Inspirational story of a Homecook turned food entrepreneur
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Read the story of how a household cook from India built a successful food export business and her simple philosophy in running the business.
Meet our first unconventional woman entrepreneur. Vibhavari Pandit, founder of “Pandit Foods”.
A 75 year old enterprising, strong, passionate and energetic entrepreneur who turned her passion for cooking into a profit making business and envisions to change the way India eats.
Pandit foods popularly known for its delicious Puran Polis (a maharashtrian delicacy) was started in 1985 from her home in Mumbai. A rags to riches story. Vibhavari Pandit hails from a small town in India, Sangli. She grew up in a traditional Indian family and as a tradition was married at a early age. With big dreams in her eyes she moved to Mumbai post her marriage. Life’s reality hit her hard. Her family situation demanded her to work and earn money for living. She was lost wondering as to how she could support her family financially, for all she knew was cooking. She didn’t have a choice but to start earning money for living. She accepted the challenge and decided to pursue cooking as her full time work.
Days into months into years. She spent long hours cooking in her neighborhood. While she enjoyed cooking, it was extremely challenging for her to make the ends meet and fulfill the demand of her growing family. The hardship of surviving in growing city like Mumbai was beyond her imagination. Coming from a small town, she faced many challenges of surviving in a big city like Mumbai. Amidst all the challenges, she didn’t let her dreams die. Every day, she believed in her dream of starting her own business. After working for years, there came a day when she decided to start her own business. The decision was tough, but through her passion and strong will power she started her own business. Through all the ups and down of running a small business, she has today built a business which exports food products to various parts of the world. Today, she sells around 2000 puran polis/ day. With her hard work and passion for cooking she has grown her Puran Poli business to newer heights. She has also diversified her business into cooking various savouries.
She exports puran polis to Chicago and few other countries. She says “India has thousands of Mcdonald's outlets and people love to eat Mcdonald’s. Why can’t we set up outlets which sells our own Indian food. I have a vision to set up puran poli outlets all over India. They are delicious and healthy”.
Read her journey, from being a household cook to an entrepreneur who is a changer maker.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I was married at a very young age, into a family which was not financially strong. My family situation demanded me to work and earn money for living. I didn’t have a choice but to work. I don’t hold a big qualification degree and I was lost wondering what kind of work I should pursue to earn money. It was quite challenging and I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to support my family financially. I then decided to do what I love doing the most, and that is COOKING. I grew up cooking and I enjoy it from my heart. I love trying different recipes and serving people with delicious food. It gives me immense happiness. I started working as a household cook.
I started off cooking in my neighborhood. People loved my cooking and after a few years, my cooking was in great demand. While I enjoyed my work, it eventually got extremely monotonous.The monotony bored me and didn’t excite me anymore. Above all the fact that I was working for someone else demotivated me gradually. I had high zeal and passion to start something of my own. I had a deep desire to cook recipes I love and serve people with high quality, delicious and healthy food.That’s when I decided to start my own business. This decision didn’t happen overnight. It took years before I made this decision. It was hard and seemed impossible.
The fact that I would no longer receive a guaranteed amount of money every month,was a hard fact to digest. But I trusted my instinct,stood strong, gathered my courage and worked on my finances.I choose to cook puran polis as this is a famous dish from my native Sangli. I love cooking this dish as it is associated with festivals, celebrations and happiness.
Tell us about your business?
We are into cooking Maharashtra’s favorite delicacy “puran poli” and other savories. Pandit foods started in 1985 from my home in Mumbai. We initially began our business with cooking and selling puran polis only during the festive season, since it is a festive food. For years I continued cooking and selling puran polis only during the festive season.
Eventually, I decided to cook other dishes during the off season and made plans to expand my business. I began cooking other savories and sold them during the off season. With word of mouth our puran polis became extremely popular. Puran poli from pandit foods became synonymous with festivals. Our customers loved the quality, taste and value for money to such an extent that our part time business converted into full time business.
We started getting daily orders. This didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work and consistency in the quality of food before we started getting daily orders. Over the years we have diversified our business into cooking a variety of savouries.
We are famous for our puran polis. Today we sell around 2000 puran polis/day and also export them to Chicago and few other countries.
Our motto is to serve high quality food and focus on customer satisfaction. We never compromise over these two aspects.
Tell us about the initial days of your business?
Initially it began as a home run business. Since puran poli is more of a festive food, i cooked and sold them only during the festive season. For many years I carried on the tradition of selling them only during the festive season. Each festive season got busy. I had people queuing up to buy puran polis from me. The demand started increasing rapidly. Alongside my regular customers I also had new customers queuing up.
Back then I used to sell one puran poli for 80paise. My customers love the delicious taste, quality and value for money. This was the major reason for increase in demand. While I was extremely happy that our puran polis were getting popular, at the same time it was quite challenging for me to cook alone and fulfill the increasing demand. Cooking puran polis requires a lot of physical and mental hard work.
