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“Sometimes life can take the worst of turns, and shock you awake,” says Durga Menon, owner of Lluvia Bakery, whose life changed once she received the devastating news of her father-in-law’s demise in 2004 due to a rare form of cancer, Multiple Myeloma (also known as farmer’s cancer).
“We were devastated to hear the news. Everything changed after that and we began to see all that went wrong. We found that pesticides are one of the main causes of this cancer. This pushed us into adopting a preventive and healthier lifestyle and we went all-organic,” she adds.
Durga Menon (47) and her husband (50), Srihari Reddy, had been living in the US at the time. The passing away of a loved one and its potential reasons propelled the duo to switch to a completely organic diet. And though the couple also began to inspire friends and family, they knew in their hearts they wanted to do more.
Inspired to take a step back and reevaluate the purpose of their lives, the techies decided to take a bold step.
They quit their jobs and moved back to India. Wanting to help underprivileged women in their hometown, a small village Peelivaram, Karnataka, the couple began creating local Self-Help Groups, upskilling the women and extending soft loans to help them earn a living.
Also, seeing Durga’s passion for baking, her husband encouraged her to pursue the same along with their village initiative. The couple found true success when Durga launched her all-organic Lluvia Bakery in the backroom of their Sarjapur home with the help of her husband and five trainee employees, in January 2010.
In the past 10 years, Lluvia Bakery has employed and upskilled more than 150 people changing their lives for the better.
Listening to their Hearts: From Techies to Bakery Owners
Durga and her husband were like any ordinary Indian couple settled in the US. They were both engineers who had moved abroad in pursuit of better opportunities and were working for a reputed IT company. But, there was something amiss.
Their lives had fallen into a mundane routine, especially for Durga who also nursed a passion for baking. However, the age-old passion vs profession dilemma pulled her back every time she gathered up the courage to follow it through. At this time, the couple received the news that Reddy’s father had taken ill. They came to India for a brief period in 2004 to take care of him, but he sadly succumbed to the disease soon.
The duo became listless after the loss, their minds were torn. The need to transform their lifestyle into a healthier one soon became paramount and they decided to go all-organic.
And the need to do something meaningful for people became stronger with each passing day after the duo heard a speech by the 2006 Nobel Prize Winner, Muhammad Yunus.
“I remember watching this speech by Muhammad Yunus. My husband and I were inspired by his micro-credit and social enterprise initiatives. At the time, we both were in a state where we felt like we were doing nothing worthwhile for society. And that speech about uplifting the economically backward by empowering and enabling them through development skills really opened our eyes,” says Durga.
As the call grew stronger, the duo could not resist its pull.
“After moving back to India in 2009, we started with creating Self Help Groups (SHGs) and giving soft loans. However, the physical distance between the village and our house in Bengaluru allowed for a big on-ground gap to emerge and the project failed. So the next year, from 2009 to 2010, I began to formulate a plan of action for a bakery. From then on, I started training all the women who came to me asking for work as household help, slowly building the workforce,” explains the techie-turned-baker.
With a plan set in mind, the duo launched their entrepreneurial venture – Lluvia Bakery where Durga trains people and her husband takes care of the strategy and marketing side of the business.
Baking a Launching Pad
“In addition to the line of our quality products, a major focus here is to enable growth for our employees, both men and women. Through the skills training in baking as well as management of a business, we are trying to provide them with a launching pad for their careers,” says Durga who had pursued a bread-baking course in the US. Though initially, they started with training women, especially single mothers, the up-skilling programme soon began to include men too.
And many of them have learned from their experience at the bakery and have graduated to starting their own business. One such ex-employee is Magamma, who wanted to learn the in and outs of a business before starting a catering service of her own. Although she hasn’t been able to kickstart that, she now successfully runs a midday-meal service for schools.
Meanwhile, Durga’s professional journey through the chequered path has had its own share of ups and downs. Lluvia Bakery has endured and survived a lot of challenges like creating a demand for organic food, getting their first commercially prominent order from the famed fashion designer Satya Paul, getting investors and bearing months-long financial crunch. But the venture has successfully sailed through the last decade and has established itself as one of the few trusted and prominent organic bakeries in India.
Be it granola bars or glutenfree crackers, Lluvia Bakery has carved itself a niche today.
Talking about the source of her perseverance and motivation, Durga shares, “When I was in school my mother would bake a special black forest cake with wheat flour and brandy. Those beautiful memories of eating sweet treats coated over healthy foods are my source of inspiration and motivation to continue. There have been several challenges to keep the company afloat especially because organic food was not always popular. Things are however changing now and although still niche, our bakery has a much wider scope of possibilities.”
One of the first bakeries in the city to take the organic route, at Lluvia Bakery, Durga and her team with their ever-innovative, tasty and healthy sweet treats, are ensuring tangible positive change, one bite at a time.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)