In 2011, Elavarasi Jayakanth, a native of Tamil Nadu’s Usilampatti, saw her life completely change. She became the victim of a robbery at her own supermarket, which resulted in her losing all her money. The trauma from the experience left her shell-shocked, and she remained admitted in the hospital for months, unable to overcome the dejection at having lost her dream venture.
Elavarasi’s family had moved to Thrissur district in Kerala, more than 45 years ago. She grew up watching her parents and grandparents make sweets and snacks to earn their livelihood, and from a young age, helped them sell these products across different homes in her village.
After she was married, she continued down the same path as her family, and began making sweets and snacks at home, which she would then distribute to nearby stores and other homes. She says the aroma and quality of her products impressed the customers, which led to a gradual increase in orders.
“I had always wanted to be a businesswoman,” she tells The Better India, and adds, “I discussed the idea of opening a supermarket here in Thrissur with my husband and children, wherein different snacks and chips would be sold. We combined our savings, and took a loan of Rs 50 lakh from banks and neighbouring loan sharks to open the mart in 2010.”
The 40-year-old says the life she was living was beyond what she had envisioned in her dreams. “Day by day, I saw our sales and the number of happy customers increase. I had also provided employment to around 50 people. According to customer requirements, I introduced a variety of products,” she recalls. These included halwa, chips, and cakes made of fruits and vegetables including mangoes, oranges, gooseberries, chinese potatoes, Averrhoa bilimbi, jackfruits, and cucumbers.
But her smooth-sailing life was stalled abruptly after her robbery. “When my dream venture collapsed, I was both mentally and physically disturbed,” says Elavarasi who suffers from low blood pressure-related problems. “But even so, I was not ready to give up. My faith in myself helped me restart my own business, and today, I own four stores which make as many as 60 products, including sweets, snacks, cakes, and pickles,” she says.
Picking herself back up
“The shock and trauma of the robbery resulted in me being in the hospital for months, and no medicines were effective. Over time, I came to the slow realisation that I couldn’t afford to carry on living in fear. This was not just for the sake of my own family, but also for those who were dependent on me and my venture. I’d borrowed money from people, who would also be at a loss if I did nothing to pull myself out of this situation,” she says.
Elavarasi says bank authorities would hound her every day, demanding that she repay her loan. Neighbouring loan sharks would continuously harass her and her family as well. Here, she decided to begin a new venture, with the hope that if she showed her lenders that she was working towards getting the money she owed, they would be willing to wait for it.
In 2012, she opened a hot chips stall — Aswathi Hot Chips, near Thrissur railway station. “My family’s talent of making delicious snacks was passed on to me, so I decided to give my food venture another try. It was difficult to invest money in a new business, so I began my new venture with less than Rs 100,” she says.
On why she chose the railway station as her location, she says, “I felt that train travellers also needed pocket-friendly and quick snacks to keep them company on their journeys.”
Within days, her hot chips, and eventually, vadas, became the hot new trend among train travellers. Over time, people from different parts of the state began visiting the stall just to try the snacks Elavarasi was making, and form long queues in front of her shops throughout the day.
As Elavarasi’s income increased, she slowly began repaying her debts and loans. With the profit she made at the stall, she eventually opened four more stores across Thrissur the same year. These shops now sell a variety of snacks, which includes chips, cakes, pickles, and other such items.
On how her products are different from the others, she says, “I do not add any preservatives or colours to my products, so they’re safe to consume. Besides, the aroma of the snacks, their quality, and taste is what brings the customers to my stores.”
‘Best entrepreneur’ Award
“I have learned several lessons from my setbacks. One should understand that whoever is trying to bring you down, is already below you. Who you are, and how you live your life, must be decided by you alone. I wanted to grow, so I motivated myself, and worked hard. Today, I earn more than Rs 5 lakh per month from selling my products,” she says. Elavarasi won the International Peace Council UAE Award in 2019 for being the ‘Best Entrepreneur’.
She adds that when she was going through a rough time, no one came forward to guide her. However, today she is helping other entrepreneurs who have lost their businesses or those who are facing career setbacks, by providing them with advice and motivation to lead a better life. “In a few instances, people have come to me and said they read my story and feel motivated to restart their own businesses, and I feel proud that I was able to make a difference in someone else’s life,” she says.
To order Elavarasi’s snacks, you can contact her on 98955 38168.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)