Bangladeshi homemakers are often labelled as people limited to household chores and similar activities, is it not? Well, just like a lot of other glass ceilings and stereotypes, they are breaking it by creating a name for themselves as businesswomen by starting a catering business. They are utilising their well-crafted cooking skills which were just used for their family and friends to serve hundreds of foodies all around Bangladesh. Some did it out of passion by taking the opportunity of COVID-19 and its safety issues while some did it out of necessity to support their families. Each and every catering service was a baby step towards self and financial independence. The homemakers started small but they did take a risk and pursued their dreams.
According to an article published in The Financial Express, ‘To evaluate the demand of home-based catering services around Chattogram, the writer had surveyed 128 customers, aged 16 and above, living in Agrabad, OR Nizam, Nasirabad, Khulshi and Sugandha. The survey result revealed that almost 89 per cent of respondents availed such catering services during the pandemic.’ This was her take on women in Chattogram investing their time in this.
So, what do women actually do in this catering business? To put it simply, they cook and sell their homemade delicacies online through various platforms like Facebook, Instagram etc. However, the process is more complex than it seems. The majority of the caterers take pre-order for the products they wish to sell as they are highly perishable. Sourcing groceries in accordance with the volume of orders is a task on its own. After rummaging through various suppliers of both imported and exported ingredients, a tougher segment awaits. Delivering these delicious food items properly is a caterer’s dream. With various delivery services like Foodpanda, Hungrynaki, Pathao and Shohoz accepting such homemakers wholeheartedly, there is still a lack of trust regarding the way the customers receive their food. Communication is definitely the key here but even after taking precautions, a trail of risk remains. Furthermore, due to advanced technology and easy mobility, the competition is extremely fierce. Women are now more secure and confident about entering a business they are keen on. Taking on the challenge of entrepreneurship is no longer a far fetched idea for them.
In this context, I got an opportunity to talk to Nazia Amin Rakhi who is the proud owner of Rakhi in the Kitchen, a Facebook page based online catering service with a follower base of 4,391. When we asked her about how she got the idea of getting into a catering business despite having a bogged up schedule as a homemaker, she had the following to say: ‘I am very passionate about cooking and that passion has driven me to take it as a profession. Other than that, I sort out my business and home chores. If I think that I cannot manage to give 100 per cent in my deliverables, I reduce my work in one way or the other. It is a matter of mixing, matching and prioritising’. Amidst the aggressive competition, we asked her about her specialities and why she has chosen them as her products of the display. She stated that she specialises in Doi Bora, Malai Jorda, Gulab Jamun and chicken roast and she chose this product because she knows she can do it perfectly due to her extensive experience.
Following a similar line, I had a mini rendezvous with Maliha Islam, owner of The Kitchen Elf. I started our conversation by asking her about the difficulties she faced as a newbie in the catering industry and she had the following remarks: ‘As a baker, it was really hard for me to find the perfect delivery man who will deliver my cakes with care and within a budget! As baking is expensive and on top of that, I had to add the delivery charge that is 350 to 400 taka per delivery. I still find that the hardest part and some of the delivery people also ruined my cakes while delivering, didn’t even compensate.’ When we asked her about her suggestions to the aspiring homemakers who want to enter the catering business just like her, she said there will be days when things get very frustrating. She suggested to have patience, keep doing what they love and never give up! Adding further, we asked her a very generalised but crucial question about her family’s viewpoint regarding this and she joyfully said that all of them were highly supportive of her.
Last but not the least, we covered the story of a booming bakery started by a doctor who left practising due to COVID and now is currently occupied as a homemaker and a baker serving blissful goodies. She is none other than Dr Meherunnesa Shukar, owner of The Cake Chamber. When we asked her how she copes up with the competition and what sets her catering service apart, she had the following to share: ‘I feel like if I take everyone as my competition it will bring negative energy to my work. I believe in exploring with my artistic mind, learning from everyone, trying different ideas and building my skills. It is important for me to keep quality over quantity. If I can provide good service and stay creative people will notice and come again.’
All these wonderful catering businesses run by empowered homemakers really makes us sense a wave of change amidst the cliched saying of how they are just supposed to cook and care for their families. Women are way beyond that and this is a sheer example of how diverse they are. Believe it or not, women have always run the world one way or the other and they plan to keep it that way!