“A woman working from home is always perceived as a homemaker. It is only when she steps beyond her doorstep and achieves something society deems ‘significant’ that her hard work is recognised and appreciated,” opines Lalita Patil, an entrepreneur from Thane, Maharashtra. As the 37-year-old says this, there is a strong conviction in her voice. She, too, has been viewed with the same mindset.
A graduate of physics, Lalita says she always wanted to be financially independent. Initially, she gave tuition for a living and later sold medicines for a pharmacy company. But her work did not give her satisfaction. “I did not feel like I was growing in my profession. I believed only running my own business would give me that feeling,” she tells The Better India.
So in 2016, she invested Rs 2,000 in purchasing tiffin boxes, and another Rs 500 to distribute leaflets for advertising. With this, she began a home tiffin business.
Why cooking? “I had always had an interest in it,” she says. “My family and friends often praise my culinary skills.”
She adds, “We also needed an alternate source of income. My husband owns a gas agency, and we live a middle-class family lifestyle. The newly laid gas pipelines by the state government had led to a decrease in his business’s sales.”
Becoming a fearless entrepreneur
Lalita procured a food business licence and named her tiffin services Gharachi Athavan, or ‘memories of home’, to offer simple homemade food. Everything was going well for a year.
But soon, she realised that people still viewed her as a ‘homemaker’, despite her thriving business. “Just because I ran a business from home, people did not consider me an entrepreneur. I was disappointed and wanted to earn the same respect as other working women in the society,” she says.
Lalita says that she knew that to earn respect, she would have to scale the business outside the four walls of her house. But she had no capital to invest. “My husband could not afford to spare any savings, nor would any bank show confidence and entrust me with a loan,” she says.
One day in 2019, she came across an advertisement for Britannia Marie Gold’s My Start-Up contest. “I saw the ad on television, which said it would offer support to women on entrepreneurial journeys. It also offered Rs 10 lakh each to ten winners,” she says.
Jumping on the opportunity, Lalita entered the contest and won. “I received Rs 7 lakh in hand after tax deductions. I invested Rs 6 lakh in the restaurant and, after much struggle, found a suitable place on Kopri Road near TJSB Bank, which is in the proximity of Thane railway station. The remaining money was kept aside as reserve funds. I aimed to target working professionals and students who lived away from home and missed home-cooked food,” she says.
Since then, there has been no looking back for Lalita. Today, her business clocks an annual revenue close to Rs 1 crore, she says. “I earn a business of at least Rs 6-7 lakh per month. The scale of the business grew unexpectedly within a short time, and my husband quit his business to support me,” she says. “I also have ten employees working full-time for me.”
Dipika Gurav, a resident of Thane, says, “I have known this restaurant for a while now, and usually order from here after a tiring day at work. At times, I go to have a chicken meal at the end of the month, when the salary starts drying up. It is an affordable place and reminds me of home food.”
Gharachi Athavan’s menu includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis that come with roti, vegetables, dal and a sweet dish for dessert. Lalita also offers dal khichdi and stand-alone food items for which the cost ranges from Rs 90 to Rs 180.
Meanwhile, Lalita says that the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown posed many threats to her business “We had started the business in July, and the pandemic started worsening by December. But we continued delivering to the customers at home, and only shut the dining facility,” she says.
She says that the lockdown created more awareness about her business, especially among outsiders who were stuck in the city and needed homemade food. “We became popular even among the residents who ordered food from us because they felt tired cooking by themselves on a few occasions,” she adds.
The venture has not only made Lalita achieve her dreams but also boosted her confidence. “My decision-making skills have improved, and I can also sense the advantages and drawbacks of other businesses, which helps me get a better perspective on the operations of my own. I have become a fearless entrepreneur who knows how to succeed in a business,” she says.
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Edited by Divya Sethu