Just like mom

Alisha Shinde
Monday, 30 July 2018

Mother’s Masala, a brand started by students, offers homecooked food to other youngsters living away from home, and also empowers underprivileged women by making them a part of this initiative.

For youngsters living away from family, getting homelike food can be a problem. A bunch of second year college students, who were also roommates at their hostel, faced this challenge. But instead of cribbing and complaining they came up with a brilliant solution. They started a tiffin service, which would not only feed them and other youngsters living independently but also empower the women who cook the food. 

Mother’s Masala, co-founded by Aditya Chattopadhyay, Vedant Gala, Omkar Khandekar, Parag Ambekar, Vishnu Hilal, Meghana Murali and Aakash Batra, was thus born. All the youngsters are students of VIT College Pune and have been mentored by Pratik Rajurkar for this initiative. 

Managing college as well as a budding food delivery enterprise is not an easy job. Gala says that it was possible only because they had a big team and each member was given a specific role to play. Till date, the entire team consists of 10 people. Along with the co-founders, Gala points out their backend operations, which include content, web development and database, and technical support, are handled by Tanaya Kakade, Siddarth Wekhande and Shweta Zawar. 

“Usually, students and youngsters living away from family tend to eat whatever they can,” says Gala. In such a situation, they mostly end up eating unhealthy food and even skip meals. When he and his friends looked for tiffin providers in their hostel area, each was unsatisfactory. So they decided to start something themselves. 
But what really motivated them was when their college senior and mentor Rajurkar declined a high-paying job offer and sought recruitment under Teach for India, which was a lower paying job. “We were amazed and wondered what could’ve possibly compelled him to do that?” says Gala. 

Rajurkar introduced the youngsters to his class which comprised students that included children and adults from underprivileged background. The youngsters realised that the women attending the class could put their cooking skill to use with a little bit of training. That would help them earn. So they started planning and decided to have a pilot phase to see if things were possible. In August 2016, they kicked off their pilot phase. 

Mother’s Masala is about two things — 1) providing tasty, homecooked food to students and youngsters living away from family and 2) providing means of sustainable, stable livelihood to destitute women. Gala says that their food is as good as homecooked mom’s food because the cooks preparing it are also mothers. Their brand stands for great taste, good quality, lots of love and, most importantly, it empowers others. 

Being a bunch of first generation entrepreneurs with no prior experience or any sort of guidance as to how to run a startup, coupled with the fact that they still have to go to college everyday and meet submission deadlines and study for exams, it is a very challenging process. But Gala says they have done pretty well till date. At the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards (GSEA) 2017, Mother’s Masala was selected at the regional level amongst the top 10 startups. 

The women employed under Mother’s Masala only cook the food. The rest of the process — involving procurement of vegetables and grains, maintaining a stock of spices and condiments, as well as packaging, delivery, maintaining a database, acquiring customers, marketing etc — is all done by the team. “This is when we realised that we need to expand so we got more people willing to take up the cause,” he adds. 

Talking about how the overall experience has changed their lives, Gala says that it gave them a sense of realisation as to how things are different and difficult when you come out of the protective bubble after the first 20 years of your life! “We are assured of three meals a day, have a place to head back home after a day’s work and also have good educational background. But everyone is not so privileged,” he says. 

The venture helped them to learn important life skills as well. “We learnt about the harsh realities of life and how every decision of ours could make or break our initiative (and us). But we were determined about one thing that no matter what, at the end of the day, food will come out of Mother’s Masala’s kitchen and delivered to customers,”  says Gala.   

He points out that Mother’s Masala can’t exist without it being dedicated to the cause of women’s empowerment. “Women’s empowerment is the building block of our brand,” he says. Talking about the future of the brand, he says that it will always remain a socio-and women-centric startup. “We wish to establish more operational units, which means more women will be empowered, more meals will be served and we will be tapping into an even larger pool of youngsters,” he adds. 

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