This creative serial entrepreneur runs a time café and designs quirky furniture
Serial entrepreneur Vandita Purohit’s efforts in entrepreneurship all have a streak of creativity and a touch of the unusual.
How else would you explain the old Bajaj Chetak scooter-turned-reception counter at the entrance of her time café? Or her carpentry venture that turns cabinets into wine racks and old cupboard drawers into stools? And what about her travel company TraWork that specialised in organising 'workations' even before it became a buzzword?
There is a definite creative zeal in everything that Vandita ventures into.
A café ahead of time
Mauji Time Café in Pune, which Vandita runs, is based on the Russian concept of anti-cafés. These are establishments where people can have as many biscuits and beverages as they please and pay for the time spent at the café per minute.
Vandita started work on Mauji Café in March 2020, but, 15 days later, when the COVID-19-induced lockdown was announced, she had to put a pause on the idea. She resumed work when things started getting back to normal, and the café was launched in October.
The café with an Indo-Bohemian vibe is housed in a sprawling two-storey bungalow spread across 5,500 sq ft. Customers gather at the happening café for events such as business showers, open mics, game nights, and musical gigs.
In 2021, when the pandemic forced a second lockdown, Mauji’s business was affected but once the lockdown was gradually lifted, people were back at the café in hordes.
“It was tougher in the second lockdown because we had overheads and people’s salaries to pay. But, sure enough, slowly and steadily, we managed to come out of that,” says Vandana.
Mauji Café’s design is built around the theme of sustainability. Vandita roped in Shivani Vyawahare, a friend who had just graduated as an architect. The two of them put their heads together to create unique interiors and quirky furniture and décor pieces for the café by recycling and renovating old items.
For instance, the wall art in the café is made of cutouts from journals that Vandita had picked up during her travels across the world, which she got framed. An old Bajaj Chetak scooter bought from a scrap dealer was turned into a nifty reception desk. The yellow couch at the café, a huge hit among customers, was found in a ripped-apart condition, ready to be discarded, before it became the cosy couch that it is today.
“When I was a kid, my mother used to buy utensils in exchange for old clothes. It was such a good way to recycle old clothes. It struck me as to why can’t I adapt the same idea for furniture,” says the entrepreneur, explaining the logic behind reusing old items at her café.
While designing the indoor spaces of the café, Vandita thought of her next entrepreneurial idea—Kalapentry, which she started in partnership with Shivani.
Kalapentry renovates, refurbishes, and recycles old furniture to create a line of bespoke, sustainable furniture. No two furniture pieces that Kalapentry makes are alike, and they are sold through garage sales held every three months.
With the help of carpenters, Vandita and Shivani have turned small cabinets into wine racks and redesigned chairs that were falling apart into modern seating.
“We’re very conscious of keeping it at a small scale now because we are a limited set of people working on it. We want to get funded before we make it large-scale, as it is a capital-intensive business and we do not want to get stuck because of money,” says Vandita.
The duo plans to start a store eventually.
Travel while you work
In 2018, Vandita launched TraWork, which specialised in work vacations at a time when they weren’t so popular.
An earnest traveller herself, Vandita loves exploring places at length, visiting local cafés and co-working spaces, and absorbing experiences. She met a lot of co-travellers during her trips, and that’s when she hit upon the idea for TraWork.
“It started as a passion project, and I thought taking people on a work vacation meant I would also get to travel. The idea caught on so much that I soon started thinking of turning it into a company,” she says.
Vandita did quite a few trips at TraWork, but the company took a backseat during the pandemic. She is now looking to relaunch her travel startup as, post-pandemic, workations have seen an increasing interest from lockdown-weary people.
Her travels also led her to the idea of time cafés, which were popular in Russia.
A long entrepreneurial journey
Vandita’s entrepreneurial pursuits began way back in 2009, when she and her husband co-founded Mint Tree, a company that engaged in outsourced sales services. Post that, the entrepreneur founded The Daftar, a co-working space in Pune.
Next on her plate is an event in December on the lines of a massive garage sale plus flea market. For this, she is looking to collaborate with other furniture and home décor vendors and sponsors. She also wants the event to enable people to auction their old furniture or donate it to NGOs working for the underprivileged.
What is her learning as an entrepreneur? “One thing I've learned in the last couple of years is that you must be immensely patient, especially when you’re working on something new and unique. One cannot just rush into things. If you set goals that are unreasonable, it’s only going to lead to anxiety,” signs of Vandita.
Edited by Swetha Kannan