CINCINNATI — Ben Ranly was vacationing with his brother and a longtime friend in Europe last September when the trio fell into a philosophical discussion.
“We were thinking of life goals and where we wanted to be,” the 25-year-old said of the conversation he had with his brother Phillip Ranly, 32, and Ronaldo Gillespie, also 25. “Ronaldo thought of a walk-up window concept he wanted to pursue."
Six months later, they are owners of Injoy Street Food, a two-wheeled food cart that sells tikkasala and saag on weekends at Findlay Market.
“When we got home we were like, 'Let’s actually try this out,'” said Phillip Ranly of Gillespie's goal of owning an eatery.
Phillip Ranly works in marketing research. Ben Ranly worked in internet technology at the time. Gillespie enjoys cooking but had only worked in a few small restaurants.
The friends modified their goal in October when the realities of opening a brick-and-mortar location set in.
“We had started meeting with SCORE, and we pretty quickly realized it was hard to get people to give three unproven guys money,” Phillip Ranly said. SCORE is a local organization that helps small business owners and startups get off the ground.
They then turned to the internet for ideas on how to scale their food concept to one they could finance and gain experience in executing. They settled on fast-casual Indian cuisine because they felt the food filled a niche in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.
The trio ended up with a food cart after browsing Craigslist.
“It just happened serendipitously,” Ben Ranly said. "We found this custom-made cart that used to sell hot dogs.”
The three friends removed the cart’s burners and hot dog steamer, fabricated parts to meet their needs and installed speakers to entertain customers waiting for orders. A mutual friend from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning came up with the line design on the cart. Phillip Ranly designed the Injoy logo and menu layout.
Ben Ranly said by the time they finished rehabbing the cart it felt “like the fourth member of the team.”
The Ranlys and Gillespie also spent months modifying their favorite saag and tikkasala recipes. They created unique vegan and other versions of Indian cuisine by adding fresh ingredients and and their own take.
“We give you something super awesome, but bonus, it is super healthy for you, too,” Gillespie said. “There are so many different ways to experience these dishes.”
The owners opened their cart at Findlay Market in May and have received positive feedback. Injoy’s dishes are sold in either handheld bowls or Roti Roll wraps. Customers can garnish orders with various items like peanuts and different sauces.
Phillip Ranly said the market is a great place to let them "figure things out.”
“That’s one thing we found — all of these different people have been willing to give us advice and help,” he said.
Ben Ranly quit his full-time IT job of three years to take the cart to other places during the week. He has set up shop twice in the parking lot of Longworth Hall for lunchtime crowds there.
The group posts updated hours and locations on Injoy's Facebook page.
The three friends said starting their own business has been a fulfilling experience so far. They hope that happiness is reflected in their interaction with customers and the food.
“We are here for that," Gillespie said. "Let’s just chill for a moment and enjoy it.”
He said that his ultimate goal is still to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the future.
“Trial and error will get you places,” Ben Ranly said. "There’s been a lot of experimenting.”