“Listen, dear, no one wants to talk about money, but for every business owner money is the always the main issue!” Said Radhika, when asked about her biggest challenge.
A refreshing and honest admission in today’s digital age when passion and seed funding walk hand in hand.
Our talk with Radhika, a pioneer in the Thai food industry in India, was a reminder of how women stepped out of homes and ran businesses before terms like Start-Up India and Angel Investors were invented.
Q: So, let’s start from the beginning. You started Delhi’s first Thai Restaurant way back in 1994 – how and why?
Radhika: So, I was the usual Delhi girl – born and brought up there. A bit clueless after school; I had no concrete idea of what I should study next. These were the pre-Internet days, mind you! Some friends mentioned hotel management in passing, and it appealed to me!
You know how parents were those days. They just wanted me to get married and agreed to send me to Austria for a hotel management course only because it was a 1-year course!
I came back very independent and empowered, and managed to put off marriage for another 2 years and worked in hotels like Taj and Cidade de Goa.
After marriage my in-laws were pretty supportive; they were from a business background encouraged me to set up a business that interests me.
I had eaten and liked Thai food in Austria and couldn’t find anything similar in Delhi, and that was the idea that snowballed. I found a cute little place in Hauz Khas village and went off to Thailand, hired a cook and bought some 400 kgs of stuff!
After the first few months, the restaurant, called Sukhothai, got a rave review in a newspaper and then things just went crazy! We had people standing in the stairwell waiting to be seated.
Q: That must have been so exciting!
Radhika: You bet! The restaurant went from time pass to serious business literally overnight, and my husband also joined me.
Q: What happened next?
Radhika: We ran the place for about 6-7 years, and it was really profitable and quite fun. Once I had my daughter, I stepped out from the business, and as my husband wanted to shift to Bombay for work, we decided to shut the restaurant.
But you know, the proverbial entrepreneurial spark was always there, and I was continuously involved with the food scene.
Q: So you are running another Thai catering business now called Lotus Blossom. How did that start off?
Radhika: After the 2008 crash, my husband shifted back to Delhi, but my daughter and I liked it in Bombay and wanted to stay put, so I decided to get back to work full time and launched my Thai catering business.
On the side, we wanted to do something interesting as well, and the glamour of running a restaurant was something I missed from my first stint. We decided to dip our toes into the restaurant business again and this time around we are doing a seasonal restaurant in Goa.
It’s also called Lotus Blossom and is Thai inspired… and pretty exciting!
So, my catering business is our bread and butter, and this is the jam on top.
Q: Did you face any particular women-centric issues? Are there any struggles that are specific to women entrepreneurs?
Radhika: Of course! 25 years ago, people treated me like a little girl playing at the restaurant business. They, especially vendors and some staff, always ended up looking for a man to suddenly appear behind you. They couldn’t believe that I was in charge!
In general, I feel people, by people I mean my mostly male staff, just expect women to be emotional and dramatic. If a man shouts its ok, but if a woman does she being over sensitive and hysterical. You just have to use it your advantage!
The biggest challenge was the money of course. Don’t let any entrepreneur tell you different! In the end, that’s the most significant bottleneck – always.
Q: What are your learnings from your professional journey?
Radhika: Mindset is everything! You might have a great idea, but you need conviction and a foolish amount of self-confidence to stick it out.
Also, you must always keep in mind that business doesn’t just become profitable and stays that way. You have to keep putting money in it, and you have to keep hustling to keep it profitable.
Q: Anything you would do differently?
Radhika: After 25 years of turning a profit, I am no longer moved by a desire to prove myself. But I do wish I had worked harder and worked smarter. I wish I had put work before family and kids once in a while. But times were different then; the whole culture was of a man being a provider. People think differently now, and I can see that in my daughter. I think it’s an exciting time to be a businesswoman!
We wish Rashika all the success because women like her are an inspiration to many other women to follow their dreams.
If you would like to share your entrepreneurial journey, then drop us a quick note or a comment below. We would love to hear from you.