Here are the boss ladies from Hyderabad are making a mark in the city’s culinary landscape
These entrepreneurs run successful homegrown ventures with a single-minded focus on bringing a variety of artisanal edibles to the plates of city folks. However, they get candid about the challenges they face and give us a lowdown of what kept them going:
A storyteller’s tale
Chaitali Manohar Pednekar, the chef and co-founder of Willow Bake Shop at Banjara Hills tells us that she has wanted to own a café ever since she was in the ninth grade. She also adds that besides cooking and baking, she has wanted to be a bartender. The unique feature of this place is that they also host themed Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones dinners, where storytelling takes precedence. She opened her first outlet in 2019 with Sujit Seshadri and Mohammad Imaad Farookhi, and the trio is looking forward to moving their base to another area in the city after the outlet opens for customers full-time. “We barely completed nine months of operations and the lockdown was announced. We remained shut for dine-in for 11 months and operated only on a pre-order takeaway basis. But people loved and trusted Willow. So we also pulled off Halloween, Diwali, and Christmas by creating gift hampers with baked goodies. The help of our teammates was crucial and it kept us afloat,” says Chaitali. She mentions that she is grateful for the love and support she received from her family and friends. The well-known city baker takes inspiration from chef Joonie Tan from Lavonne Academy in Bengaluru, vegan chef Pooja Masurkar from Kaya Cafe Ladakh, and chef Nancy Silverton from La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles.
Holding up the reins of Pan-Asian
If you think of a top-notch Asian diner in the city, Haiku will likely come to mind. Boss lady Suma — opened the second outlet at Gachibowli in 2019. However, soon after the outlet started picking up pace, she had to battle the challenges that the onset of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown threw at her. “The most difficult part in the pandemic was to keep the morale of the staff up,” says the founder, who started her business with the café, Kaficko in 2014 and closed it in March 2020. But, with Haiku, she kept on marching ahead. Things are looking up with the new menu she launched recently. Suma is actively working towards making the brand as sustainable as possible. That apart, the new menu is keeping her busy too. She shares, rather excitedly, “We are now serving exotic meats and seafood — expect to try dishes with lobster, scallops, crabs, mackerel and eel.
Serving up holistic wellness
If health and fitness are on your mind and yet indulging a large pizza or an oversized burger is what you need, then Orka Cafe ticks all the boxes. The place known for its healthy menu is a seed nurtured by founder Madhu Lahari. She opened the café in 2019 with an intention of bringing good energy and wellness to a plate. Madhu tells us about the challenges she faced in her journey of combating the myth that healthy food is boring. “Right from having people who understand my vision to bringing my idea to life, everything has been a challenge. The biggest test was getting the investment. I had to finance myself completely. And, yes, I had to take calculated risks. But it is this hard uphill climb that makes this success sweeter,” shares Madhu. The entrepreneur also tells us her grand plans for Orka this year. “I want Orka to become a community center. A farmers’ market and a flea market selling locally-grown and sustainable products are also on the cards. I plan to give back to the community and the earth in every small way possible and Madhu Lahari healthy food is the cornerstone of it,” shares Madhu, signing off.
Creating better binge habits
One of the initial challenges that founders of AkiMi’s Gourmet, Midhila Raavi and Akila Vankalapati, encountered was making healthy food taste good. Once they achieved that, they slowly built a trusted set of loyalists in Hyderabad and Chennai. “We liked indulging our sweet tooth, but never found healthy options. This made us want to experiment,” shares Midhila.They have come a long way since the lockdown, during which the anxiety of keeping the business afloat was not easy to deal with. But they concentrated on innovating their recipes instead. “Most of the new items on our menu were curated during the lockdown. Some of my personal favourites include the Florentines, Pecan Pie Bars and Breakfast Cookies,” informs Midhila. They are also working on a nano website. “That will make it easier for our customers to order,” elaborates the Hyderabad-based founder, who finds inspiration in superfood entrepreneur, Sridevi Jasti of Vibrant Living.
The call of chocolate
Aparna Gorrepati, who owns Zuci Chocolates and Café, has always loved dabbling in various cuisines. However, she candidly confesses that being a first-generation entrepreneur is fraught with challenges. “The responsibilities are many, including aspects like infrastructure, design, menu, quality, customer experience, sales and marketing,” says the founder who helms the outlet along with husband, Chaitanya. Aparna also happens to be a trained chocolatier with over 13 years of hands-on experience in industrial and retail chocolate. The outlet gradually found its way to the heart of chocolate lovers as they offered niche desserts that took a while to find takers. But once they found their loyal set, there was no looking back. “Innovation is key and we hope to introduce many new products through the year and reach a wider audience through various platforms,” says the gourmand, who looks up to the likes of Nigella Lawson, Kee Ling Tong, and Maribel Lieberman.
With a twist
It requires a certain zeal to make an out-of-the-box idea a success. That is the reason why Prashansa Sahani, the co-founder of Hemis Store is on our list. She runs this wholesome and organic brand with her husband, Varun Gupta. Although she hails from a family that has had its presence in the hospitality sector for years, she wanted to create her own space in the industry. “Making the superfood, hemp, a part of our everyday routine was my idea. But it came with its set of difficulties. Hemp is perhaps the only vegan product that gives the same benefits as fish, in terms of protein and amino acids. But people had a misconception of it being a narcotic, when it is a superfood,” elaborates Prashansa. She also tells us that her mother is her biggest inspiration and her favourite food memories happen to be the times she spent at her mother’s restaurant in Secunderabad. The co-founder of Hemis also shares light on the growing fondness for healthy living. “The pandemic certainly changed the way businesses operate. But, luckily for us, our nutrition products were marked essential and we had consistent orders coming in during the lockThe grand dames of down,” informs Prashansa.