Lockdown inspired these gastronomy geniuses to turn their passion for cooking into a business opportunity and launch home kitchens.
CHITRANGADA GUPTA & MAIYYA THAPA, BOJU’S KITCHEN, DELHI-NCR
Before the lockdown, Chitrangada Gupta, 23, had been working at a digital marketing agency in Gurgaon, while her grandma Maiyya Thapa, 82, a homemaker from Ghoom, near Darjeeling in West Bengal, was just visiting them. Bound together during lockdown in Delhi, they launched Boju’s Kitchen together, and now supply soft, hot scrumptious momos to eager customers across the national capital.
Since Maiyya’s husband was a mechanical engineer who often travelled for work, Maiyya ended up being the primary caregiver for their five children. “Her biggest achievement was sending all her kids to English-medium schools,” says Chitrangada. “The only thing that mattered to her was that all her kids should have degrees and that’s exactly what she achieved.”
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Like every winter, Maiyya travelled from Darjeeling to Delhi to be with her daughter’s family in December 2019. The lockdown in March 2020 forced her to stay on. In the meantime, Chitrangada was two weeks into her new job that the lockdown was announced and she had to work from home.
Momos (or steamed dumplings) are part of the family’s culinary tradition. “My mom would feed momos to all of my friends whether it was someone’s birthday or just a small get-together,” narrates Chitrangada, who did her Bachelor’s in political science from Delhi University. And if her mother is a great momo chef, her nani is the mother of great momo chefs. “She makes the best momos in the world,” announces Chitrangada.
After a friend remarked, “Why don’t you start a venture otherwise you’re literally depriving people of these yummy momos,” they decided to start a home kitchen together, calling it Boju’s Kitchen (‘boju’ means grandmother in Nepali).
They have been inundated with orders, their bestselling products being their chicken steamed and chicken pan-fried momos. “We plan on adding more dishes to our menu and continuing it as a home delivery and takeaway venture,” says Chitrangada, adding that the minimum order is two plates but most people order about five.
The prices are quite reasonable considering the quality and care that goes into the making: starting from Rs 150 for a plate of 10 vegetarian momos and Rs 200 for 10 chicken or pork dumplings.
While the ladies have no problem churning out large quantities of momos every day, the delivery logistics are challenging. “We started this venture right when the Delhi monsoon began and every time we send out an order, we wait in anticipation hoping that the rider reaches on time!” They worked around the problem by taking orders one day in advance.
“It’s easy to start, and everything seems really exciting when the venture is in the initial stage, but it gets harder to innovate on how to generate more revenue,” says Chitrangada. At the moment, though, they’re moving ahead at full steam.
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SHWETA JOSHI, QUARANTINE BAKERS, NOIDA
A banker who chose to be a homemaker when she became a mother, Shweta Joshi couldn’t wait to start something of her own as soon as her son grew up. She launched Artventure Educraft in 2015, when her son Amey was about eight years old. It integrates art and craft with curriculum, keeping kids away from the screen.
By 2018-19, she had gained ground with schools as well. Then COVID happened and all her 2020 spring camps scheduled after final exams in Delhi got shelved.
Shweta says, “I conducted a few online sessions, but the flow of the class was not engaging and interactive. Teaching craft skills requires a physical presence.” Realising that online classes were not working out, Shweta started supplying DIY craft kits to her students.
But as Delhi went deeper into the lockdown, the supply chain was disrupted and procurement of material became a massive challenge for her to continue that too.
But Shweta is a creative soul in more ways than one. Always a good cook, she began dishing up fancy meals for the family during the lockdown. In April, she shared some pictures of her baked dishes with a friend.
With most bakeries shut and growing apprehension about ordering food from commercial eateries, her friend suggested Shweta make her baked goods available for people, especially those around Noida, Sector-15, where she is based.
“I jumped at the idea,” narrates Shweta. She created a WhatsApp group to share her dishes and instantly got inquiries and orders. “And that’s how I started my new venture. My son named it Quarantine Bakers,” she says.
Her art and craft skills are mirrored in her uniquely designed bread and teatime cakes. She is also making waves with her cream cakes and pies, which are a hit for birthdays. The 41-year-old discloses, “I keep reinventing newer ways to prepare food with healthy substitutes and creatively present them.”
She is excited and surprised to see the traction: she has three to four orders every day. To cook in the utmost hygienic conditions is her biggest priority in these times, and so Shweta has not allowed any help to work in the house and operates the kitchen all by herself.
“I am very thankful for the love and support of people,” she smiles. “I am getting repeat orders, and people are instilling their faith in me. I think I will continue with Quarantine Bakers post-lockdown as well.”
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PARUL AHUJA, KITCHEN ON FIRE, MORADABAD
Parul Ahuja and her husband run a coaching centre in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. But schools, colleges, and coaching centres were the first to shut when the pandemic brought with it a national lockdown, and they will be the last to open. The couple was confronted with a significant dilemma.
That is when Parul, who is a mother of two teenage daughters, decided to work on an idea that was brewing in her mind since December 2019 when she cooked a full meal for a friend’s party and got rave reviews.
Soon, with the help of her daughter, she made a WhatsApp group. They named her home restaurant Kitchen on Fire and posted a menu that people could order from. Friends and family helped to spread the word, and orders started pouring in.
Parul’s speciality is non-vegetarian food. But it wasn’t so easy to cook up amazing dishes through the lockdown. As her city was declared a red zone, it became difficult for her to procure ingredients.
“My husband knew some people in the trade, and we tied up with them for our chicken supply and with another vendor for our vegetables,” she narrates. “They would come halfway, and he would go the rest of the distance to pick up supplies. Everyone in the family pitched in.”
Parul, who lives on Kanth road, TDI City, Moradabad, is happy that people love her home-cooked food. She is incredibly careful about hygiene. She sanitises raw material with salt and warm water before cooking. No one, except her daughters and husband, is allowed in the kitchen.
Parul has grown a regular customer base over these past few months supplying lunch and dinner to doctors and professionals. With the support of her daughter, who is studying hotel management, she is also experimenting with baked goods and started offering birthday cakes last month.
“Kitchen on Fire has not only generated enough income to pay my house bills, but I have even paid school fees from it and have managed to save some too,” says the 46-year-old happily, adding that her new venture has made her feel empowered.
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SOUMYA SOFAT, SPRINKLES OF JOY, NOIDA
A gifted singer, Soumya Sofat had her first major encounter with fame when she reached the finals of music reality show The Stage on Colors Infinity in 2017. But the final-year student of Delhi University, who is also completing her music degree at Global Music Institute (part of the Berklee College of Music), had to postpone plans of launching her professional singing career after college this year because of the lockdown.
“Doughnuts are an affordable indulgence, so a doughnut business doesn’t have to be complex,” says the 21-year-old, who launched her home bakery Sprinkles of Joy in June this year.
“I wanted to bring this simple yet indulgent treat to people’s doorsteps with the assurance of sanitary cooking habits and quality ingredients, almost like you’re cooking for your loved ones,” says Soumya, who personalises packaging for each order and donates a part of the proceeds to various NGOs.
A self-taught baker, Soumya experiments with various recipes that she comes across in recipe books and online. “I love the look on someone’s face when they take that first bite and find out it does taste as good as it looks!” she gushes. “Doughnuts, for me, represent absolute perfection; they are the ideal canvas for endless variations to suit your different moods.”
Though Soumya’s best-sellers are the classic sweetly glazed or chocolate-dipped flavours, there’s a surge in other flavours as well. She also offers an assortment of cake pops, which are very popular with kids. A typical order size ranges from four to 24 doughnuts, and though she currently only takes orders in Noida where she lives, she is looking to partner with a delivery chain and supply pan-Delhi soon.
Priced Rs 80 to Rs 95, Soumya displays her ware on her Instagram page @sprinklesofjoydonuts. As a one-girl team wearing many hats, time management is her biggest challenge.
“The constant pressure to perform with a deadline can be taxing at times. I like to have my orders prepared fresh and delivered on time, and it takes a huge amount of effort to maintain this standard. That being said, I love that I can work on all areas of my business and am not limited to certain tasks,” she says, adding that she uses only recyclable materials for packaging.
Having found that doughnuts are one of the fastest growing desserts on restaurant menus and that millennials are interested in trying adventurous flavours, Soumya hopes to expand to a store that is an amalgamation of all of her favourite things – music, art, aesthetics and, of course, doughnuts.
“My motto is to keep my focus on what I do best and always leave room for creation and improvement,” she says.
Place orders at +91 95609 81764First published in eShe magazine