pokko toronto

New dad in Toronto starts up side hustle while working full time

A full-time strategy consultant and dad in Toronto has started up his own side hustle, and it's already getting into major chain stores.

Pokko is a rice and chickpea chip infused with spices from South Asia created by Sasha Rajamani, based off a formula from his mother. Its name is a variation the name of South Indian snack ribbon pakoda, and it comes in both an original and a spicy flavour.

While Pokko as a business started in 2019, Rajamani only began to focus on it more in 2021. He works full-time as a strategy consultant in the Business Planning and Finance Branch at the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade providing fiscal and policy advice.

"I started sharing it with colleagues at the office. I found it to be fun cooking for others but most importantly seeing their reaction. Most would devour it the moment I gave it to them," Rajamani tells blogTO.

"People would rave it was so addictive and something they'd never tasted before, and then order some more. I thought, maybe I'm onto something. Maybe there is an appetite for plant-based South Indian snacks."

As 2021 unfolded and Rajamani started focusing more on Pokko, he was faced with another challenge: the birth of his first child, Finn.

"He was at home with my wife, I was working full-time and for some reason... decided to start the business. Most of the business, such as cooking in a commercial kitchen, delivering the product, packing, meetings, etc. were done on weekends and evenings since I obviously had to work. I had come to somewhat resent growing this business," says Rajamani.

"However, it brought a new type of work fulfillment to my life. I am extremely fortunate to have my wife, Vanessa, who has been supportive since day one and pushed me to continue with this endeavour. Without her, and the support of my mother, who also helped me out with my 2021 trial, this wouldn't be possible."

Pokko chips are supposed to have a refreshing flavour that brings something new to the chip space, but they're also high in protein and fibre, and the imported Indian spices they're infused with like turmeric are supposed to be not only flavourful but have health benefits.

Pokko was a big seller at the now-closed GoodGood, with the chain placing around eight or nine orders within seven months. (An order consisting of anywhere from eight cases of 120g bags to 30 cases of 35g bags.)

"I still get a bit sad when I think of GoodGood closing its doors. They were an incredible company that genuinely wanted to support emerging Canadian brands," says Rajamani.

"We've focused on getting Pokko into independent stores in Ontario and Quebec since we officially launched in June 2022, but have seen some solid same-store velocity (re-orders) with some of our accounts including Pusateri's, Ambrosia, Organic Garage, La Moisson and La Boite a Grains to name a few."

They're now looking to tackle their biggest account yet with a provincial rollout in Longo's this month, and they're working to get on Amazon.

"I do work at my full-time job, yes I am busy, yes I take care of my son and spend non-negotiable time with him until he's in bed. I work a lot in the evenings and weekends, and sometimes take vacation days off for trade shows and industry events," says Rajamani.

"After my market trial, I had pitched to some experienced and credible industry people to join the team, i.e. sales, creative, distribution, finance, etc. Being able to delegate those tasks allows me to continue to work on the bigger picture."

Still, he's continuing to work at his full-time job, and has no plans to leave for now.

"I work with some incredibly bright people who I've had the opportunity to learn from which has served me well in applying those skills not only in my job but in other parts of my life, including the Pokko business," says Rajamani.

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