Fearless femme—Shreya Ghai, 32, runs the cafe at Innov8, Saket, Delhi.
With her super optimistic and never give up attitude, Shreya has sailed through even in the toughest of times—during COVID-19—when her 4 kitchens came crumbling down to zero and without any prior notice, her business partner left her to handle the business on her own.
While most of us foodies dream to run our own business, this ex-PR professional is a badass woman who is actually doing it. Despite the challenges that COVID brought upon her, this fond foodie, chef and baker, emerged stronger and is hell bent on making it bigger.
I spoke to her about her struggles and wins as a fearless womanpreneur running a business through COVID-19.
Go, go, go!
On the love for food
How did the love for food begin?
I moved to Delhi 13 years back and I started my career with PR in marketing, got into digital marketing later on and was very fond of cooking since I was a kid and I really wanted to start a cafeteria, a bakery or maybe a kitchen.
I just had this thought in my mind ever since I turned 18, and I told my family, this is what I wanted to do.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get into hotels theoretically, so I thought of getting in with a lot of people who were in hospitality. I went to college and tried making connections and started networking through friends and people who were already in this field.
I never liked getting to the office every day, following the same routine. I always wanted to fly but I thought that I’d have to go to work like the regular 9-7. So I never got the time to focus on cooking daily.
“On weekends I used to call my friends over and take a review of my cooking. I used to cook Mutton curry or some Kashmiri food because I had a friend who was Kashmiri, who used to stay nearby. That’s where I also started learning different cuisines.”
So with my job, I started selling sandwiches through a page that I had made. To add to that, I had a dream that when I turn 28, I have to be a founder of a company.
On taking the plunge
When did you realise it was the right time to quit your job?
When I turned 28 I was actually ready. I had quit my job and my sister was very keen on making me realise that “now is the time that you have to do it if you want to do it”. So she told me to leave my well-paying job and get into working as a consultant. So I started taking small digital marketing projects. I did it strategically and contacted restaurant based businesses. I learned the business, the know-how of everything—right from what it takes to open a cafe, where to get vendors from, or where to get your chefs from. So I was ready with the knowledge and tools and by then I had also saved a lot, so I was ready to invest in my own kitchen. I opened it with a friend of mine, but things didn’t work out well with that partnership and that is when I started realising that I made a rushed decision to start it with a friend. I could have done this alone. I was the one who was majorly handling a lot of things and my partner took a back seat, he hadn’t invested a lot of money, so we parted ways.
After that my kitchen luckily expanded to a few more outlets.
On work and working relationships
How did you grow your business?
(She starts speaking enthusiastically) Because of my previous job in PR, I was very proactive in my conversations. I never hesitated to interact with people. So, whenever I used to receive an order through Zomato (where I had given my personal number) people used to contact me for whatever queries they had.
“I made sure every time an order was leaving my kitchen, I dropped a personal Whatsapp to every customer. That’s how they started having a conversation with me. I kept a tab on which company or which customer is ordering or who is ordering as an Individual.”
So usually I was nearer to Cyber Hub, and realised that Deloitte used to order a lot. One fine day, I remember talking to a guy who was ordering food from me on a regular basis at 6 pm. This guy got in touch with me to check on the rider and I had a conversation with him saying that we also do corporate catering. It was very random, because at the time we were doing party catering only, no corporate catering. But this worked in my favor—he said he loved my food and wanted to order it for his team lunch of 30 people, the next day.
(Sips on her afternoon cuppa) Right after that, one of my friends who was working with the brand Oppo at the time, used to order my food regularly. So people from her office also started ordering a lot. Soon enough they needed a vendor in that kitchen at Oppo’s corporate office.
So, they took a trial from us for 3 days and gave me the contract. That was when we grew from 1 into 4 kitchens. Of course it was a lot of work, and it was all scattered. I had to manage every outlet individually. And I did it.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
(With a heavy sigh) I had two partners and both of them turned out to be bad for my business.
I parted ways with one early on and I was bound to work with the other one because he had also invested some amount of money back then. But, ever since we expanded our kitchens he had stopped investing and wasn’t as involved.
It was a mentally consuming and stressful time for me. I didn’t ask anyone for help because I always thought that if it's my mess I should be the one to clean it. I didn't want to trouble my father—which, in retrospect, was a mistake. I should have told him about it. He could’ve easily helped me out.
“I learnt that one should not hesitate to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weaker.”
I had so many EMIs and loans in my name and my partner said that we'll be paying the EMIs together, but he went absconding during COVID and didn't pay any of the EMIs. So it all came upon me. All in a time when my income was zilch. I had no business at all.
I didn’t want to go to my parents’ so I stayed back in Delhi and started looking for more digital projects. I had to pay my salaries and I didn't want to let my staff from here go. I care about them, so I always used to make sure that I did whatever I could to pay them. I kept in touch with my staff and always used to motivate them and tell them that things will get better. And my head chef currently is the biggest source for motivation for me because she’d motivate me on days I was down and out.
(We both cry our hearts out)
How did you become so strong?
My parents always taught me that even if I fail, I will spring back up. That's how I have been raised by my grandfather too. He was a very brave person and he taught me to be brave too.
“I believe that if you’re constantly trying to be positive, things do work out.”
I chant a lot as well and for me that’s a source of power when I feel like there’s no way out.
But times are hard right now, it’s difficult to manage my salaries but I'm sure I will be able to figure a way out. I’m very positive and I'm again looking to start my kitchen and bakery from scratch.
I spoke to Shreya when I was having a really tough day at work but speaking to her gave me the courage to push the negative thoughts out, not lose hope when things get tough and also have more confidence to put myself out there.
So, thank you for inspiring me on a day I really needed it, Shreya. Keep kicking ass.
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