When your neighbours become foodpreneurs


What does it mean to start a cloud kitchen at the gated community you live in and feed your neighbours? A resident of Mantri Synergy in Padur has an answer

One floor down; one floor up; and a door away — that was all the stretching they needed to do to find the resources, the homespun wisdom and encouragement required to start a cloud kitchen.

To make it less cryptic, in August, amidst the pandemic, Anuradha Nair and her husband Rahul Keshu, teamed up with Deepa Mukherjee (who is Anuradha’s sister) and her husband Saurav Mukherjee and started Tumbo Cafe, a multi-cuisine cloud kitchen, at the gated community they live in. At Mantri Synergy in Padur, these two families reside at the same block, and are only a floor apart.

Freya Wilson, a graphic designer by profession who teaches the subject at a college, lives on the same floor as Anuradha, and she was roped in to carry out the design and artwork for Tumbo.

“The space where Tumbo is located has so far been let out only for residents, for a nominal rent, to run a cafe for the benefit of the community,” discloses Anuradha.

Around the time this space fell vacant, the four could see the debilitating effects of kitchen fatigue all around them. They even had a front-row view of it, having watched members of their own family battling it.

Anuradha says she noticed that many of her neighbours were fed up to their finger tips putting on the apron and cooking three meals a day, and they desperately wanted a break, and order at least one meal.

“During the intense lockdown, many senior citizens were cooking for themselves, and they found it a dreary business,” says Anuradha. “My father- and mother-in-law, both in their eighties, live alone, on the same floor as my sister Deepa. My mother-in-law would insist that her family would eat only the food made at home, cooked by her, but she was struggling through the cooking. Now, she has started ordering food once in a while.”

Anuradha believes there is a distinct advantage to both serving people in your own community, and being served by them.

From the foodpreneurs’ point of view, they know many of their customers at a personal level, and which could mean they are in a position to customise the takeouts, without being reminded how to.

“There is someone we know who has a kidney ailment, and we know what food he is looking for. So, the same meals will come with less salt and oil for him,” says Anuradha.

From the customers’ point of view, it is always reassuring to know that there is nothing set even about a set menu.

“We have introduced set menus, but there is nothing cut and dried about it, and we would rework the combo anytime. So, if someone wants just one roti instead of the three that a pre-set menu may specify, we would be naturally inclined to relax the rule. Often, to the greatest extent possible. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we are on a transaction with neighbours.”

When you are running a food business in your community, especially among neighbours you know very well, expect impromptu addas.

Though Tumbo is a cloud kitchen, it sometimes becomes a space for an “adda”, notes Anuradha.

“We offer a full pot of chai in the morning and evening. When we do so, sometimes, before we know it, an adda-like thing would be going on under our nose.”

The four also know that in its core, this is an enterprise that has to succeed to justify its existence.

So, the line of control are the workflow are clearly defined. Deepa and Saurav are engaged in the day-to-day functioning of the cloud kitchen. Rahul takes care of the part involving the procurement of essential items required daily in the kitchen. Anuradha handles the communications and social media aspects of the enterprise, and is assisted in this work by Freya.

The challenge in continuing with household help caused by the pandemic has naturally increased the demand for takeouts.

Anuradha says, “There is always going to be a section of the community that would look for outside food.”

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