It is common for Gurugram-based Deepa Guha’s neighbours to be caught off-guard by the tempting aroma of Bengali delicacies wafting through the locality. For years, the 67-year-old accepted occasional orders to cook authentic Bengali dishes for individuals and private events, before launching into a full fledged business.
While her earlier practice limited her to serving only for occasions, it was Deepa’s daughter Sakshi (33) who gave her the confidence to capitalise on her culinary skills and launch Bengali Love Cafe in January 2020.
Sakshi earlier worked with a multinational company, but was laid off in March 2019. “The sudden job loss put me in turmoil. My parents and three sisters depend entirely on me to care for household expenses. To find a solution to the crisis, I discussed the idea of starting a tiffin service with my mother,” Sakshi tells The Better India.
Bengali Love Cafe was launched from their home kitchen, and has grown into a full-fledged cafe within a year, earning a revenue of over Rs 2 lakh a month.
From tiffin service to a full-fledged cafe
Sakshi recalls the time when her savings began drying up, and so she requested her mother to use her cooking skills to help the family. “It became difficult to keep using our savings, and around October 2019, I prepared a few leaflets and convinced my mother to prepare food orders,” she says, adding that she was confident in her mother’s culinary skills, and knew the business would float. “We distributed leaflets offering homemade Bengali food in our locality,” she says.
The menu included vegetable, dal, roti, and rice, as well as a choice between fish, chicken or egg for non-vegetarian customers. “We started getting a few orders, and some customers ended up coming back. Eventually, we gained a steady set of loyal customers seeking tiffin services,” Sakshi adds.
With this response, Deepa and Sakshi stepped up to launch a cloud kitchen. “We registered the business on Zomato, and started accepting orders on the online platform from 15 January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, and many people had started working from home. It brought opportunities, and more customers signed up for our services,” Sakshi says.
Deepa says that soon after they became comfortable handling orders online, they signed up with other platforms such as Swiggy, Magic Pin, India Mart, Bae, Fatafat, and others. “We also registered to provide catering services for weddings and personal events,” she adds.
As the business progressed and lockdown eased, the mother-daughter duo rented a space to open an outlet. They launched an official outlet in May 2020, offering more than 50 Bengali food items. These delicacies include rolls like luchi chicken curry and luchi chicken kosha, snacks such as luchi o aloo chorchori, kolkata jhaal muri, and scrumptious combo meals including doi maach combo and jharna ghee bhaat with aloo sheddo, to name a few. “Among the many, bhog khichdi is the most popular food item among customers,” Deepa says.
Bengali Love Cafe’s bhog khichuri (bhoger khichuri) is a traditional and popular delicacy, especially eaten around the time of Durga Puja. It is made using roasted moong dal, rice, veggies, spices, and ghee. It’s a healthy Indian comfort dish, and also acts as an immunity booster.
Deepa says the recipe is very similar to our ‘Indian khichdi’. “It’s also a must during festive months, especially Durga Puja (worship of Goddess Durga for 9 days). It’s simple, rustic yet extremely delicious. I love adding a spoonful of melted ghee on top whenever I serve it, and this just elevates the dish to another level,” she says.
She adds that all their dishes are made with original ingredients sourced from Kolkata. which gives the food its authentic taste.
A plate full of traditional homemade food
Sakshi says that she hired more hands to handle the increasing business. “We offered jobs to around 30 women in the neighbourhood. Like my mother, these were homemakers with no exposure to business. But with some assistance, they can now earn more money,” she says. At present, the cafe attracts daily orders of around 200, a number which is steadily increasing.
Ashish Poddar, one customer, is all praises for Bengali Love Cafe. “It has been a year since I received the leaflet for the tiffin services, and I opted for the same. They started at a small level and grew exponentially. But the quality and taste have remained the same. I also receive occasional treats after completing 50 or 100 meals,” he says.
He adds that the food is customised as per his requests. “I prefer less oil and spiciness in the food, and they have been kind to incorporate that in my meals,” he adds.
Sakshi says that despite the success, the journey in the past couple of years has tested her to the fullest. “I had no financial support, and there was no staff that I could afford during the initial days. I had to manage many things alone, including procuring raw material, preparing the food, packaging, and delivering. Besides, neither of us had prior experience in this field, and everything came as a first-time experience. It was also difficult to understand customer behaviour and market demand,” she adds.
She says that procuring raw material during the lockdown also posed logistical challenges.
Speaking from her experience now, Sakshi gives her mantra, which includes four aspects for business aspirants. “Skillset, innovation, target audience and marketing are the four pillars for the business. We had to check the market and understand the skill set we possessed. For example, in Gurugram, the majority of the Bengali population living here missed traditional home food. We could deliver on the same,” she says.
She further explains that innovating on the original idea helps give an edge in the market. Targeting customers is equally important. “We identified the needs of the Bengali community and provided the same at an affordable cost. And as far as marketing goes, it is vital to be honest with the customers, provide good quality products at a reasonable price, always be open for feedback, and adapt to the change in market demand,” Sakshi says.
She says future plans include establishing a trading company to offer Bengali groceries in the city. “I also want to create more employment for women. My mother always wanted a cafe of her own, and I am happy that her wish could come true,” Sakshi adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu