A Lovely Mix

For the love of food and family, we turn our bellies to two food businesses that are built upon love, with love. 

(Left) Gaurav and his wife, Aarti from Masala Express. (Right) Frantz, his wife Katherine, and her brother Adrien from SaladStop!. Image courtesy of Gaurav Kala and Adrien Desbaillets.

When the passion for great food is ignited at home, make a business out of it. That’s exactly what two families did. Here, Gaurav Kala, Co-founder of Masala Express, and Adrien Desbaillets, Co-founder and CEO of SaladStop!, step out of the kitchen to give us an insight into how they share their love through comforting and nutritious food alongside their families cum business partners.


A Taste of Home

Tucked away in a cosy corner of Asia Square Tower 2 stands Masala Express, the brainchild of married couple, Gaurav and Aarti Kala, that launched in 2022. Don’t let its size fool you, the humble outlet whips up flavourful North Indian dishes with a taste that's larger than life, filling the bellies and hearts of hungry office workers everyday.

The couple met eight years ago through a mutual friend and tied the knot two years later. For them, starting a food business was a long time coming as they had a dream to bring expats like themselves a familiar taste of home, as well as to introduce authentic Indian food to Singapore. However, it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic uprooted their lives that they decided it was as good a time as ever to hit the reset button and give this dream a go—a real blessing in disguise if you ask us


Serving up home-made recipes that have been passed down generations, Masala Express' dishes are as authentic as Indian food gets. Image courtesy of Gaurav Kala.

If you’ve tried any of the mouth-watering dishes from Masala Express, chances are it was cooked by Gaurav himself! On a typical day, the co-founder also doubles as a store manager, overseeing the operations and staff members in the store while his wife provides back-end support for the kitchen by handling vendors and deliveries. With different roles to play, working together came naturally for the pair; they didn’t see any other way to go about the business than with each other.

That’s not to say that the journey has been a bed of roses. One of the most common pitfalls of working relationships is that the line between professional and personal relationships often become blurred, which is why many couples prefer to keep things separate.

Gaurav and Aarti are not immune to the struggle, especially in trying times during economic downturns.   In fact, one of the biggest obstacles they face is having work follow them home. In fact, a simple after-hours discussion can quickly become the only topic of conversation between both parties outside of work. On top of that, being equally involved in the business means double the pressure on their shoulders.

To overcome the stresses of the demanding F&B industry, they make sure to take time off at least once a week, sometimes for just a few hours, stepping as far away from work as possible to relax and unwind.

"Working with my wife, Aarti, has made me see her in a new light, and we both have newfound respect for each other.”

Gaurav Kala on running a business with his wife, Aarti

As challenging as the journey may be, travelling down this road together makes it all worth it for the couple, who still fondly remember the first day they opened for business in 2022 after years of dreaming, planning, and hard work.

When asked about the next step for Masala Express, Gaurav shared two goals in the making, the first being to set up a central kitchen for multiple expansions. More ambitiously, the founders hope to start a North Indian fine dining restaurant that features the recipes they’ve picked up over the years. As a window into their culture, Gaurav and Aarti wish for Masala Express to remain open well into the foreseeable future, creating a sustainable foundation for the next generation to build upon. 

Even after six years of marriage, Aarti (L) and Gaurav (C) keep the spark alive outside of work by trying new foods together, binging on television shows, and playing games on the PlayStation. Image courtesy of Gaurav Kala.

Now, how can we talk about their food without giving you Chef Gaurav’s recommendation? If you’re looking for a popular North Indian dish, Gaurav says that nothing beats the Rajma Rice, an aromatic kidney bean curry served over basmati rice. As for a non-vegetarian option, you should try the Chicken Biryani, which is prepared in the authentic dum style where the marinated chicken is cooked in the same pot as the rice.

