In 2017, Induben Rajput from Mehsana, Gujarat, met with a bike accident that left her spine severely injured, with multiple cracks and compressed nerves. She was advised complete bed rest in order to avoid a permanent back issue.
This put the mother of three in a precarious spot. Her stitching venture had just started to take off, and her hard earned money was going towards her expensive medical treatment. Her husband, who was a government clerk at the time, took multiple loans for her post-surgery care and the education of their children.
“Our lives shattered after that incident,” Induben, now 44, tells The Better India. “I felt helpless, because I had lost my earnings. My husband worked longer hours as I lay in bed the whole day. I’d need someone’s help to even step outside the house. There were days when I would just lose my balance after walking a few steps. My daughters were going to a private school, we had five mouths to feed, and there was no way we could survive on my husband’s salary alone. I saw no light — there was only a long dark tunnel.”
But she says her daughters and husband did not lose hope. It was thanks to them that she would go on to start Chilli and Cheese, her homemade food venture, with which the family has found financial stability. In February this year, she also appeared on the reality TV show The Big Picture, hosted by actor Ranveer Singh.
Not your usual vada pav
Induben may be an expert in preparing a variety of dishes, but she was full of self-doubts when her daughters first suggested she start selling home-cooked food. Living in a state populated with all kinds of food joints — big and small — and where people love their food with ardent devotion, she knew she had to have a standout component to make money.
Without enough financial standing to buy ovens or microwaves, she did the next best thing — she turned towards her mother’s recipes.
“Being born and raised in Kolhapur has its advantages. As a Gujarati, I must have eaten vada pav more than dhoklas while growing up. My mom would make them at home and add her masalas instead of what is generally used. This gave the food a distinct flavour and smell,” she recalls.
In 2019, the family rented a small space for Rs 16,000, and opened their food joint Chilli and Cheese.
They started selling vada pav and later added other items such as sandwiches, pizzas, and burgers. Induben introduced mint and schezwan vada pav to attract the younger generation. The various types of vada pav available here range from Rs 30 to Rs 79.
The joint opens at 11 am, but Induben starts work around 9. She purchases fresh vegetables from the market and starts her day by boiling potatoes and making chutneys.
Induben says the business has now started growing, and that they receive an average of 30-40 orders per day. Last month, they churned a revenue of Rs 1.25 lakh, of which a majority was reinvested, she notes. What was left was Rs 8,000, which she took home.
“When we opened the joint, our revenue was Rs 40,000. But soon, curfews were imposed due to COVID-19 and our business came to a halt. For weeks, we did not get even a single customer. So taking home Rs 8,000 is a breakthrough for me,” she says, holding back tears of joy.
While the initial marketing was through word of mouth and social media platforms, things changed for the better after she appeared on The Big Picture.
“The show changed our fate. I was afraid we would have to shut shop as none of us are experts in marketing. Ranveer’s encouragement on the show made a huge difference. I was very nervous on the show, but when I returned home, I received so many congratulatory calls from relatives and strangers,” she adds.
In fact, the business’s best selling item is the ‘Spicy Simba Vada Pav’, which Ranveer Singh named himself, she says.
Rajkumar Patel, a devoted customer of Chilli and Cheese, says, “I heard about the restaurant on the internet and came here to taste the Ranveer special. The quality has been maintained well and the flavour is very distinct. It tasted as fresh as it looks in the images.”
In the future, Induben hopes to expand her services and start delivery options. At present, she is running the joint with help from her husband and daughters.
“We cannot afford to hire any staff for now, and my family is supportive. As for my back pain, it is still there, but I am improving gradually. I still cannot sit for long, but thankfully, my new job requires me to stand most of the time,” she adds.
You can reach her here.
Edited by Divya Sethu