Acouple of decades ago, the city's restaurant scene was dominated at one end by a few pricey hotels that offered expansive menus and on the other by ‘thattukadas' or no-frills eateries that served ethnic eats. Today, foodies are spoilt for choice. Fast food joints, bakeries, eateries specialising in different cuisines and snazzy restaurants view with each other to woo customers.
And introducing the city to different flavours are a handful of women restaurateurs who happen to run some of the best eateries in the city.MetroPlusmeets four such women restaurateurs. These savvy businesswomen talk about food, family and more.
A Malayali brought up in Hyderabad, Supriya settled in the city after her marriage. And although she is fond of Kerala cuisine, the ‘Hyderabadi' in her had her craving for Hyderabadi food, especially its biriyanis. Hearing that Hari Rao, a friend, had started a restaurant in Bangalore that specialised in Hyderabadi cuisine after chucking away his job with the Central Government, an inspired Supriya went to Bangalore to taste the Biriyani. She was hooked! For nearly a year Supriya trained under him to learn the Hyderbadi way of cooking. After returning to the city, she soon began a branch of his restaurant, Dakhani Degh, at Chakka.She went on to open a take-away counter at Kuravankonam and a Dakhani Degh near Technopark. Mother of a five-year-old girl, Supriya admits she had to struggle a bit for the first two years to find a firm footing in the food industry. The confident entrepreneur is all set to start outlets in Dubai.
Amina Musaliar grew up amidst “sugar and spice, and everything nice.” She is a scion of the Supreme Group, which is used to having women at the fore-front. Amina's mother, Najuma Musaliar, was the force behind Supreme bakery in Kollam. The bakery, which began in a small way, expanded rapidly and now includes 19 outlets on the stretch between Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, a biryani outlet at Kazhakuttam (Dariya), and a brand of products Nutrifood retailed throughout Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The Supreme group also owns and operates restaurants under the logo Supreme All Spice. Amina runs an outlet of the Supreme bakery and All Spice in the city. A mother of two girls, Amina recalls how she had to struggle to get her business up and running. “It was hard. The staff was new and had to be trained. I would stay until closing time.” Amina says she would not have reached so far if not for the support of her family, especially her husband, Biju. The enterprising businesswoman plans to start a restaurant that specialises in Chinese and Thai cuisines.
Homemaker Ajitha Ashokan's life revolved around her husband, Ashokan, and their son. She never imagined she would be running a restaurant! But fate had other plans for her and soon she found herself at the helm of a restaurant that was started by her sister-in-law Ingrid Bergstrand. Swedish-born Ingrid had started the boutique eatery, Casa Bianca, to satiate her craving for European cuisine. She would often coax Ajitha to become her business partner. Although Ajitha turned down her request, she decided to give it a try after her son left for college. But just as Ingrid was showing her the ropes, Ingrid had to leave for Sweden as her parents fell ill. Ajitha took over Casabianca. She says she is grateful to her faithful kitchen staff. Ingrid is also a phone call away and often pitches in with advice. And though she says she is still a novice businesswoman, Ajitha experiments with strategies to expand Casabianca's customer base. “I started out late and was apprehensive about managing such a big undertaking. But now, I can't imagine life without it.”
Cuckoo Vinod is perhaps one of the first women restaurateurs in the city. She and her husband, Vinod Panicker, run Ambrosia (it's literal meaning is ‘food of the gods'). It shook-up the city's fast food scene. Ambrosia was probably among the first eateries to serve burgers, pizzas, and the like. They have since started branches at Technopark, Kesavadaspuram, and Kowdiar. They also manage the bakery counter of all Spencers' food stores in the city.
An average day sees Cuckoo at the Kowdiar branch at 10:30 a.m. She then shuttles between the other branches and is home for lunch. Then it's back to work till 8:30 p.m. She admits that the first few years were hard but thanks to the support of Vinod and her parents, she succeeded. “I prioritised things and my family always came first. I am proud of the way I raised my children. Having a good maid at home was important for me as it freed up time to spend with my children. I also find time for myself – for yoga and music, and have now established a comfortable working pattern.”