The process of cooking is like a science experiment. Treat your kitchen as a scientific lab and replace chemicals with love, shares Jayanti Kathale, a software engineer-turned-restaurateur, speaking to The Better India (TBI).
The founder of Purnabramha chain of all-veg restaurants specialising in authentic Marathi cuisine staunchly adheres to the advice she received from her ajji (grandmother) almost 30 years ago.
Jayanti grew up in a family where each festival and special occasion saw the presence of a minimum of 30 people. Cooking, naturally, was like a carnival.
Everyone, irrespective of age and gender, was mandated to help in preparing meals that ranged from appetisers to desserts. With so many people flocking in and out of the kitchen, it was like a madhouse, she recalls fondly.
She credits her upbringing that helped her translate her passion for the Marathi cuisine into eleven restaurants across India and Australia.
From the spice-laced Misal Pav, Dal Ka Dulha, Sabudana Wada to the sweet Shrikhand Puri and Puran Poli, Jayanti’s restaurants offer a wide range of true Marathi flavour.
The Germination of a Seed of Thought
Eating out was a rare event in Jayanti’s family for two reasons — their financial status and the belief in the fact that home-cooked food is the most nutritious.
As Jayanti grew up eating and learning how to cook from her mother and ajji, she became proficient at home-style Marathi gastronomy.
When she shifted to Australia in 2006 to take up a job in an IT firm, the dearth of Indian food was a sore point. For a gourmand like Jayanti, who could not eat desi food if it was not cooked at home, trusting food outside India was a struggle. Once she discussed this with her friends, they too echoed her vexations.
To help her friends and colleagues, Jayanti created an account on Orkut and put up a post asking for orders for home-made ‘Modaks’ (jaggery and coconut stuffed sweet dumplings prepared during Ganesh Chaturthi). The spur-of-the-moment whim garnered her an overwhelming response.
“That was my first stint at offering home-made food to people. Two years later, I moved to Bengaluru to join Infosys as a Project Manager. But my love for spreading happiness through food did not subside. I continued to take orders during festivals and occasions,” she shares.
One of the orders proved to be a turning point in her life. Despite a promise of home delivery, an old man showed up at Jayanti’s doorstep to take sweets.
It was Diwali and he desperately wanted sweets for his ailing wife. Their children were abroad and he wanted to surprise her by giving her sweets that reminded her of the olden days. In a very small way I was able to fill their emotional void. That incident made me scale up my work, says the 40-year-old.
She spent the next three years researching about Maharashtrian food, “I was carrying a huge responsibility of representing my state. I wanted to tell people that our cuisine is beyond poha and vada pav. I wanted to be absolutely sure of every ingredient and process that I was going to use.”
To fund her dream, she continued her job and even took loans from her friends to set up a small food eatery in a garage.
For the next two years, Jayanti worked around the clock managing her family, job and her venture. “My days would begin at 3.30 am and end around midnight. Before leaving for office, I would cook dishes, work for nine hours, come home and prepare for the next day. Those days were a real struggle.”
Towards Entrepreneurship and Challenges it brought
Jayanti got her first restaurant in Bengaluru’s HSR layout after a suggestion from a customer at her eatery to use bank schemes for Women Entrepreneurs.
Initial days were rough and financial losses were many. Jayanti had to take a personal loan and her husband Pranav also pitched in. She even had to sell her jewellery, take money from friends and even delay salary payment of her employees.
“A majority of my employees are women who did not complain once about the delay. In fact, they have been my morale boosters throughout,” says Jayanti.
Everything seemed like it was slipping away, but Jayanti did not stop dreaming big, “Both my parents were sports teachers and they have always taught me to look forward and persevere till I reach the goal. These setbacks were my key to go forward.”
Her consistent efforts paid when she slowly built her gastronomic empire upon the success of her restaurants in Bengaluru. Purnabramha soon had chains in Mumbai, Pune, Amravati and eventually expanding its reach to Brisbane in Australia.
What makes Purnabramha a one-of-its-kind.
Seventy per cent of the workforce in each restaurant is female. The restaurant also has floor sitting for people wanting to experience the traditional way of eating.
Inspired by the diverse regions of Maharashtra, Jayanti has one day of the week dedicated to a regional thali like Mahalakshmi Thali from Kolhapur and Shiv Thali from Konkan. For children, they have special Balgopal Thali.
Every one hour, an employee goes around the place and serves water to his/her fellow colleagues to ensure everyone stays hydrated and chefs that Jayanti herself trains, cook against a background of soothing music.
Another interesting feature is Jayanti’s efforts to reduce food waste. Customer who do not leave leftovers get a five percent discount and in case of leftovers then 2 per cent charge is levied.
Over the years, Jayanti has amassed a regular customer base and memories of perfect times. But her all-time favourite remains of eminent author Sudha Murthy.
Sudha ma’am has been my inspiration and meeting her was surreal. She dined with the staff and blessed everyone. Narayan sir could not make it so he called and asked me to send khichdi with Sudha ma’am. I was on cloud nine for a very long time.
Jayanti also takes care of her staff by helping them enrol their kids in schools and if any kid shows an interest in Hotel Management then she gives them hands-on training in her restaurants.
The lessons the working mother has learnt came from various sources–parents, friends, mistakes made and even from her children. Being a mother and staying away from her children was the most difficult.
She recalls how one night her son saw her sitting on their bed and crying for not being able to give them enough time. “He told me how he had completed his homework and other activities before coming to bed. He told me to do my work till I accomplish what I needed to. It was such a simple advice and yet so profound,” she says.
Though all the struggles, her biggest source of strength has been her husband, followed by family who stuck by her all the way.
“My journey has just begun and I have a long way to go. My ultimate dream is to open 5,000 outlets across the globe and provide authentic desi food that every Indian craves for,” smiles the woman who is truly a domestic goddess.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)