As the COVID pandemic derailed the economies across the globe, Rukhsana Manzoor’s family business of Handicrafts also hit rock bottom.
In her mid-50’s, Rukhsana, from Chanapora Srinagar, an experienced school teacher decided to help her family through her passion for cooking.
In Kashmir, as the growing trend of eateries has added scores of restaurants, Rukhsana thought about an out of box idea of a cloud kitchen. A cloud kitchen is a commercial kitchen for food businesses that provide food for delivery and takeout only.
“My aim was to start something which is relatively new to Kashmir. Most of the restaurants in Kashmir serve different varieties, be it Chinese, Indian, or Arabian food. Those who serve Kashmir food mostly stick to wazwan. I wanted to bring the menu that is served in Kashmiri kitchens on a daily basis and that is where the idea came from,” Rukhsana said.
She says that it was her passion as she is known for good cooking skills in the family. As the COVID hit and the family business of her husband suffered, she thought it was the right time to put her skills to good use.
“Being a working woman for 2 decades, I thought about various businesses. After much deliberation and discussions with my children, I decided food is something that I love and I should utilize my skills to support my family. My kids are grown up, one daughter is married and two other kids are studying."
"My children at home helped me with ideas and how to take the help of social media to run a commercial kitchen from home. I opened social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram to get in touch with those who need home cooked food. I first thought of exclusive tiffin service but then I stuck to the idea of cloud kitchen where my customers order and take away food items,” she said.
Rukhsana said that there are large number of people who want to eat authentic home-cooked meals rather than junk food and usual restaurant meals, which helped her in business.
“We serve meals like traditional Kashmir fish , chicken dishes made on Ver, a Kashmiri spice mix. Our dishes include czhoek wangan, a Brinjal dish made on tamarind, Kashmir style paya (Pache) and Kashmiri Saag. This is in addition to dozens of day-to-day Kashmiri dishes. We wanted to keep the feel of home food alive that is why the name Gari Batti which literally translates to ‘Home food’, she said.
Rukhsana is also serving a Kashmiri spice mix called Ver and Saffron to customers who are into Kashmiri traditional spices.
As the ex-school teacher started the journey alone, currently she has employed two helpers for the business and also tied up with a food delivery company in Kashmir to deliver food items. She said that in addition to individual deliveries, her main target customer bases include parties, picnics, and other social gatherings.
“It is a great option for those who want to eat home food but don’t have time to cook at home. We also deliver to office goers like doctors who are on day and night shifts and want to treat their taste buds with some authentic homemade food,” She added.
Rukhsana says that being a teacher, she had no experience in running a food business but her determination, help from daughters, and family encouragement made things easy for her.
She said that family helped her in all the formalities like registration and other paperwork. She believes that if one is true to self and gives the best service, no business is difficult.
“At a time when people are consuming junk food and the repeated restaurant menus, there are many who crave authentic home meals and my target is those people. When I started I didn’t know if I would succeed and now with the grace of Allah, I have extra orders than i can cater to. People are attracted to home kitchen food because they know it is made without preservatives and is hygienic. We usually see young people indulging in entrepreneurship but I think age is just a number and if you are passionate and honest with your work, you can do wonders,” she said.
The trend of Cloud Kitchens which serve food without a restaurant has just started in Kashmir. Although people in Kashmir are doing many jobs like home baking from their home, cloud kitchens are a new addition.
“I have to look after my family responsibilities also, that is why if you have a job which you can do while staying at home, it is a great help. I am dividing my time between social life and my cloud kitchen which has been tough but you have to sacrifice and manage if you want to do something different. This business has not only helped my family but also built new confidence in me and gave me the belief that even after leaving a 20-year job and sitting home for a few years, I can still earn and follow my passion,” she added.
Rukhsana said that she expects her work will inspire more women to follow their passion. She believes that Kashmiri women have great talent and they only need encouragement to explore what they are best at.
The trend of cloud kitchens started by people like Rukhsana Manzoor is expected to pave a way for people to follow their passion for food and other business. This will not only help them financially but will also give them a chance to follow their passion and use their talent for good.