Beyond Naan: Creating a Fresh and Modern Take on the Indian Culinary Experience
Designing a scalable restaurant, retail, and packaging experience that highlights the diversity of regional Indian foods
Launch and grow a restaurant and retail brand that introduces more people to Indian culture through cuisine.
A holistic hospitality offering—from brand identity to dining experience—and retail packaging system that represents the founders’ vision.
It’s a Thursday afternoon in Oakland, California. A line of lunchtime diners snakes out the door of dosa by DOSA. Upon entering, eaters are greeted by the smell of tangy dosa—a large paper-thin crepe made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils—and sweet, spicy chai. Turquoise chairs pop against a floor-to-ceiling mural by Oakland artist Namita Kapoor that transports diners to Chandni Chowk, one of the busiest markets in Old Delhi, as if enjoying their food at a local vendor.
In 2003, Emily and Anjan Mitra spent their honeymoon in India, savoring the street food of Anjan’s childhood in Mumbai (often still called Bombay). After returning to San Francisco, they found themselves longing for those distinctive flavors and dishes. Realizing that most Bay Area diners had never seen nor tasted these foods, Emily and Anjan founded DOSA, an upscale, full-service restaurant that introduced the Bay Area to Southern Indian cuisine. Locals came to try the unique, plant-forward dishes, and left with satisfied bellies and a broader understanding of Indian culture.
The entrepreneurs envisioned a brand extension of DOSA: a counter-service restaurant that could scale nationally. The hospitality venture, called dosa by DOSA, would offer healthful Indian street food made from local and seasonal ingredients. Emily and Anjan also set out to expand their existing product line-up—including cold lassi beverages, simmering sauces, and grab-and-go-meals—to national grocers and retailers and needed launch-ready packaging that was convenient, eye-catching, and environmentally-friendly. The new expression would enable consumers to experience dosa by DOSA and Southern India in a variety of forms and places. Emily and Anjan partnered with IDEO to establish a cohesive and consistent brand experience, from the restaurant and to-go meals to retail stores and mobile delivery.
Small but intentional design details like the central communal table and colorful decor represent the social nature of street food and vivid urban environment of Southern India.
In close partnership with the founders, their staff, Feldman Architecture and MPADA, IDEO set out to bring dosa by DOSA to life and help it scale through brand, environment, and experience design. This included creating everything from the logo and packaging to the menu and operations strategy, with each element tying back to the founders’ vision of sharing Indian heritage and traditions through cuisine.
The group began by seeking cultural inspiration for dosa by DOSA’s brand identity system—the logo, colors, values, fonts, and messaging—to guide future designs. They were inspired by Indian truck drivers who decorate their trucks with garlands, signs, or flags that engage other drivers or bring luck. The dosa by DOSA logo design and its wood-cut typeface are inspired by the dimensionality of this homespun art form, while the vibrant, eclectic colors reflect the streets and textures of urban Mumbai.
The goal of opening people’s minds to Indian cooking and culture extends to the packaging, which meets customers’ needs and playfully educates them. The food containers—made from recycled and compostable material—feature brightly patterned labels reminiscent of the trucks. Some have built-in compartments suited to multiple dipping chutneys, making it convenient to sample a variety of Indian flavors. Paper tray covers resembling Mumbai newspapers offer eating tips like “Be civilized. Eat with your hands,” encouraging diners to experience an Indian custom.
The vibrant brand comes to life across an array of packaging, including cold cups printed with the phrase “thanda thanda pani”—meaning “cold cold water”—which comes from a popular Indian parody of the Vanilla Ice song "Ice Ice Baby."
To design the diner experience and restaurant environment in a way that invites curiosity about the culture and cuisine, the team started with diners: They identified key moments in their experience like entering, waiting in line, and paying. The floor plan, furniture, lighting, signage, and menu were designed around these touchpoints. For example, while customers wait in line, they can watch dosa being prepared, as if they’re eager and hungry travelers awaiting street food.
Diners get a taste of Southern India through cocktails crafted with saffron bitters and star anise, chilled cardamom mango lassis, and dosa stuffed with butter chicken and masala potatoes.
The dosa by DOSA menu includes distinctive items like coconut kale mung bean salad and hot masala chai made with caramelized milk—the way Anjan’s mother prepared it. To help the restaurant scale, the team created a preliminary furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) budget, 3D renderings of the space, and an operations strategy for the founders and their employees.
The dosa by DOSA flagship launched in January 2018 in Oakland, California. The IDEO brand guidelines have enabled the dosa by DOSA team to independently and easily shepherd new product lines to market, including salads, wraps, curry bowls, samosas, and simmer sauces. The brand’s packaged food launched in over 200 natural food stores in 24 months—including over 100 Whole Foods locations—as well as online retailers and delivery services like Good Eggs and Caviar. These items and the restaurant have helped Emily and Anjan realize their vision of bringing the flavor and spirit of Southern Indian cuisine to new communities around the world.