Patricia Narayan can be best described as the flower that blooms in adversity. As the director of the Sandeepha Chain of restaurants in Chennai, Patricia is a celebrated entrepreneur.
While seeming like a quintessential rags-to-riches story, her life is an empowering tale of perseverance and survival.
Patricia was born into a conservative Christian family from Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu. The eldest of three siblings, Patricia’s parents were both government employees. Her childhood was a bed of roses with her parents providing for all her needs and wants. She was a student at the Queen Mary’s College, and it was here that she met Narayan, her ex-husband.
Much against the wishes of her family, she decided to marry Narayan, a Hindu-Brahmin boy in 1977, when she was all of 17. This led to both families cutting ties with the couple.
A few months into the marriage, Patricia found that Narayan was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He also abused her regularly. A year of looking after her inebriated husband, fending for their finances, and caring for their two kids, Patricia decided to walk out of the marriage.
She was only 18 years old then.
She had absolutely no support from her family. Eventually, though, her father took them in and gave them refuge.
A passion turned into a livelihood
After leaving her husband, Patricia had to re-invent herself.
She remembered that she enjoyed cooking and experimenting in the kitchen while growing up. Her dishes were also well received by many people.
She realised that she could use that skill to support herself and her kids.
In an interview with Passion Connect, she said, “It was a question of survival for me. I knew I should either succumb to the burden or fight; I decided to fight my lonely battle.”
Her earliest memory of cooking on order was making squashes, jams, and pickles. She had borrowed money from her mother to make these and sold them to her colleagues. When all her preparations were sold out on the first day, she grew more confident about her culinary skills.
A kiosk at Marina beach
The next step was to sell to a larger group. It was then that she decided to take up a kiosk at one of Chennai’s busiest public spots–Marina beach. She started making and selling cutlets, samosas, bhajjis, fresh juice, coffee and tea: food items that people would like when strolling by the beach.
She did this for a few years.
What kept her going was that she was making enough to sustain her small family. The maximum amount she earned from her kiosk, she recollects, was Rs 25,000 a day.
Looking at her dedication to her work and the quality of the food she made, the Chairman of the Slum Clearance Board offered her a run at the office canteen in 1984.
This was another turning point in her life.
The opportunity opened many more doors for her, and soon, she was handling the catering for the canteens at the Bank of Madurai and the National Port Trust Management School. She was serving 700 kids at the school each day.
From a kiosk to a restaurant
In 1998, with her first monthly payment of Rs 80,000, she decided to enter into a partnership with the Sangeetha group in Chennai, a well-established restaurant chain in the city.
Things seemed to be on the right track when in 2004, tragedy struck and Patricia lost her newly-married daughter and son-in-law in a road accident.
Named after her late daughter, Sandeepha, the restaurant is very dear to Patricia’s heart. After the accident, Patricia spent close to two years in mourning. Finally, when she was ready to return to work, she was far more resilient.
Patricia told Passion Connect, “Everybody should have a motto in life to succeed. At that time, mine was to stand by my son. I started my business with just two people. Now, there are 200 people working for me in my restaurants. From 50 paise a day, my revenue has gone up to Rs 2 lakh a day.”
The recipient of the FICCI Woman Entrepreneur of the year in 2010, Patricia is not one to give up on her dreams. She has taken the challenges of life head-on and made a success of them.
Here’s hoping that her resilience and determination inspire many others.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)