The people of Chattogram are well-known for their hospitality. They are foodies and do not shy away from entertaining others with foods. During the stagnant lockdown days when everyone was worried over coming out of their homes and dining-out, the port city’s women kept themselves busy with cooking of almost every kind.
From a fearless 16-year-old baker to a middle-aged homemaker, Chattogram is now buzzing with home chefs who have joined their own catering businesses and began their entrepreneurial journey.
A student of Asian University for Women, Jarin Subah, who began her own catering business Jerry’s Eats recently, said, “Burdened with family responsibilities, my mother didn't get the chance to do something for herself. But, I always wanted to do something on my own. I launched my catering business in August and got my mother on the board. In fact, our best-seller Kalojam is the creation of my mother.”
Subah further said that the pandemic has significantly increased the demand for home-made foods.
“I even catered for a pre-wedding event (Gaye Holud) last month which gave me a good exposure", she added.
While most teenagers spend their free time browsing social media, Naila Maliyat, a 16-year-old girl focused on crafting confections. “I started baking at the age of 12. Over the years, I’ve learnt from YouTube videos and cooking shows,” she said.
With the support of her family, the teenager has recently launched her online business Maliyat’s Desserts to treat the sweet tooth. She said, “I wanted a productive quarantine and baking makes me happy.” Managing studies and passion together is not an easy task. But Maliyat is adamant on making it work. “After school opens, perhaps I will take orders only during weekends and holidays,” she added.
It is said that static life often boosts creativity in people. Maliha Tabassum, a third-year student of law and owner of Foodfrip explained how she made her mind for a start. “Many of my tuitions had gotten cancelled during the lockdown and sitting idle was not my cup of tea. I’ve always loved cooking and the lockdown finally gave me a chance to pursue my passion.”
When asked about her future plans, Maliha said, “I think the pandemic has made people health conscious and people will opt for home-made foods rather than restaurant grubs even in the future. So, I’m planning to continue catering.”
Integrating motherhood and entrepreneurship is often a challenge. But for a mother of two, Sakia Sultana, it is not difficult. After completing several courses on confectionary art from the Wilton School, she now runs her own cake shop, ArtsyCakesBD. “I love creative art and I’ve always aspired to be an entrepreneur. So back in 2017, I merged the two and launched my business,” she said.
With no end in sight to the pandemic, people of all ages have experienced significant stresses. The same happened for Ulfat Hasan, a student of North South University.
“Quarantine took a toll on my mental health. To get over the monotony, I used to prepare a new dish almost every day. A month or two later, I decided to introduce my own venture, Bhoj Factory, on social media.”
Manisha Adri, a student of Chittagong Independent University introduced Food Delights by Manisha back in 2016. According to her, “Many home-based catering businesses started during the lockdown days. The thing is you to find out in what you are really good at and start working on that,” she said.
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. Among them, 50.6 per cent consumers were university students, followed by 45.7 per cent of college students. It might come as a surprise, but 72 per cent consumers claimed that they personally knew a home-based caterer in Chattogram. From this, we can somewhat understand the growing number of female entrepreneurs in this particular sector. Over the past six months, 32.1 per cent survey participants had tried out food from at least one caterer. Besides, it was noticed that nearly 47 per cent consumers ordered from respective caterers upon receiving recommendations from their friends and relatives; the rest 53 per cent ordered to satisfy their particular cravings.
The increased demand for residential kitchens can be attributed to a single factor which is the safety of home-made foods.
Neighbouring country India has formally recognised many such home-based catering businesses as micro-enterprises (MSMEs). Under this initiative, women entrepreneurs are not only mentored and trained but also provided with market linkage and financial supports. The Economics Times reported that over the past six months, 2500 home chefs in India have started their businesses. Hence, this is slowly but surely growing as an industry itself in Bangladesh.
These home-based food businesses are likely to empower a large number of women. So, here is a food for thought: Can the government of Bangladesh recognise this sector as an MSME and make remarkable progress in improving the lives of women?
The writer is a second-year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. You can reach her at [email protected])