The demand grew over the years and I started getting daily orders. Which demanded that I cook everyday. I was happy that my business was growing, but it also meant a lot of daily discipline and hard work was needed. My 2 sons helped me in day today operations and supported in scaling up my home run business to the next level. Our puran polis were becoming a topic of discussion in every household.
Back then I used to cook around 150-200 puran polis every day. i used to cook on 6-8 pans simultaneously, all day to fulfill the daily orders. As our customer base increased our next plan was to invest in the best tools required for cooking large quantity orders. Tools which could help us cook faster and at ease. She says “During the initial days we had to manually grind the filling required for puran poli. My 2 sons helped me with grinding. They had to bring around 10 kgs of filling everyday.Initial days were extremely challenging for all of us.Cooking manually in the humid weather conditions of Mumbai, for long hours was extremely exhausting and demanded a lot of hard work and patience”.
As our business grew we had to get away with the manual operations and invest in buying automated tools for cooking. That was the only way we could grow our business. The next phase, we decided to invest in growing our business.We decided to sell puran polis at the local restaurants. Gradually from 1 restaurant to 10 to many restaurants the demand started increasing. She adds “Our customer base increased with word of mouth. We strongly believe in maintaining high quality and serving the best to our customer. We never compromise over quality”.
As our business grew we faced a lot of challenges. But we took risks and made investments. We were not financially sound to make big investments but we took small steps and grew our business gradually. Personally, I don’t hold any educational degree. But I accepted the challenge to learn each and every aspect of running a business.
Right from finance,investments, marketing,expansion etc, I learnt it all from scratch. It wasn’t easy, but I accepted the challenge and put my heart and soul into my business. Alongside my 2 sons have supported me throughout and they both are the backbone of my business.
As the demand and customer base grew exponentially, we had to shift our kitchen operations to a bigger place. The demand reached to a level that I had to hire people to fulfill daily orders. I then decided to hire people and set up a full fledged puran poli making factory. Today we have 10 employees who cook puran poli in our own factory in Mumbai.
What were the initial steps you took to set up business and have it running?
The first and foremost step I did was to prepare myself mentally. No matter what you wish to start, it's important to prepare yourself mentally first, everything else will eventually fall into place. Since I initially began my business as a home run business I had to well equip my kitchen and invest in cooking tools. As I mentioned earlier, I was not financially sound enough to make huge investments. But i took baby steps and grew my business. I started making investments and well equipped my kitchen with the best tools. One step at a time is my mantra.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Word of mouth is the only way our business has grown. While it is a great idea to invest in marketing and advertising. We truly believe in customer satisfaction.
“Customers are our top priority and we want to serve THE BEST QUALITY to our customers”. A satisfied customer brings us more loyal customers.Loyal customers are more important to us than once in a while a large number of customers.
What were the challenges you faced?
Over the last 25 years, we have faced many challenges. From scaling up our business, to making investments, to making diversification, to exporting, to setting up our own factory, there have been many challenges. In Fact every day is challenging and each day brings new challenges. We face them all with a positive attitude and strong will power. But the biggest challenge we have faced so far, was when we set up our own factory. Our factory is set up in a residential area. Due to heavy day today operations and long hours of cooking, residents residing in that area once raised a complaint and insisted that we shutdown our factory. It was extremely challenging for us and we had a tough time. We could not move our factory to an industrial area as we could not afford to rent a place in industrial estate.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Positive attitude, strong will power and our loyal customers have helped us overcome all kinds of challenges. No matter how big or small the challenge is, I don’t let it stop my day today's operations. I start my day with the thought that “Today will be a great day for my business no matter what challenges I face”. Apart from this, our customers have always extended great support to us and have stood by us during the challenging times. Example, when the residents insisted that we should shut down the factory, our customers showed up in large numbers, set up meetings with the residents and resolved the issue for us. We are always thankful for our customers for standing by Pandit Foods.
What do you love about running your own business?
I am very passionate about cooking. The essence of cooking makes me extremely happy. To add to it I cook one of my favorite recipes everyday. Along with this I feel very satisfied when I see happy and smiling customers. It gives me a sense of satisfaction. I have long hours of working everyday without a day off, yet I don’t feel as though I am working.
Tell us about yourself
How do you keep yourself motivated through difficult times-I stay calm and focus on delivering the best. That is the only way to take a leap through difficult situations.
Do you have a business philosophy-Hard work and Integrity.
When I face a big challenge- I stay focused and calm
My greatest fear is : Not being able to work
The most courageous thing I’ve ever done is: Starting my own business
If I could go back in time to when I was 20 I would tell myself : Take risks, try new things
I believe in: The power of God
The biggest lesson I have ever learned is: To keep learning
My favorite business tool or resource is: Hard Work
My favorite quote is: There is no substitute to hard work
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs or to those who wish to start their own business?
1.Start something you are extremely passionate about
2.Don’t let difficult and challenging times stop you
3.Always keep your customers first
4.Don’t wait for the right opportunity, start whenever “YOU” feel it is right. Everything else will eventually fall in place.
If you wish to savour food products from Pandit foods, please reach out to them on +91-9820849179