As the lockdown hit the country in March and April, most people were grappling with a new normal. Most were missing their regular restaurant visits and craved something different. As the lockdown continued, this hankering grew, since most people were homebound and were experiencing the same taste daily. The stage was set and the opportunity available for those who could cash in on it. But there were some pre-requisites for success – hygiene, safety and of course, taste. Enter, the home chefs.
Three years ago, Rutwik Pandit, 24, a trained Hotel Management professional, gave it all up to set up his own home chef business. He dove into a niche segment of serving ‘phirni’ to a market where ‘Shrikhand’ was the staple dessert! This, however, did not click and he soon had to shut it down. But the lockdown provided him with another opportunity. He started with basic gravies in the morning and stored them in the fridge only to use them for dinner for his family. Upon his mother’s insistence, he made extra portions and offered it to her friends. It was an instant hit as it checked all the right boxes of restaurant style taste, price, and importantly ease of making. This was especially important for ladies who were grappling with the tough situation of lockdown. Rutwik candidly says, “Lockdown worked for me as my business tasted success during this time!”
Use of good quality ingredients has to be the prime reasonAsha Patel
Similar sentiments are echoed by Sangeeta Wadhwa, who started her business of offering homemade food in June 2020. Fifty-two-year-old Sangeeta mentions her simple acts of sharing the dishes she made at home with neighbours led her to set up her business. It was on the insistence of her neighbours who said the lockdown is the perfect time to start the home chef business. Sangeeta who couldn’t be any happier at her decision and says, “My first clients were my neighbours and it grew from there.” And today, many people both from her housing society at NIBM and surrounding areas are eating out of her hand.
So, what is it that worked in favour of home chefs during lockdown when most businesses were struggling? Sheetal Varshney, home chef from Hadapsar, makes a valid point when she says, “With most people working from home during the lockdown, there’s blurring of personal and office timings which leaves them exhausted and with little time to put a meal together. That’s where they find succor in the meals offered by us.”
“Use of good quality ingredients has to be the prime reason,” says Asha Patel, a home-based chef from Salisbury Park who started her business only in December 2019 with soups, salads and smoothies now includes desserts and snacks, and also engages her neighbour to empower her during difficult financial conditions. Regular changes in menu and special menus for the weekend are the factors that have Mrs. Wadhwa’s clientele hooked to her offerings.
I do not employ a helper, I cook myself, this is essential as hygiene and safety is of main concern of people today.Mrs. Wadhwa
Illam Master, a home chef who makes bakery products and started to sell at commercial level puts forth a pertinent point for the growth she has seen in her business during lockdown, “With many restaurants and eateries closed during lockdown, people were eager to try foods being offered by home chefs”.
Another factor which drove and still drives the business is hygiene. “Do you cook the food yourself?”, is the default concern question most first-time customers ask, agree all the home chefs. “The knowledge that the food is prepared by me in the same kitchen where I make food for my family is a major assurance for my clientele”, says Mrs. Patel. Reiterating the same point, Mrs. Wadhwa says, “I do not employ a helper, I cook myself, this is essential as hygiene and safety is of main concern of people today.”
Adding to this thought process, Mr Pandit says, “I ensure to reduce the number of touchpoints, thereby reducing the risk factor so it’s only me making the gravies and phirni, packing and also delivering them.”
What’s interesting to note is, in spite of most home chefs unable to have their food door step delivered, customers are willing to travel to home chefs’ place or society to pick up and that speaks volumes on the efforts they are willing to take for a tasty, healthy and hygienic meals. Corroborates Mrs. Master who says she has clients coming to her society gate to pick up her goodies.
Home chefs are happy that lockdown brought them success and growth and, post lockdown too their business is either constant or seeing a gradual growth mainly through word-of-mouth and expect it to only grow in the coming months too as eating out at a restaurant is still a major concern.