In July, The Better India spoke to Sangeetha, a 60-year-old Coimbatore-based transwoman, who has been successfully running The Sangeetha Catering Service, one of the most popular catering services in the city, since 2014.
As the president of the Coimbatore District Transgenders Welfare Association, she was using the Association’s and her personal savings to extend monetary and other kinds of help to hundreds of people.
Since the lockdown was extended and the situation worsened, we followed up with her and were happy to see that he had come up with a long-term solution for her community.
Starting A Business in Pandemic
“When the lockdown was imposed in March, I knew that it would be a challenging time for several people. So, I decided to step up and help by using my savings. Later, the state government and a few generous donors also pitched in. But even as I was doing that, I realised that a long-term plan to sustain ourselves was needed. The movement restrictions and social distancing protocol would only intensify, and the resultant decrease in social gatherings such as weddings, birthdays and other celebrations would severely affect the six-year-old business. I did not want to be in a position where all my savings would be completely depleted,” says Sangeetha.
So, she decided to open a restaurant named Covai Trans Kitchen’ in RS Puram on 2 September.
“Humans cannot win over nature, and finding a cure is probably going to take a long time. So, we decided to change our business strategy to suit the current situation,” says Sangeetha.
Pappamma,36, who has been hired as a chef at the restaurant, says this is her first stable job.
“Earlier, I was working as a helper for chefs catering at weddings and other events. I would help with cutting vegetables, grinding ingredients, and sometimes cooking a dish. However, my livelihood was not very stable but now I am grateful to work as a cook here,” she informs TBI.
According to Sangeetha, learning or polishing existing skills is the first and most crucial step to starting a new business.
Though the handpicked staff of 10 had years of culinary experience, she insisted that they undergo a 20-day free cooking course at the CSI Bishop Appasamy College even prior to starting the kitchen. There, they learnt new biryani recipes, how to make parottas, other rice dishes and bakery products, among other things.
“We know the pulse of Coimbatoreans: they love our biryani. But now we can also offer cookies, pastries, North Indian and Chinese dishes alongside our signature biriyani,” Lakshmi, a transwoman and staff member told Indian Express.
“They also trained us on how to run a restaurant and apply for a Food Safety and Standards Authority licence,” says Sangeetha, adding that they approached a couple of investors to fund the restaurant. Since she is a known face and has already run a successful venture, the process was relatively easy.
“In August, we reached out to a couple of NGOs whom we have worked with in the past. They trusted our culinary skills but had concerns about hygiene. Knowing the seriousness of the situation, we assured them of taking all precautionary measures. That is how United Way of Chennai and Swasti (Bengaluru) came on board,” says Sangeetha.
And what are these measures?
“Well, the restaurant has 32 seats that allow only two people to occupy each table. To keep the kitchen and premises clean, the staff members clean and sanitize the place at regular intervals daily. All the workers and chefs wear masks at all times;vegetables and other food items are all sanitised thoroughly before cooking,” says Sangeetha
The restaurant provides breakfast, lunch and dinner; depending on how positive the response is, the community will open more such outlets across the city.
Millions of people in the organised and unorganised sector have lost their jobs in the lockdown and the general perception is that of a bleak future. In such testing times, stories like those of Sangeetha and her team are inspiring..
Edited by Vinayak Hegde