Like thousands of people, Aluva-resident Raji Shakthi lost her job when the coronavirus pandemic struck three years ago.
She was an educational counsellor and worked for a private institute in the city. After losing her job, she was certain it would be demanding to attain a similar one again, as the industry was undergoing massive upheavals.
Since it was the lockdown period and she had no option to go out and work, Raji thought, why not turn her passion for cooking into a money-making business?
“I knew a restaurant set up would not work as people were afraid of eating out. Also, I didn’t have money to make a huge investment. This is how a cloud kitchen idea came about,” the 47-year-old tells The Better India.
Her husband and children extended their support and Raji had no second thoughts while taking a gold loan of Rs 20,000 to start with the business. Because there would be no separate space for cooking or selling the food, she wanted her business’s name to state clearly what she was doing. So she registered it under the name ‘From the kitchen — Homely Foods’ on Swiggy.
The first few months, she says, showed no notable growth. In fact, the family faced a few losses. But Raji began getting repeat orders from a few customers and gradually the number increased.
“My regular customers rated the kitchen and food good. Later, I came to know that they even suggested the place to many friends. We always have a rating of not less than 4.6 on the platform,” says Raji, who later registered the kitchen under Zomato as well.
When the venture picked up pace, she printed some stickers with the name, label, and contact number of her business. Orders began pouring in through the phone.
“I switch on the apps at 7 am sharp and orders start coming in within minutes. The challenge here is to prepare food within 30 minutes of order acceptance. But now it doesn’t feel like a task,” she shares. The cloud kitchen is open till 9 pm.
Breakfast, meals, snacks and more
The top rated items from Raji’s kitchen are majorly traditional South Indian breakfast items, such as mini idli with sambar and ghee, puttu and kadala, and appam and egg curry. As per requests from regular customers, she has started cooking a limited number of fish curry meals as well. She also provides sandwiches, burgers, bread omelettes, mojitos, thick shakes and teas.
While the number of orders she accepts on food delivery apps are limited to 25-30, at least 50 other customers directly visit to get parcels. “Usual customers include employees of a nearby bank, workers of neighbourhood shops, and drivers. We don’t provide dining facilities here due to unavailability of space,” says Raji.
Cooking has always been the entrepreneur’s favourite hobby. “Whenever my kids ask for new dishes, I experiment and the food mostly comes out pretty well. Today, they are helping me with business activities during their freetime. Therefore, I have been able to manage the whole process without employing anyone,” she adds.
The chef gives credit to homemade spices, batters, and masalas for the mouth-watering taste of her dishes. “That’s why we call it homely food. I don’t promise restaurant-like taste to any of my dishes. If you crave authentic, comforting, and homemade Kerala food, my cloud kitchen won’t disappoint you,” she assures.
Usman PM, a loyal customer, says, “For the past one year, I have been a daily customer of Raji. I work in a nearby fish shop and we became acquainted when she came for a purchase.”
He adds, “I buy a packet of fish curry meals from the kitchen and it is, hands down, the best available in the locality. The pack contains a generous amount of white rice, moru curry, aviyal, pickle, chammanthi, pappadam and the star item — fish curry. Also, they deliver it hot, on time, and with quality packing.”
Reasonable price is another attraction of the venture. The fish curry meal is priced at Rs 80, while the breakfast items fall between the price range of Rs 50 and Rs 150. Another speciality of the kitchen is their combo items, which consist of one unit each from the breakfast menu so that people get to try them all.
Even though the business is running successfully, more customers are requesting for a dining space. Raji hopes to make that happen soon and employ someone to help her in the daily activities.
She firmly believes that women should be financially independent no matter what. “It gives you respect and confidence,” she says. “A cloud kitchen is a good business idea if cooking is your interest. But in my opinion, if you can start a small restaurant, that would be better. The commission of food delivery apps and the strict time limit for delivery can be avoided.”
Edited by Divya Sethu
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