From ticking the empty box in my school admission form to the common question of, “what does your mother do?” I always wondered why my reply was often met with a cold response. “She is a housewife,” I would say, and a short “oh” would follow.
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As a matter of fact, she was and is one of the busiest and most hard-working beings I have ever met in my life. With not a single day of leave to her claim, she has spent most of her life, working and so the condescending nature of the “oh” bothered me.
So, today, when I write about the journey of a splendid woman who claimed her destiny by becoming an entrepreneur, I will not state the objectionable cliché—how a housewife became a successful businesswoman.
Just like my mother, she was and is successful—whether as a homemaker or as someone managing her multi-crore company.
“Sometimes it’s about pushing yourself in a certain direction, and then see what follows,” she says looking back at her life, which has had its fair share of struggle, but also a plethora of rewards.
She is Nita Mehta, a homemaker, a teacher, a celebrity chef, an author and an entrepreneur.
Despite being a person with such a wide arc of experience, she, however, does not feel pressured. “If you love doing something, then it’s not a burden. For years I loved taking care of my home. There was no regret, and after some years of marriage, there came a time when I had the opportunity to do more, something for myself, so I did. And, that was just the beginning!”
A Teacher and A Celebrity Chef
Back in 1985, Nita found herself with an opportunity to teach. Inspired by her mother, she always harboured a knack for cooking, and so started taking cooking classes for Rs 100 per student for four days, at her home in Delhi.
“My tryst with cooking classes was something that I did for myself, as well as my family. My husband’s business was undergoing some stress, and I wanted to do my best to contribute. But, before beginning to teach, I decided to do some research to find out the current trends in cooking classes. Honestly, upon attending some, I found them repetitive and boring. That’s when I decided to do something different and started ice-cream making classes,” she shares.
Nita’s starting point was Nirula’s, an ice cream parlour that offered 21 flavours, which was a big deal at this time. She would taste each flavour and recreate to teach her students. Slowly, the popularity of her classes rose, as did the number of students per batch.
“From 25, it soon became 40, and eventually, there was a waitlist. People from different walks of life, both women and men, were coming for the classes. It became a place for not just cooking and learning but also socialising. This was a class where you could make and eat ice-cream. Who would’ve not liked that!” laughs Nita, who would generously share her cooking tips and secrets with her students, making the classes even more exciting and rewarding, all with zero investment!
From ice-creams, she moved towards cuisines, like Chinese, Mughlai and Continental, on public request.
“I would first visit restaurants to try the dishes and then experiment at home, before teaching them. During classes, I would never fuss about pushing the students to learn the recipes. Instead, I would give them handouts. This way, my students and I learnt together and we acknowledged mistakes and rectifying them. That way they were never repeated, by any of them,” adds Nita who by then had grown to become a celebrity chef of sorts.
All this eventually led to the formation of Nita Mehta Culinary Academy in New Delhi, in 2001.
Having successfully made her mark as a culinary expert, Nita had now set out to test different waters.
“In 1993, I decided to write my cookbook, Vegetarian Wonders. However, once it was finished, no publisher agreed to publish it stating that cookbooks didn’t do well. With the support of my husband, I broke my fixed deposits to self-publish it, something that was a very new concept at the time. But, sadly it didn’t do too well and sold just 3,000 copies that year,” she shares.
However, instead of taking it as a failure, Nita learnt from her mistakes and realised that her cookbook, although original was written in a format that was already done to death.
This led to her next book, Paneer All the Way, a concise booklet with a relatively untapped focus on just paneer—from starters, main course to desserts. And the response was phenomenal!It sold 3,000 copies in only a few weeks!
With this mantra in place, Nita went on to write over 400 books, with her Flavours of Indian Cooking winning the World Cook Book Fair Award in Paris, in 1997.
On the hindsight, from the first book to the last, all were self-published under another venture, Snab Publishers that she and her husband started in 1994. What began with Rs 4 lakhs now has a turnover of more than Rs 4 crore!
The next step for Nita was more significant. Her cooking methods and recipes worked and had gathered mass appreciation, pushing her to start Nita Mehta Spices in 2016.
“A secret my mother taught me was to use homemade spices. I would never go for readymade masalas and instead use the ones I had ground and mixed. But, it was a tedious task, so that gave me the idea to share them not just with my students but the world. All the 30 varieties of spices you see in my range are the same ones that I use at home,” says Nita, whose company had a turnover of Rs 3 crore in the very first year.
Her latest venture is Nita Mehta Foods which was started in 2017, and is available only in NCR, for now.
Unlike readymade instant foods with preservatives, these products are boxes of freshly cut ready-to-cook ingredients for various recipes.
“To avoid wastage or compromise in quality, they are delivered on a pre-order basis. Just like a good restaurant prepares a fresh meal, we prepare the ingredients and send a box of it with spices and instructions,” says the 67-year-old.
Today her entire family is a part of Nita Mehta Private Limited, whose collective turnover amounts to over Rs 7 crore.
Indeed, it is true that success cannot always be measured in numbers, because, for Nita, it is measured in pride. “It’s important for women especially to love themselves and love their work to prosper,” she concludes with a confident smile.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)