“I have loved cooking since childhood,” begins Ranitha Shabu, whose light palappams and mouth-watering kozhukattas are also a visual treat. But being a food entrepreneur wasn’t this Kochi native’s initial calling. “I began to experiment with more dishes after I gave birth to my son, Gokul, who seems happier when he sees new types of food on the table. I have tried out many recipes in the bargain,” she says.
Even though Ranitha and her husband, Shabu, were working full time, it was difficult for them to make ends meet. While she worked as a secretary at a milk society production unit in Kochi, Kerala, her husband worked for a tyre company as a foreman.
Ranitha tells The Better India how her chance endeavour now helps her support her family.
An appam venture
It was in the year 2005 that Ranitha first received an order for 100 idlis. “We live near the Resmi Arts and Sports club. One day, students from the club were going for a trip and they needed idlis for their breakfast. So, I prepared 100 idlis, sambar curry and coconut chutney for them free of cost. The members returned with good feedback about the food. This is when I realised I could make some extra cash by selling my homemade food,” says 46-year-old Ranitha.
After discussing the matter with Shabu, she launched her Gokulson Food and Processing Unit in the same year. Her husband assured her that he would look after the food distribution while she prepared the food.
Within days, the duo started to receive orders from different hotels of the locality. In just one month, Ranitha got an order for 1,000 idlis.
Slowly and steadily, they began to receive more orders. Not just for idlis, the couple also began to sell idiyappam, vattayappam, chakkayada, chakka vattayappam, kozhukatta, palappam, neyyappam and unniyappam.
Everyday before going to the milk society, Ranitha prepares the food and she and her husband distribute it on their way to work. Gokul also helps his parents in distributing the food on his way to college. The 24-year-old shares, “I pack the food and distribute it to different shops, college canteens and to my friends not only to help my parents but also, the money I collect from this is used to pay my fees for my MBA classes.”
With the increase in orders, Ranitha and Shabu quit their job to focus on their food business.
Made to order
With a burgeoning demand for their food, it became increasingly difficult for the duo to prepare the items on a single stove. The duo enquired in many companies about machines which can make more items in a short duration but all was in vain.
It was then, in the year 2006, that Shabu designed a machine which can make 450 palappams in just one hour with the administration of a single person. His design was executed by a local engineer from a metal company. However, that wasn’t his only design that helped the initiative. Shabu also designed an idiyappam machine, a special cooker—which can make 750 dishes in just one hour—to steam vattayappam, chakka vattayappam and kozhukatta for the Gokulson Food and Processing Unit.
Though he designed the machines, the duo had to take a bank loan to buy the machines and steamer from the metal company, which cost over Rs 30 lakh. They further share that they have also taken financial aid from the Pradhan Mantri Yojana, Women’s Industries Programme and Entrepreneurs Support Scheme of Thrissur district industries centre, to fund their initiative.
Speaking of the earnings from the biz, MBA graduate, Gokul says, “Before the coronavirus pandemic, we used to get around Rs 1 lakh per month. But now, we get only Rs 60,000 per month. We hope the situation will soon change and we will be able to earn more.”
Ranitha says she has employed seven women workers to help her in the kitchen. The women work in three shifts, the earliest of which ends in 4 hours while the latest shift extends to 8 hours, per their convenience. She says that her employees are homemakers and they are more than happy to earn from something they are more experienced at.
Now, Ranitha tells me she wishes to expand her business to employ more women.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)