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Rediff.com  » Getahead » From selling tees to owning an eatery: Karma

From selling tees to owning an eatery: Karma

April 10, 2009 15:25 IST

Mansi Hemdev is an entrepreneur -- and a very young one, at that. At the age of 21, she already owns her own cafe in Chennai. rediff.com's Ganesh Nadar caught up with this enterprising young lady to learn more about her business and career success.

Born and brought up in Chennai, Mansi completed her graduation in commerce and went on to work for American Express and the British High Commission. In the meantime, her parents were busy with a garment business, selling label Karma's tee shirts on St Mary's Road in the Alwarpet area of the city.

Nine months ago, Mansi decided to venture into the restaurant business. "I noticed that there were no good eateries on St Mary's Road, where my parents run their shop," she explains. "I didn't go looking for a place to start off -- I decided to use the very shop from which my parents were selling tee-shirts."

With no background in hotel management, Mansi read up as much as she could on the subject and visited as many restaurants as she could, to pick up on how they functioned. She then invested Rs 6 lakh to renovate her parents' store, revamping the decor, bringing in new furniture and cooking appliances. A good friend who also owns an eatery in the city helped train the cooks she hired. With four employees under her, the cafe opened for business.

"I named it Cafe Karma because my parents sold Karma tee-shirts there," she smiles. And they are still sold from here -- a single shelf displays the tees, which Mansi says are their bread and butter, given that the cafe is still young. And she plans to continue selling them. Besides the fact that they are of good quality, the tee-shirts' themes are primarily Indian and sales are aimed at tourist customers. A few carry witty one-liners, like 'Eat healthy, live right, die anyway'!

"Our USP is healthy food," says Mansi about the food that her café sells. "Our burgers are not fried, they are pan-baked. Our sandwiches are not loaded with butter or oil. Our cooking methods are environment-friendly: we do not use any fuel like gas or kerosene. Everything runs on electricity."

And what if the electricity conks on them, like it often does in various parts of the country? Pat comes the reply: "We don't have to face power cuts like the rest of the city because a lot of VIPs live in this area!" In any case, Mansi has invested in an inverter should the need arise. The electricity bills are high now that she is running a full-fledged eatery, but the way she sees it, she would have to pay even if she used gas.

Now for the food. Cafe Karma serves up hot and cold beverages -- tea, coffee and fruit juices are all on the (menu) cards. If you feel like something fancier, opt for one of their mock-tails like Blue Curacao or Marijuana. If you're feeling peckish, there is a host of munchies like burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches available. And of course, they serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food.

Mansi's personal favourite off the menu is the Redemption sandwich; she also recommends the Jerk Chicken. Pastas, bakes and garlic bread are all available too, as is an array of desserts, which are not prepared at the cafe but outsourced.

Cafe Karma also provides take-away and delivery services. And Mansi has made all this possible in the three short months that the restaurant has been running. "I'm already planning other outlets in the city, besides adding full-course meals to the menu," she explains. "At the moment, we have one other take-away counter in Chennai where you can buy Karma food and I'm hoping to add on a few more of those, at least, if not full-blown outlets." She is open to the idea of franchising too, but feels she should first establish her brand.

How has Mansi managed to make such a success of her venture so soon? "Well, it's not easy, because I'm an only child and I manage the restaurant alone," she explains. "My parents provide me with a lot of moral support, but they don't come in every day to run things; they're busy manufacturing Karma tee shirts."

"Getting the place started, I had the usual problems with labourers who were re-modelling the shop," she continues. "On some days they wouldn't turn up, on others they took their own sweet time to do so. Sticking to a schedule and getting the place up and running was very difficult, because we were dependent on the labourers to complete their work in time and they didn't."

Once they were finally open for business, the first problem Mansi faced was serving the food. "We were using disposable plates, cups and cutlery which could be thrown away after use. I thought this was a real waste of money and it didn't look too presentable either. So we switched gears, bought cutlery and stopped the use-and-throw method," she says. "Also, we start preparations for an item only after an order has been placed -- if we ready things in advance, it may go to waste. This way you're served a fresh meal and food is not wasted."

What is the reaction to the new little eatery on St Mary's Road? "Customers have liked the taste of the food and are satisfied with the large quantities they are served. Some are very specific about their likes and dislikes and we always prepare things in accordance with their instructions. We also prepare special dishes and order special desserts that are not featured on our menu for regulars," says this business-minded young lady. Not only that, Mansi shares a personal rapport with everyone who comes in and it's easy to see why most people leave satisfied and eager to return.

Most importantly, a meal at Cafe Karma is an economical option -- a couple can dine here for as little as Rs 300 including dessert. That comes as a relief during these hard times and speaking in the same vein Mansi is a real inspiration to youngsters her age. After all, she has invested her own money (no bank loan), set up her own business and made a sensible success of herself in the midst of a recession, when millions are losing their jobs.