Sheeja Nirmal tastes success with her takeaway joint, Jithu Joji

The action is all in the kitchen with meats of different kinds being simmered, boiled, fried and sautéed. Steam, smoke and aroma of masalas envelope visitors stepping into the kitchen. Vegetarians might chicken out from the place but it is gourmet heaven if you like your meat. Piping hot chicken curry, chilli chicken, rabbit roast, chicken liver pepper roast, duck roast, mutton roast, beef roast…are packed into aluminium containers under the watchful eyes of Sheeja Nirmal. Dosa batter, porotta, appam batter, wheat porotta, chappathi, idiappam, and marinated chicken too are packed by women wearing gowns and caps. Soon, another group of women arrives, and get busy carrying the containers to the vehicles parked in the compound.

“The containers are kept in separate batches and taken to our counters in different places in the city,” says Sheeja, as her husband, Nirmalraj, joins her for the interview.

Sheeja and Nirmal’s house at Kunnappuzha, near Thirumala, is where the food is cooked and packed for the take-away joint Jithu Joji, which has outlets at Thirumala, Poojappura, Murinjapalam, Palayam and Vanross Junction. Yet another outlet, the first of the lot, functions at their home itself.

The success story of Jithu Joji began with the chicken. “Ten years ago we used to run a chicken farm. Some customers suggested that it would be really convenient if we could prepare chicken dishes as well. Sheeja, being an excellent cook, we opened the take-away, named after our two sons, Jithu and Joji. Out USP is that we sell chicken dishes by weight, not by plate,” says Nirmal, a government employee. Soon other dishes were added to the menu.

The food is homely in the true sense of the word, they say. “We use only firewood for cooking. No cooking gas, no pressure cooker. Therefore each variety of meat takes its own time to get cooked, which is the traditional way to cook it. That is if chicken takes 45 minutes to get cooked, beef takes some two hours,” Sheeja explains. In addition, she has her “secret” ingredients. “Well, I make the masala mix on my own and I don’t use any artificial ingredients!” she says with a wide smile.

What has helped them is her dedicated staff, most of them women, Sheeja says. Forty-seven women work for her, of which 15 work in the kitchen and the rest take care of the outlets. “This is our way of helping women to become self-sufficient. We have male staff members to make the porotta, chop the meat and drive the vans. We appoint all the staff only after ensuring that they have a good family background,” Sheeja says. The employees have ID card and uniforms. After the night shift, the women employees are dropped at their houses. “We are one big family. Every year, during Christmas vacation, we take the entire staff for a few days’ trip,” say the duo.

Meanwhile, they are planning to add more dishes to the menu, mutton soup being one. “There is nothing more gratifying than serving tasty food…,” Sheeja says. Soup for the body and soul!

On the menu

Chicken pirattu, chicken thoran, chilli chicken, chicken masala, beef roast, mutton roast, mutton boti, Kuttanadan duck roast, rabbit roast, chicken liver pepper roast, buffalo meat (on weekends), dosa, chappathi, idiappam, appam, porotta and wheat porotta. Jithu Joji counters are open from 4.30 p.m. to 11 p.m., on all days, except Mondays.