These Women Restaurateurs Are Deciding What Mumbai Should Eat
Although in a male dominated industry, there's no stopping these entrepreneurs.
There might just be a handful of them, but women restaurant owners in the city are geared by passion and are leaving no stone unturned to be the best in the industry. From the veterans to the new entrants, we spoke to a few of them who are ruling the roost.
Pinky Chandan-Dixit - Soam
It’s been 11 years since Pinky Chandan-Dixit opened Soam going against the tried and tested formula of Gujarati thalis. Raised by parents who run a resort in Mahabaleshwar, starting a restaurant business came naturally to Pinky, but there were challenges. “Initially orders weren’t followed or disregarded as they were coming from a woman, that too from someone who wasn’t even 35 years old,” she says. But things certainly changed, “eventually we developed an equation based on mutual trust and even now I have the same team of people that I started with,” says Pinky. And the equation shows, Soam is one of the most sought-after Gujarati restaurants in Mumbai with a number of awards in its kitty.
Being a veteran in the industry, she advices future women restaurant owners to go with their own pace, “there’s no need to be aggressive with the staff. If you have to put a point across, it can be done as calmly as you do it at home,” she says.
Arpana Gvalani - Gostana
“Restaurant business is challenging to anyone. People might think it’s a glamorous business, but honestly it’s a lot of hard work. You’re practically working 365 days,” says Arpana Gvalani, the owner of Gostana, which has become the hideout for the cool and the creatives. The Australia-trained chef, Gvalani, came to India and started Gostana in Bandra with an intention to turn fast food into healthy grub. Her whole wheat, non-greasy burgers are a hit and she makes her own sauces too. Gvalani worked her way up and did the most tedious of jobs, even cleaning bathrooms and that’s what gives her the knowhow of everything about running a restaurant. “Train yourself to a capacity where no one can question your talent and that requires a lot of hard work. There is no shortcut to this industry,” she signs off with the advice.
Gauri Devidayal - The Table
Gauri Devidayal was pursuing law before she opened The Table in Colaba with her husband. The Table introduced the concept of small and big plates and operated as a fine dining restaurant with a causal vibe. Devidayal, who handles the day-to-day operations, finance, marketing and PR among other things has lately been the face of the restaurant promoting the unique concept of farm-to-table dining. “I didn’t have to deal with the authorities, but if my husband faces any problems with the bureaucracy, I step in and they tend to tone it down,” she says, “sometimes it helps being a woman,” she adds. But she also agrees that it’s a male dominated business, “we don’t have many women in our staff, just a couple of them and the male staff is generally uncomfortable around women,’ she says.
“Women by nature are good at hospitality, so I think there should be more of us in the business. Just make sure you have the right team to support you,” says Devidayal.
Aarathi Arambhan - Me So Happi and The Captain’s Table
Aarathi Arambhan started Me So Happi as a tribute to her mother, who ran a successful Konkani restaurant around the 80s-90s. “My mother gave up her restaurant to take care of my sister and me, and lost her identity, which was just not right,” she says. Arambhan quit her media job, and worked with her father at his off-shore catering business before taking the plunge and opening Me So Happi, a feel-good restaurant serving dishes from across the world in 2013. Early this year, she rolled out her second brand, The Captain’s Table, which serves coastal dishes from across the world; Me So Happi already has two more outlets.
“I didn’t think of pros and cons of the business before starting because of the driving force,” says Arambhan, “but yes, it is a male dominated industry,” she adds mentioning that she has only one woman employee in her team and personally takes care to make her feel comfortable. “If you’re really strong, no man will be able to dominate you,” she says talking about the early challenges in the business. Then there are plus sides of being a woman, “cops mellow down once they see a woman as the owner,” says Arambhan.
Srividya Mehta - Gonguura
A finance professional, Srividya gave Mumbai its first vegetarian Andhra restaurant seven months ago. Gonguura gained popularity through word of mouth publicity giving the tiny restaurant a steady list of clientele. Srividya quit her job to take care of her two children and then started the restaurant to break the monotony of being a stay-at home mom. “Initially the experienced chefs would disregard my ideas thinking that they wouldn’t work, but now they respect them,” she says when asked about the challenges of being a female restaurateur, “the younger staff are easier to handle,” she adds.
Anahita Bafna - The Nutcracker
The owner of one-and-a-half year old cutesy cafe in Kala Ghoda hasn’t undergone any professional training, but learns from her experience. Bafna opened The Nutcracker with recipes that she would experiment with. Talk about the initial challenges and she says that whatever she faced wasn’t specific to being a woman, “the idea that food industry is a male dominated world is just a perception,” she says, “what matters is the team you work with. If that part is taken care of, everything else goes smoothly,” she adds.
The author is a freelance food and travel writer and shares her stories on Foodchants. She is on a perpetual quest to learn about the history of regional food.