb, the brand’s current director, he is quick to clarify that the word ‘frankie’ is a trademarked product that was created by his uncle exclusively for Tibbs Frankie and that anyone who tries to sell rolls otherwise just claims to sell frankie. “India never had its own breakfast dish and everyone was trying to cultivate and develop new formats,” he adds. Harpreet also points out that the process of making the rotis, gravy, cracking the eggs to order and rolling it all up to serve these rolls in a sleeve is an idea conceived by Amarjit Singh Tib in collaboration with his wife, Mrs. Surinder Singh Tib.

Seen in Image: Harpreet Singh Tibb

“There are people who eat food on a basic functional level. The second group of people associate emotions with food, which connects them to their roots. People have childhood memories and associations with certain dishes they have eaten before. Then there is a third, quasi-spiritual level where people actually begin to take ownership of the food they cook and eat. Ever since our ancient texts, food has always been an integral part of our well-being,” mentions Harpreet when asked why food makes a subject worthy of documentation. He then goes on to talk about how the frankie masala blend, a family recipe that is made at their Andheri factory, is the brand’s secret weapon to keep customers coming back for more.

Harpreet describes that most places that serve buns use sauces, but rarely gravy, a detail that keeps the French buns “juicy.” “Frankie rolls, unlike shawarma or kebab rolls, are the only rolls that are served with sauce. I always tell people that when I have to eat franks, I always take the last bite because there is always leftover sauce at the bottom of the sleeve. Isko peeke khatam karo yaar, khaake nahi,” he chuckles as he recalls his earliest memories of biting into his favorite lamb frank. He then conjures memories from the archives in my head about the sauce dripping down my chin and staining my clothes with ocher masala when he mentions how people post pictures of themselves even today enjoying French fries. He rejects the primal and correct way of eating as a western concept and talks about how we as Indians prefer to enjoy different tastes together, all at once.

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Of course, with changing times, the brand has taken a direction they wouldn’t have seen coming a few decades ago. Harpreet reveals that the brand continues to do well post-pandemic in both online and offline sales; an achievement most businesses can only aspire to. Consciously mapping out which products worked well for which markets allowed them to fuse local flavors into franks and come up with flavors like Chettinad chicken and bhuna guest. Talking about the evolution in the street food space, he explains that Tibbs started with 3-4 flavors on the menu, which has now expanded to a whopping 25 flavors along with new items like biryani, brownies, drinks and a pizza roll ( I roll it up). He hints that giving the masses exactly what they like, but with a classic Tibbs touch, is something they’ve been focused on for nearly three decades at the now 53-year-old company.

“We are doing nothing different now than when we started our journey. Frankie as a roll is completely Indian. We started by thinking if we could create an Indian dish using Indian flavors because we are proud of our food and wanted to use the essential Indian spices,” continues Harpreet. He says the innovation is from the outside in, in the sense that the team has an ear on the pulse of what’s hot at the moment, pays close attention to customer feedback and changes the menu to appeal to customers. However, he highlights the fact that most street food places across the country have focused on fresh ingredients or serving fresh food. He believes that coming from a culture where the practice of preserving food was not traditionally approved and leftovers were fed to cats or crows, street food ranks high in the order of preference because most of it is prepared right in front of your eyes. to the client. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why prepackaged meals haven’t taken off here. For people to be able to see their food being prepared was the genesis behind creating the kiosks when we first started,” he adds.

Like any other brand taking its course, Tibbs Frankie is riding the wave among the busy office goer, college student or anyone who just wants a break from a boring meal. In the end, it was all about getting something customized to suit your requirements; adding an extra sprinkling of green chilies or asking for more chopped onion and sauce before the roll was assembled, and even just standing by the hot pan waiting, were joyous experiences in the process of getting franks. Being a part of the food culture of the city that was populated with equally loved local delicacies like vada fell, miss pao and chat, and creating a food product that was practically food was no feat for the faint of heart. “Being able to move our operations out of Bombay and launch in other cities was a big move. After the pandemic, we have evolved as a format from a kiosk to a salon or an outlet, which is also important for us.”

Although the recipe for making the perfect Tibbs Frankie remains a family secret, Harpreet shared with us her favorite way to eat a classic mutton Frankie – lots of frankie masala, no green chillies, lots of onions and a mint chutney.