Masala Express - Asia Sqaure Tower 2, #02-01


The Green Revolution

Started in 2009 by a family with a shared dream of creating a more conscious way of eating, SaladStop! has since delivered its promise of bringing healthy food to the masses, and is now an international salad chain with 14 outlets in Singapore alone. Behind its success is a power trio—Chief Executive Officer, Adrien Desbaillets; Chief Brand Officer, Katherine Braha Desbaillets (Adrien’s sister); and Chief Growth Officer, Frantz Braha (Katherine's husband).

“In a world where speed and time are paramount, we oftentimes get carried away and forget to appreciate the food that fuels us and keeps us going. “Eat Wide Awake” is our commitment to finding the best possible ingredients to feed the mind and body, by taking into consideration the environment as well as the food chain.”

Adrien Desbaillets on what drives the company’s motto

SaladStop! provides a colourful selection of health foods that bring a new approach to fast food. Image courtesy of Adrien Desbaillets.

Adrien, Frantz, and Katherine work incredibly closely together, and greatly rely on one another’s support. In short, Adrien oversees the direction and operation, Frantz drives strategic partnerships, and Katherine leads the overall marketing and spearheads sustainability efforts—all working parts that cannot exist without the other.

Hence, a lot of effort goes to staying in sync both professionally and personally. For the founding family, this venture is not only a business, but also a vehicle for the greater good. As such, their close-knit relationship has been the bedrock of their success. Outside of work, the three ensure that their relationships stay strong by taking off their business hats and investing in quality time together. t afloat; for effective solutions to be reached, what’s most important is to listen to their needs. Mothers know what mothers need best, so having regular check-ins or feedback portals are exceptional ways to make them feel heard, valued, and supported. 

However, with multiple leaders, conflicts are inevitable, even if they're driven by a shared purpose.

Through the ups and downs, the biggest lesson the team has learnt about working hand-in-hand is the importance of humility—putting egos aside, listening to one another in open conversations, and turning disagreements into constructive feedback. Once they recognised that each member brings a different perspective and skill set to the table, they used their aligned values as a strength and created a culture of closeness that in turn influenced the rest of the team and paved the way forward for SaladStop!.

Of the numerous achievements that brought SaladStop! to greater heights, the flagship net zero concept store at CapitaSpring stands out as a huge milestone for the family and company. Adrien proudly recalls the entire journey, from printing tiles out of recycled bottle caps at the National Design Centre, to collaborating with like-minded partners such as Deliveroo to provide carbon neutral food delivery and Muuse to offer free reusable takeout borrowing services, to working with CapitaLand on this vision, expressing their excitement to use this as a blueprint for the next transformation of all future stores. 

Conscious living doesn't stop at home. Beyond the business, Adrien (pictured) and his family experiment with plant-based recipes and explore sustainable practices, such as ways to reduce their transport emissions. Image courtesy of Adrien Desbaillets.

For Frantz Braha, (L) the decision to join his wife, Katherine’s (R) family business was not a difficult one as he saw SaladStop! as the perfect vehicle to build a life together while contributing to the greater good. Image courtesy of Adrien Desbaillets.

So what exactly is the secret to making healthy food delicious? Adrien reveals that the freshness of ingredients is fundamental, followed by ensuring enough flavours and textures such that every mouthful is well-balanced and remains interesting until the very last bite. In the pursuit to redefine what is “healthy”, that has translated to an application of a cross cultural lens to localise, adapt, and innovate in order to cater to the many palates in the region.

SaladStop! — CapitaSpring, #01-03; Capital Tower, #01-05

It’s not easy running a business, let alone having the added element of intricate familial ties. After speaking to both families, it’s clear that love is at the centre of their pursuits, perhaps a reason for their continued success.

If Gaurav and Adrien’s words weren’t enough to warm your hearts, their food sure will. The next time you indulge in a plate of roti and curry at Masala Express, or a refreshing bowl of salad at SaladStop!, think of the dedicated families pouring their love into each hearty meal—we promise the food will taste that much sweeter!

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