In the time of social media, where the world is in your palm, starting a business at home is certainly easier. But take a minute and imagine what it would have been like to start one before your network could like and share your work.
Ila Prakash Singh started her home catering and baking enterprise in an era before you could tap into the amazing potential of social media virality. Ila, who is almost 48 now, remembers her struggles in her initial days, the challenges she faced and how the advent of social media gave her home baking business new wings.
A hotel management graduate from Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA) in Manipal, Ila started her home bakery venture Truffle Tangles in Gurugram in 2007.
What started with an initial investment of approximately Rs 5,000 has grown exponentially, and, today, Ila makes about Rs 10,000 a day.
Today, she delivers over 40 varieties of bakery products such as cakes, cookies, chocolates, gluten free bread, desserts, artisanal bread; savoury items such as patty, stuffed buns, pizzas, and even curated gift hampers across NCR.
The Genesis of Truffle Tangles
After graduating from Manipal, Ila spent a decade working in the hospitality industry. She started her career in Bengaluru at the Windsor Manor Shertaon Hotel, spent two years working at Chola Sheraton in Chennai, and then moved on to Taj Bengal in Calcutta where she spent close to five years, in the Sales and Marketing division.
“It was the rigorous training that I received there that has helped me with my work.” Eventually, Ila got married and took a break to start a family. Subsequently, with her husband moving to Gurugram, she followed suit with six-month-old twins in tow.
For two-and-a-half years after the birth of her sons, Ila stayed at home and took care of them. “I did so many things before I ventured into cooking and baking,” she says. From multi-level marketing gigs to working with Amway, Oriflame, and many such others, somewhere along the way Ila realised that those weren’t her cup of tea.
The itch to get back to working in her domain and being productive kept surfacing in Ila.
It was a chance conversation with friend and neighbor Manmeet Kumar that led to the start of this journey for Ila. “I had worked with Ila at the Taj, and knew how passionate she was about her work. A few years later when I met her in Gurugram, it was after the birth of her twins and I remember a conversation in which she spoke strongly about wanting to do something.”
It was this chance conversation with Manmeet that sowed the seeds in Ila to become an entrepreneur. “I knew she would be successful because she is very meticulous about creating memories and experiences with food – for her customer satisfaction was very important. She was not someone who was meant to sit at home and I am happy to see her growth,” says Manmeet.
“With no menu and pretty much no concrete plan, I started my business,” she says. Armed with posters she made herself, she set out to start work. “I took out all the recipes that I used to work on during my days at Windsor Manor Sheraton and that was how I started,” she says, recollecting how all her advertising was homegrown.
“I used to go around my apartment complex and stick flyers with my contact details on it,” she says.
Initially, Ila catered to various birthday parties, she would do the complete menu, which included food and cakes. Many of the orders were from within her apartment complex which gave her the confidence to venture out and open up her business a little more.
A Chance For The Patisserie To Grow
Ila says, “This was also a time when there were hardly any dedicated patisseries in town and that helped my cause. My chocolate truffle cakes started doing really well. And that was pretty much how I started working on baking.”
Some of the bestsellers at Ila’s Truffle Tangles include truffle cake, fruit cakes, walnut brownie, the plum cake that she churns out every December, the stuffed buns, pizzas, and her signature Mishtidoi cheesecake.
Stalls – A Great Marketing Hack
Ila realised very early on that being able to serve her clients and interact directly with them was something she enjoyed. She started participating in various melas and exhibitions across Gurugram, which gave her good visibility.
“Just meeting the people that I had put in all that hard work for made me very happy. In one season, I would do almost 10 stalls, and the time I would take to make the goodies for one stall was almost three days. So do the math,” she says and chuckles.
“It is a lot of hard work to churn out the good stuff,” she says. All this was being done at a time when Ila only owned a built-in oven and one hand mixer. “You are taking me back and making me think of how I ever did everything I did,” she recalls with a smile.
Why A Home-Baker?
