Jag Arora isn’t joking. The MCTC alum and owner of Tiffin Man, the College’s new internationally influenced cafeteria, had just over two weeks between when he was offered to step in and run the MCTC cafeteria and the day the doors opened for the beginning of the fall semester.
When Jag was 16 years old, his uncle sponsored him and his parents to move from India into the basement of his downtown Minneapolis home. He started 11th grade at Roseville High School.
“My dad brought $50 and three suitcases, and we moved straight into my uncle’s basement. It was a very humble start to this journey. My parents knew if they didn’t come here, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I now have—but still, it took two to three years for me to just start communicating with people.”
After high school, Jag wanted to go on to college, but his family didn’t have much money. “When I wanted to buy a bottle of water on campus, my mom told me I could go home and drink water,” he said. To save money on college, Jag decided community college was the way to go. He started his path at MCTC in 2001.
While pursuing his degree in Computer Networking, Jag made ends meet by working at local restaurants. It was a sign of things to come. “I started cooking more at home, and eventually, cooking overtook my interest in computer networking.”
Jag’s path after graduation took him to Metropolitan State University where he transferred and, a few years later, received his bachelor’s degree in Business Management. “I wanted to learn how to be a manager so I could work for myself and start my own business.”
Jag and a few business partners opened a deli on Harmon Place—right in his old backyard—in 2009. Larger grocery stores honed in on the neighborhood, but Jag’s business model and employees persevered. “We innovated our menu to stay relevant and connect with our customers.”
One day Jag’s quality business and friendly personality landed him an incredible offer: The former operator of the MCTC cafeteria just one block away had left the College, leaving an opening for a new food service provider. Could Jag, his business model and his employees step in to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner for a college of 11,000 students? And could he start in two weeks?
He could. And he did.
“Once I accepted the offer, my employees and I had all sorts of ideas about how to make things better,” said Jag. “We’d serve new, internationally themed food as well as the classic burgers and fries. And we’d do it all better.”
From the day he received the offer to take over operation of the MCTC cafeteria, Jag’s intent for his “Tiffin Man Cafeteria” was to use the best ingredients and cook as much from scratch as possible. “If you go into my freezer, about the only thing in there is fries. Part of our excitement comes from the opportunity to create global food. My chefs are skilled, and we have the state-of-the-art equipment to do it.“
Jag kept the old cafeteria’s sandwich station, but started sourcing his produce from high-quality providers like Boar’s Head and the local Cut Fruit Express. “We’re using better meats, breads and produce, and everything is only good for 24 hours. That’s the commitment we’re bringing to campus,” he said.
The Tiffin Man
In British slang, “tiffing” means to take a little drink. In India, a “tiffin” is a mid-day meal or lunch box. For Jag, it was his childhood. “I was brought up taking my tiffin to school.” Now Jag offers a tiffin to the students at MCTC, who can order everything from freshly assembled burgers and hot fries to falafel and burritos in the same day. In addition to his commitment to quality and diverse menu offerings, Jag humbly pays his chefs, cooks and cashiers a generous living wage.
“My family looks back today and recalls that moment when we couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of water,” said Jag.
“When you go through emotional hurdles with family, money and hardship, it makes you a better person. It makes you humble about what you’ve achieved. I know I worked hard on my path to success, and I’ll never take an opportunity for granted.”