How these women restaurateurs are disrupting the Indian hospitality industry with unique concepts

From introducing new cuisines to reinventing the idea of dining, three women restaurateurs tell HerStory about their innovations in the restaurant business.
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In many countries, the kitchen is often designated as a “woman’s place” in the house. Cooking is seen as a task that comes naturally to them. Whereas, when a man cooks, it is seen as them going out of their way to help or as a hobby. 

However, the tables are turned when we take a look at professional kitchens and restaurants. Most shows on food channels are hosted or judged by men. The restaurant industry is mostly dominated by men and there are still not many women working starting up in the industry or working as head chefs.

HerStory spoke to some restaurateurs/chefs in the industry to understand what it is to be a woman in the sector and how they are on trend when it comes to business.

The art of Italian baking 

Casual dining places and cafes have gained popularity in recent times because of the growing cafe culture in India.

Anjali Mohan, is Chef and Director of Danbro that offers more than just a cafe that has baked food on its menu.

Anjali, a seasoned baker, learnt the art of baking from Italian chefs as part of her culinary courses in Italy. She has over 27 years of experience with multiple establishments like Taj Group of hotels and Movenpick Ice Creams and was working with Mr. Brown Bakery when the brand decided to open Danbro, an Italian bakery-cum-cafe last year. Anjali was designated as the director for the South Delhi venture. 

Anjali Mohan in the outdoor setting at Danbro.

Anjali says that the team put in a lot of effort to decide every little detail from the right location to products on the menu taking into consideration people’s preferences, current trends, and other factors before the launch.

Their efforts culminated into Danbro, a bespoke Italian boulangerie and patisserie in Kailash Colony, Delhi that works on 'The Glocal Bakery' concept - an amalgamation of a bakery and a cafe.   

Anjali explains,

“The idea behind opening Danbro was to offer a five-star lounge experience to its patrons at an affordable cost. It is a one-of-its-kind patisserie and cafe that caters to people from all walks of life and ages. The boulangerie has paid special attention to millennials with a specially-crafted comprehensive contemporary menu syncing with their choices in food.”

Crossing culinary boundaries

The idea of a good coffee and food over a stimulating conversation is always alluring. A cafe allows all these possibilities. Banking on the popularity of the emerging cafe culture, Olive Group of Restaurants decided to combine the comfort of a cafe and bar with Olly, its first all-day cafe and bar in the heart of Gurugram. 

Raising the bar higher at Olly is Jyotika Malik, the developmental chef at Olive who handles the kitchen.

A graduate from the acclaimed culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, London, she has a Grand Diploma in both Cuisine and Patisserie. Her early experiences include working for Marco Pierre White at his Michelin Star restaurant - Mirabelle, and at The Dorchester Hotel in London.

Wanting to be a part of the fast-evolving Indian food revolution, Jyotika returned to India and joined The Zodiac Grill as sous chef. After this stint, she decided to head to Switzerland to work as an independent food consultant to various hotels and gourmet retail stores for six years. Her next six-year stint took her to Dubai, where she helped set up a cooking school, consulted for standalone restaurants, hotel chains, and large food companies. 

Chef Jyotika Malik, developmental chef at Olly.

Chef Jyotika has created a menu that allows guests to find their own palate and also encourages them to discover new palates. With a versatile setting and experiences, it is a place where everyone can find their comfort. 

“It's a place where you can sit along and read a book or work; catch up with friends on the lovely terrace; visit with the family on Sundays for the picnic brunch; or night outs with live music or a sundowner with happy hours. There's something for everyone and for every mood,” says Jyotika. 

Reinventing the restaurant experience 

Drasty Shah is reinventing the idea of dining experience with her venture, The Project Cafe (TPC).

It is perhaps the only establishment of its kind in the country which combines food, art & design and retail experiences all under a single roof; where everything is for sale- from the restaurant tableware to the furniture, including every featured art piece. 

Drasty Shah, the founder and COO of The Project Cafe.

A graduate of Hospitality Business from the US, she was managing a visual communication agency before she decided to experiment on a collaboration of art, design, performance (music and literary) and food. The experiment worked and Drasty now has two establishments, one in Ahmedabad and the other in Assagao, Goa. 

The Project Cafe has become an artistic sanctuary combining food and art. TPC has collaborated with over 750 artists from around the world. TPC Goa replicates the model of TPC Ahmedabad with a unique residential experience in a 130-year-old Portuguese villa. 

“It is more like a functional interactive experiential retail and hospitality, one of the only sustainable collaboration platforms in the country that is an actual restaurant amidst an art gallery. The goal of the TPC team is to bring art in daily life, taking it out of the conventional gallery space and presenting objects of beauty and aesthetic to an audience that can experience or purchase these objects,” says Drasty. 

Being a woman in the sector

Like other male-dominated sectors, the restaurant industry can be a tough place for women.

“Working long hours is a prerequisite in this sector. The work is physically demanding, and it can be difficult for women as they also have to take care of their households, says Jyotika. Anjali also echoes the same sentiment when she talks about the long and odd hours which pose safety concerns for women, especially when some places don’t offer transport facilities. 

Drasty says being a woman in the hospitality industry, she faces challenges in establishing equal power, trust, and authority between herself and her team. Work related to bureaucracy, investments or simply getting work done from male team members can be a Herculean task at times. There is also the disparity in remuneration for men and women. 

However, times are changing, and Anjali feels optimistic.

“I feel that the preconceptions that society had about women are changing with time. Women are no longer envisaged as mere homemakers. They are being seen as upcoming entrepreneurs possessing numerous abilities,” she adds. 

All three of them believe that being a woman lets them make decisions that are more egalitarian. Jyotika says that women help hire more women, provide emotional support, a more conducive working environment, support systems, flexible working conditions, and bring in more structure. Women are more hospitable in nature and bring warmth to operations, adds Anjali. 

In conclusion, Drasty believes women and girls have the power to bring about change if they get the opportunities they deserve. 

These three women are bringing about innovation and change, and reinventing processes in the industry, one step a time.

(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)


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