Veecheet Dhakal, vocalist-violinist of folk rock band Gauley Bhai, was on a tour in Nepal, when the lockdown was announced in India in March. The band members rushed back to Bengaluru, where they currently live, on one of the last flights in. For a long time, the group was at a loss about what to do since covid-19 crisis had put a stop to live gigs or events. Few weeks ago, their band manager Angarika Guha suggested Dhakal, who lives with two bandmates, to create a delivery menu, given they all are passionate foodies. Originally from Kalimpong, the bandmates along with two friends made a Tibetan-Nepali menu, with their favourites like Gyuma (steamed Tibetan sausages), momos and GokPo (rice bowls served with meat or vegetable curry and topped with mustard leaves) on the list. “It started with four-five orders from friends when Angarika first circulated our menu. Now, we’ve sold about 140 dishes and we do everything, from shopping to cooking, ourselves," says Dhakal, who is attempting to source authentic ingredients such as Bhutanese Sichuan peppers from a friend whose family runs a shop back home.
Like these musicians, there are several others who have launched home-based food businesses after losing work because of the pandemic.
Goa-based Edgardo Cruzet was reliant on his work as an IT consultant and UI/UX designer for the past two decades, but once the pandemic hit, he found himself in a tight spot. Three of his projects were stalled and two companies stopped paying retainer fees. “The credit card bills were mounting and I had just returned from a holiday abroad," says Cruzet, 44.
Then he got an idea. Few times a year, Cruzet used to put up a khao suey stall at Goan flea markets. With such events now a distant dream, Cruzet decided to scale up and get regular home delivery orders. He’s now actively promoting his brand, Eddie’s Khaosuey, on social media platforms. From taking orders once a week, he’s now delivering on five days. “A lot of friends were wary of ordering from restaurants because of hygiene concerns. But they were happy to order from me since I was getting the deliveries done myself," says Cruzet, who has hired a person to help with the deliveries. He claims to be getting 80-100 orders a week now. “Since I do all the work myself I don’t take more than 30 orders a day which is what I can manage. Also, once I switched to biodegradable packaging, my sales went up as well," he adds.
But running a home kitchen isn’t always a successful gambit. Nilofar Merchant, a Bengaluru-based school teacher who lost her job in March, is struggling to find business on a daily basis. From cupcakes to snack items and meals, she’s been circulating her menu, Nilo’s Dabba, on WhatsApp and Facebook ever since the lockdown was announced. “I only get orders once or twice a week and it’s not enough. I have reached out to corporate contacts to see if I can supply meals on a regular basis but since most people are working from home there’s not much demand there," says Merchant, 31.
Sarabjeet Singh and Faseeulla Saifulla, owners of Slurp Cooking Studio in Bengaluru, launched a home delivery menu couple of months ago. Singh says the sudden influx of home aggregators has hit the business adversely. “We started with a bang. We got about 150 orders for our biryani initially, but now, after 10 Sundays, it has come down to 50. There are too many people in this space," Singh explains. Plus, procuring packaging material is a challenge with many markets being shut. They’re in the process of launching a 10-hour online course for Indian cooking. “Since most people are stuck at home and having to cook for themselves, the idea is to familiarize people with a greater variety of ingredients and culinary techniques," he adds.
To stand out from the crowd, Russell Van Buerle, who runs a tattoo studio in Bengaluru, has launched a line of marinated meats, Cha’s Marinades. “For the past four months, we’ve been getting orders regularly," says Van Buerle, 48. They sell about eight kilos on a weekend. “We offer barbecue style sauces unlike the marinades available in supermarkets." So far they’ve been circulating their menu on WhatsApp, but are now planning to make an Instagram account.
Among the few home-kitchen owners to tie up with food aggregators, Krishna Chaitanya was working as a floor manager and chef at a Bengaluru café when the pandemic hit.
“I was out of a job soon and my wife, who works as a visual merchandiser, was also asked to leave. Since we were unable to find another job, I decided to sell biryanis," says Chaitanya. They have registered their business as Preethi’s Biryani Hub, and also teamed up with their landlady who specializes in Kerala food.
Despite the challenges, some like Dhakal and Cruzet are hoping to convert their passion into a bonafide business over time. Dhakal is already talking about registering the company, while Cruzet loves the idea of being self-reliant to make a living.