When it comes to Indian cuisine, spices rule. This is exactly what prompted Vidhya Abirami Iyer to make a business out of her passion: food! ARCHANA SUBRAMANIAN
Vidhya Abirami Iyer’s dinner at an Italian restaurant in Bangalore changed her life. She came back to Chennai with the rights to open a franchise in one of Chennai’s most happening areas — Nungambakkam, making her favourite cuisine, her business too!
“Veekes & Thomas, a complete vegetarian dining place is something you might want to check out right way — it’s Italian with an Indian twist,” she adds. Overcoming the odds in her way, she has been successfully running this new outlet in the city. She talks to NXg about her recipe for success, why she stuck to the name and her favourite dish.
You are studying to become an engineer. Why the shift?
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I decided to give this a shot, because it is my favourite cuisine, and being a student and a teen (when I started it), I figured my perspective was a good reflection of that of my peers. So I took this to be a good opportunity to experiment and test the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. Luckily for me, my family has been very supportive of my efforts.
How is it being a youngster in the food industry?
The truth is, I thought it would be a lot easier than it actually turned out to be. It was extremely difficult for me at first, mostly because I was new to the industry and to business itself. The age advantage for me was restricted to the fact that I did not think conventionally and I did not stick to a system just because that was the way things have been done for years. The major disadvantage was that people I was doing business with, suppliers and workers alike, did not take me very seriously and even more so because I am a girl. They often tried to use my inexperience to extort money. I have overcome that to a large extent I think. I have a decent team now and I think I have managed to gain the respect and seriousness I deserve, but it hasn’t been easy. The challenge has however made me a lot stronger. Single-handedly is not entirely true, I have had some great support from my family.
Did you research and do pilot studies before opening your place?
I did not do pilot studies as such. The experimentation with the menu has been mostly informal and not extensive. I’ve mostly stuck to the franchise’s menu and tried to see what works here in Chennai and what doesn’t. The idea behind the franchise was to have some support, since it’s a new industry. I also loved their product; the food we have is absolutely delightful and it’s my favourite cuisine.
What has the experience taught you?
Honestly, all I have learnt is that you need to be prepared for anything in this business. I can’t say that I have mastered or implemented it all, but I am learning.
I just want to see this project become the success that I envisioned it. The main reason I picked this brand was affordability. As a college student I always look for places that are affordable to hang out in with my friends. At my restaurant, we have full portions of pasta for just Rs.160; prices like that are practically non-existent elsewhere. The restaurant will soon be a cafe as well with more snacks and short-eats on the menu. We already have the free Wi-Fi. I expect the place to be what I have always wanted it to be — a place where you want to spend quality time, be it for work or pleasure.
What is your favourite cuisine and what’s the one signature dish you would recommend at your restaurant?
My favourite cuisine is Italian. My restaurant is mainly continental cuisine, tweaked for the Indian palate. We’re spicier with a hint of masala and mirch and we’re a pure vegetarian place. Most people associate European cuisine with meat. But we’re here to prove that there’s a lot more to it than that. Our exclusively vegetarian menu is also extensive, and healthy.