Patricia Thomas was only 17 when she married Narayan, a Hindu Brahmin boy, against the wishes of her conservative Christian family. She was disowned by her father, and, to make things worse, her Prince Charming turned out to be an abusive drug addict who had no time for her two children.
Left with no choice, Patricia took financial help from her mother and started a mobile cart at Marina Beach. She employed two disabled persons to help her in selling snacks, fresh juice, coffee, and tea. “The Marina is my business school, it is my MBA,” Patricia told The Hindu in an interview.
Over the next years, her hard work and dedication paid off, as she started branching out into running canteens for offices across Chennai. In 1998, she become a director of Sangeetha group's Nelson Manickam Road restaurant.
By then, her children had grown up, but her husband's behaviour worsened. Narayan would stub her with cigarettes when he didn't get money from Patricia, and disappear for months. In 2002, during one such disappearance, he died. Two years later, her recently-married daughter also died in a road accident, along with her son-in-law.
Devastated, Patricia and her son started their first restaurant ‘Sandeepha’ in memory of her late daughter. Patricia has, since then, loved and nurtured her restaurant the way she would nurture her daughter. She won the 'FICCI Woman Entrepreneur of the Year' in 2010 for her extraordinary life and struggles.
"I started my business with just two people. Now, there are 200 people working for me in my restaurants. My lifestyle has changed too. From travelling in a cycle rickshaw, I moved to auto rickshaws and now I have my own car. From 50 paise a day, my revenue has gone up to Rs 2 lakh a day," Patricia told Rediff.