How the pandemic opened a window of opportunity for this home chef to start a healthy Indian fast-food business
We have all heard of the baking boom during the pandemic, and some of us were even part of that statistic. From sourdough bread and pasty to banana bread and homemade naan, the pandemic forced many a newbie to turn their households into experiment grounds.
Mumbai-based Seema Makwana, a homemaker-turned businesswoman, had also been baking away during the pandemic, catering to her society neighbourhood first. This eventually led to a full-grown venture--Buns & Deluchas, which now serves healthy and nutritious Indian fast food all over Mumbai.
Seema’s success story, though, was not scripted overnight. It took years of patience and perseverance, she says.
“I could not finish my studies due to financial constraints. After marriage, although I had a very supportive and encouraging family, I wasn’t able to pursue my passion for baking because I live in a joint family and am married to the family's older son. The daily responsibilities were quite time-consuming and exhausting,” Seema tells HerStory.
The early days
In 2020, during the first lockdown, Seema found the time to explore and practice her passion more frequently and professionally. “My husband and other family members helped me launch my first business--Seema's Mystery Buns, which was primarily an experiment to learn customer demands,” says Seema.
The menu was influenced by Seema’s husband Jenis Makwana’s work travel and experiences. “Being an architect, he travelled for extended periods of time, and he would often bemoan the lack of healthy Indian fast food. His colleagues too felt the same, and I thought there was a big gap here. So I made the decision to try to cook something that has Indian flavours, is healthy, and is comfortable to eat. That’s how I assembled my first menu.”
In July 2020, Seema launched Seema’s Mystery Buns, with her husband assisting her with branding, and her entire family helping deliver the food across the society. The popularity of the food and the brand grew, and this encouraged Seema to scale the business beyond her neighbourhood. In August 2021, the day after the second lockdown was lifted, Seema launched Buns & Deluchas, from her home in Kandivali in Mumbai.
While the seasoned chef specialised in stuffed buns with Indian curries and gravies, her speciality was also the deluchas--wheat kulcha wraps with vegetables and patty. Seema also tried her hand at stuffed savoury waffles with Indian and Chinese curries, which she termed staffles.
“I enjoy creating and serving innovative and healthy cuisines to everyone, and if I get to taste great success and greater love from our customers, it's like an addiction that I thoroughly enjoy. And being able to serve healthy fast food that is also completely safe to kids gives me a lot of satisfaction as a mother,” says Seema, who has two kids.
A cloud kitchen at home
Although Seema started small with the help of her family, the business is now doing well and she employs five people, including a delivery boy.
Seema runs her fast food business from her apartment, where she carved a separate space in a room, with a well-organised kitchen. “I have plans to open an outlet by the end of the year. Until then, I will continue to dish out creative dishes from my kitchen,” she says.
For a homemaker, learning the ropes of running a food business was tricky, but one that Seema views as a learning experience. “Every day was a learning for us. From delivery to packaging, there are changes and innovations always. In the past few months, there has been a 20 to 30% increase in customers every month,” says Seema, who launched the business with an initial investment of around Rs 5 lakh.
In the last six months alone, Buns & Deluchas has received orders worth an average of Rs 1.5 lakh per month, informs Seema.
The company has served nearly 1,000 customers in Mumbai alone so far. The brand’s products have also reached other countries after Seema received a few bulk orders from friends who were going abroad. “I froze the food, vacuum packed it, and sent it with them. They were happy because all they had to do was unwrap it and heat it up,” says Seema.
There have been stumbling blocks along the way. Seema says curating a menu for a food business according to her principles of not adding preservatives has been tough. “My entire menu contains no preservatives or artificial flavours. I also make sure to use only organic and natural ingredients. So obviously, I did have to do a lot of research on how to make Indian flavoured fast food out of healthy ingredients alone.”
The research has been fruitful, as the product range at Buns & Deluchas has seen some extremely innovative food products like banana wedges (bananas that are fried and sprinkled with homemade masala, served with classic cheesy dip), and stuffed waffles.
As a first-generation entrepreneur who took the bold step of following her passion, does Seema have any advice for other women like her? She says, “Family comes first, but make sure you value your ambition. I was fortunate to have a supportive family, but others may not be. However, it is our responsibility to make it right if it is not. Follow your dreams, and there is no such thing as a boundary or a limit if you want to achieve something. Just be dedicated to yourself and keep doing what you’re doing, and your destiny will surely guide you,” concludes Seema.
Edited by Megha Reddy