The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.
It may seem strange to think that love for sabudana wada, spicy misal pav, puran poli, dal ka dulha, and sweet shrikhand puri can be life changing!
But that’s exactly why a 40-year-old Infosys engineer quit her career and opened restaurants in India and Australia, to introduce authentic Maharashtrian cuisine to the world.
Today Jayanti Kathale is the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Uncha Maza Zoka Award and a TED Talk speaker.
In an exclusive interview she told India Currents that women can make a great impact on the world if they choose to.
IC: What was your life like life growing up?
JK: “We are from Nagpur. I belong to a Gokul, which means a family in which relatives stay together. I used to play football and was not interested in playing with dolls or doing girlish things.”
“My mother was a working woman. I had to strictly follow her rules. My father was my coach and mentor. He taught me gymnastics and swimming. I was also a national-level athlete. In my growing years, life was not easy.”
IC: Why did you quit IT for Marathi food?
JK: “Although I don’t like household work, serving and trying to make sahabhojana (eating together) was my passion. Our colony celebrated festivals. Almost 1000 people ate together. I would volunteer to serve food along with other children from the family and colony. Grannies in my home taught me to cook mouth-watering, healthy food.”
When she travelled to Australia for work, Kathale’s biggest challenge was finding home-cooked Marathi food. She only managed to get homemade food from local Indian families.
“Dollars jeb me hain, lekin khane ko kuch nahi hai. This became my tagline”
When she came back to India, Kathale decided to do something to make Marathi food available everywhere.
“I quit my job at Infosys to start a small business and started selling modaks.”
IC: What challenges did you face along the way, and what was the general reaction to leaving your comfortable job?
JK: “It was not an easy decision to quit a high-paying job and start that venture. The major issue was funding and food industry management which was new to me. I never imagined my idea would grow and be liked by every foodie.”
After five years of research and experimentation, Kathale perfected the ingredients and process, and in 2012, opened her first restaurant in Bangalore.
“I wanted to make people aware that Marathi food is not limited to poha and vada pav. It’s how Purnabramha took shape.”
Now, Kathakle hopes to open a global chain of restaurants so people can enjoy authentic Maharashtrian cuisine.
“I want to introduce my customers to a new flavour of Maharashtrian cuisine,” she says.
IC: What does Purnabramha provide?
JK: “Very proudly, I can say that Purnabramha, is the largest Maharashtrian restaurant chain run by women. We own 11 restaurants in India and Australia. My dream is to open 5,000 restaurants across the globe.”
Her clients range from a 5-month-old baby and 85-year-old adults.
“That’s what makes us different and unique.”
IC: I believe that you serve food in your restaurants in a unique way. Tell us about its ambiance and seating arrangements.
JK: “I have created a homey ambiance in all my restaurants.” Kathale is referring to the seating arrangement in her restaurants where customers sit on floor rugs or wooden seats. “I had observed that most people like eating food sitting on the floor, even youngsters.”
The restaurant is decorated with beautiful rangolis, and, the cuisine, hospitality, and environment, adds Kathale, caters to people of all ages. It has 185 dishes on its menu. Food is served in metal or silver thalis, and bowls are placed on a raised “chowrang.”
“We have divided our menu into 4 sections: Balgopal (children), pregnant women, elderly people, and normal people. If customers don’t waste the food, we give them a 5% discount, and if they do, we charge them 2% extra.”
IC: There is always apprehension when it comes to starting one’s own venture, especially if a woman takes this step. What advice would you give them?
JK: “In our society, especially in my conservative family, there is always a question mark next to whatever you do. Marriage, not a career, should be the goal of a girl’s life, according to them. My father has always supported me, and my IT job was good in everyone’s view. But when I decided to venture out, everyone was skeptical.”
Kathale proved them wrong. “
“Now they know I can reach heights.”
IC: What is your perception of the food industry in India?
JK: Everyone loves food and wants to try new cuisine; that is why it is the biggest and fastest-growing industry. I feel great to be part of this industry. Now our brand has also marked its place in an international market. The food business is not like the IT industry or any other popular profession. stuff. It is a conventional business, and people associate it with traditions.