‘Centre Did Little To Help Businesses Amid Covid’

Biplob Basu, 34, a food entrepreneur, says small businesses suffered due to demonetisation, GST and there was little help during pandemic from the BJP-led government at the Centre

My story is one for the books. Both my parents are doctors but I pursued Hotel Management and chose to be a food entrepreneur. And it hasn’t been a smooth ride. The year I opened Petuk, a home-based eatery with a catering division in Kolkata was also the time when politics began over the palate. What you were eating and serving came under scanner.

People with no understanding of Bangla food, wanted to dictate what others should or should not eat. I would therefore prefer a government which is open-minded and understands plural cultures and cuisines.

There are other reasons too why I would choose Mamata Didi’s Trinamool over the BJP. My food venture had just about begun to break even in 2016 when the Centre announced demonetisation. It was taxing time as people queued before ATMs and eating out was not a priority. Just about when that phase was over, the GST (goods and services tax) was rolled out. My expenses (taxation) rose but not my earnings.

I was barely able to understand the nitty gritty of GST when rumours spread in Kolkata that many eateries were serving carcass meat. People in food business came under stress for two years (2018-19).

Biplob Basu is against mixing politic and palate

I waded through all this and stepping ahead of home-based catering, I opened a restaurant at Hazra (Kolkata) in 2018. A little over an year, and I managed to open another restaurant in Jadavpur in December 2019. And then the pandemic struck, strict lockdown was announced.

The new restaurant was at a rented property. I had to pay the rent, salaries of the staff, while there was no income. That broke my back. I am sure other MSMEs like me suffered a lot too, but Bengal also faced a cyclone (Amphan) during lockdown.

ALSO READ: ‘How I Turned The (Dining) Tables On Covid’

Even when the ‘Unlock’ began in phases, the business did not pick up. I was forced to shut one of the restaurant. I read about Central assistance to small and medium businesses so I went to apply for an MSME loan, only to realise that the process was lengthy and cumbersome, not beneficial for ventures like ours.

Now, with elections upon us, it is payback time. I want a party in power which understands that their decisions taken at the spur of the moment can adversely impact lives of people for years to come. I want a government that can create both a good social and business environment. I want a government that understands people as individuals and not a homogeneous groups with a single story. Clearly, my choice is the incumbent party. I am very happy with the way the Mamata government handled the pandemic.

There were strict checks at regular intervals to see if business units were following all due measures from face masks to hair masks, to regular sanitization of the premises to temperature checks. My entrepreneurship spirit is still alive and kicking and I will definitely steady myself up; all we need is a government that can put a spark into the hospitality sector again.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘How I Turned The (Dining) Tables On Lockdown’

Lalita Patil, a 35-year-old food entrepreneur in Thane, Maharashtra, recounts how she decided to take a step back to tide over the setback caused by Covid-19 crisis

In 2016, I used my minor savings as seed capital to start a localised tiffin service in Thane. I always wanted to be financially independent. For that reason, after my marriage, I gave private tuitions for some extra income. I even took up a private job but quit after a few years when I felt I had to start something on my own.

The tiffin service was working moderately well but I realised that working from home had its limitations and to grow, I would need to step out. If a woman operates her business from home, she is still considered a housewife and not an entrepreneur. A bigger business model had germinated in my mind but I had little capital to translate it into reality.

ALSO READ: ‘My Kids Turned Prospective Chefs In Lockdown’

And that is when I saw an ad in local newspapers about a start-up idea contest. I took part in it and my idea won the prize money – Rs 10 lakh. With the required capital to boot, I launched Gharachi Aathvan (literally,Remembering Home), a restaurant that offers home-style food in July 2019. This was a fairly big leap from the tiffin service that I had started.

Things began to look up within six months, but then Coronavirus hit Maharashtra. Our state is among the worst affected. I had to down the shutters on Gharachi Aathvan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

After staying home for a few weeks, I decided that to tide over this health, humanitarian and economic crisis, I need to take one step back. Thus, I shifted my focus, and began catering to people who were still working in essential sectors such as medical staff and chemists along with students and young professionals who lived in hostels and PG accommodations. These people were facing problems as they were either unable to cook or to source meals with restaurants closed.

ALSO READ: Misery And Hope In Covid-19 Times

However, this time the tiffin service was a tad different in a way that with every first order I provided my clients a set of utensils. For, I knew it was difficult for them to get plates and spoons this time. I packed a bowl, plates, spoons etc with the first order and informed them that they can return the set once the lockdown gets over.

It started with a few lunch parcels to medical staff I knew. But the word spread, and today close to 50-100 people are eating from my kitchen every day. My revenues have become stable again. This is how I turned the tables on the lockdown.  

ALSO READ: ‘Teaching My Daughter In Lockdown’

Gharachi Aathvan is not just a restaurant; it is my dream. I will not let my dream be shattered by any crisis. I want to be known as a business leader one day, and not a housewife. Like Bisleri is synonymous with mineral water, I want to become synonymous with home-cooked meals.