Payal Agarwal braves challenges, becomes a successful restaurateur in Siliguri

By Saswati Mukherjee|12th Sep 2015
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An educationist, an insurance professional, a restaurateur and a single mother – Payal Agarwal is everything rolled into one.

But each role that she assumed in life threw her a plethora of challenges which she accepted bravely. Payal was always determined to give each role her best and succeed. “Life,” she says, “has been her biggest teacher.”

Born into a Marwari family, Payal was the fourth daughter in the family and the first for her parents. Though she was born in the nondescript town of Mungpoo in West Bengal, her businessman father moved soon after to Siliguri where she pursued her education till Std 12. With a modest income, her dad could not support her education beyond higher secondary and she was married off at the age of 19.


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At an age when most girls would want to see the world and pursue a career, Payal had to contend with a tragedy in her life. Soon after her marriage, she got pregnant and due to some complications, suffered a miscarriage.

Life looked bleak then as doctors diagnosed me with a medical condition deeming me unfit to become a mother ever but the Almighty sure has his way of doing miracles,

says Payal. Little more than a year into this incident, she conceived a second time and gave birth to her son, the little one who has grown up to be her anchor today.

Payal becomes entrepreneur

It was soon after losing her first baby that she thought of starting up a playschool, an endeavour for which she got the full support of her father-in-law. “He was the one who encouraged me to start up the playschool and instil in me the confidence that I could do it,” says Payal. And it was perhaps engaging with these toddlers and teaching them the basics of life that she miraculously conceived a second time.

The birth of her son only meant more responsibilities and Payal did not shy away from any of it. Her husband was into odd-jobs and did not contribute much towards the family income, so Payal got herself a job in the Insurance sector as well, without any professional degree to fall back on.

She learnt on the job and it was an enriching experience to say the least. For five years she worked in that sector and won accolades too. It was her mother-in-law who took care of her son while she concentrated on her stint in the Insurance sector which required her to travel a lot.

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Payal is a self-confessed foodie.

But life took another turn and Payal again found herself at the crossroads. She lost her father and her husband moved away with another woman. She got back to her parents’ place and her family now consisted of her mother, two younger brothers and a 7-year-old son. Given the turn of circumstances, she had to give up her job in the Insurance sector as it involved a lot of travel and the playschool too had to be shut because the property on which it was running belonged to her husband.

The going got tough and Payal got going

As the saying goes, when the going gets tough the tough get going. Payal found herself staring at a tough situation. With no formal degree in hand, she was at a loss for a professional choice in life and did not know the way ahead, despite realising her responsibilities and the need to turn breadwinner.

At this point, it was her late father whose words inspired her. “Right from my early days, I used to be fascinated with cookery shows, so much so that my father wanted me to start my own catering unit someday. I thought time was ripe to act upon his advice. With nervousness and a lot of belief in the Almighty, I opened up my first restaurant in Siliguri,” says Payal. Today Payal is the Managing Director of Romharsh Hospitality Group which manages two restaurants and a banquet hall, all in Siliguri.

Asked about the challenges she faced in life as a woman entrepreneur, Payal says she never had the option to say no to work as she has been the breadwinner of her family for almost 15 years now.

Says Payal,

I have kind of forgotten that I am a ‘woman’ entrepreneur, having faced all possible challenges in this male-dominated sector.

This 33-year-old entrepreneur strictly abides by one mantra in her life: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

That’s precisely what she did and she is thankful to her critics who were not too kind to her in her initial days of entrepreneurship.

Tears from my son’s eyes motivated me to work harder and make him proud of his mother one day,

says Payal who has been bothered by the attitude of society towards single mothers.

Her role models

Jyotsana Suri, CMD of Bharat Hotels is Payal’s role model and she wholeheartedly hopes she is able to meet her in person someday. Another role model has been Deepa Mallick, who told Payal that one doesn’t need legs, but a strong willpower to run. Nigella Lawson, the popular cookery show artist, is yet another inspiration. “Give her any combination of ingredients and she will come up with something mouth-watering, I wish to gain such a mastery over my cooking one day,” says Payal.

One thing which irks Payal is women underestimating themselves and allowing themselves to be ruled.

Respect every man but let no man disrespect you,

she says.

Payal is her own best friend, motivator and judge. Being a single mother was not easy, especially with the stigma and the social pressure around it but Payal managed to pull it off with aplomb, alongside being an entrepreneur. It is perhaps to give women stuck in suffocating relationships a platform that she intends to start an NGO to support them.