While Ila could have chosen to work outside the home, she chose to start her venture from home to be able to be around when her twin boys were growing up. “They were tiny tots when I started my business and for me to be around was super important,” she says. In doing so she was able to enjoy every small moment that her boys went through. “Those are priceless moments, and not for a moment do I regret my decision,” she says.
There were several opportunities to scale up, start classes, and expand the business, but, all throughout, Ila chose to work at her own pace to be able to spend time with her boys.
But that did not mean that work was easy.
“There are days when I work for almost 16 hours at a stretch to churn out all the goodies,” she says. It’s gratifying but also a rather tough business to be in. Ila is a stickler for detail and perfection, and hence is a one-woman-army, who does everything from preparation to proofing to the actual baking by herself. “I cannot remember the last time I took a break,” she says. In almost the same breath, she continues,, “Even if I did take a break, I wonder what I would do.”
As a former hospitality professional, Ila was used to long hours and strenuous work. “Independence came fairly early on to me. At my first job in Bangalore, I was the only woman amongst all the men at Windsor Manor Sheraton,” she recollects. The long hours, the intense training, and the discipline that the early jobs instilled in Ila are things that have shaped her journey.
Today, she spends between eight to fifteen hours a day baking and cooking, depending on how many orders she has for the day. “The lockdown period, when most businesses were going through a lull, was when I was working the most and the hardest,” she says.
Kavery Ganguly, a client who discovered Ila during the lockdown says, “I cannot be more thankful for having discovered Ila. As a family, we do not like going out too much; the lockdown further pushed us into staying at home. Ila and her food has been a true revelation during this period.” The walnut brownies and the breads that Ila bakes are a big hit at the Ganguly household.
Having ordered from Ila, she says that not just her attention to detail but the honesty she brings to her work is what is commendable. “Ila, unlike many other professional bakers I have met, does not try to sell her food in any way. She is honest and tells you clearly how much you should be ordering.”
From Kosha Mangsho to Mishtidoi cheesecake
Debangshu Das, who has known Ila for over a decade, says, “We, my wife and I, became fans of Ila’s cooking way before all this Facebook came into being. Today, if there is an occasion to order, we only call Ila.”
There was a time when both Das and his wife were unwell and he recollects being pampered by homemade, nutritious, appetizing food. “From the Kosha Mangsho to the cakes and patties, we have tried it all.” When asked about a family favourite, he is quick to mention the mishtidoi cheesecake, which he says perfectly brings together the traditional mishtodoi taste and that of a cheesecake.
The Wind Beneath Her Wings
Like it is often said about women being silent supporters in their husband’s success, Ila found that support in her husband, Raaj. “Other than my own work, I did not need to lift a finger for the housework, especially during the lockdown period. From managing the laundry, to taking care of the boys, helping them with their academics, cleaning the house, putting together breakfast, and managing the house – the boys and Raaj do it all,” she says.
During the lockdown period, Raaj also managed the deliveries for Ila. “All through the lockdown period, Raj has been the one to take the food out for delivery,” she says adding that she has done everything to make her life and work easier – having invested in every gadget possible. dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, a robot to clean the house, and floor mops of all shapes and sizes. All it requires is for someone to work it and that reduces the burden on her.
Stress is a particular bedfellow of parents. Having started a home business with the express reason of being around her children. Ila still hears her boys complain. Her boys have often told Ila that she is not there for them. “They are free from school over the weekends, but that happens to be the busiest days for me and I am not available for them,” she says with a tinge of sadness in her voice. “It is the flip side of what I do. I cannot say no to any work that comes my way. I am built that way,” she says.
“Always do the right thing – even if it takes you time to get to your final destination, do it right,” is what Ila’s father always said to her and these are the words that she started her business with and continues to follow.
If one were to put a finger on the reason why Ila has courted success, it has to be her attention to detail and the commitment she brings to her work. If you would like to place an order or reach out to Ila, you can reach her via her Facebook page here or call at +91-9818227512. Truffle Tangles does pan-India delivery, so call now.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)