Puja Sahu – Establishing the first Bihari cuisine café in the capital

Puja Sahu is the co-owner of The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe — the first Bihari cuisine restaurant in the capital. She exemplifies the fearless woman entrepreneur of today who is passionate about her dreams and unafraid of venturing into unchartered territory.

Journey from a fashion designer to a restaurateur
The Potbelly opened in 2011 and is co-owned by Puja and her friend Vivita Relan. Puja was a fashion designer for more than a decade before she became a restaurateur. She shares, “I worked for 10 years as a fashion designer and had my own label, but I was looking to do something more. I was bored with designing and felt that there was little creative and personal growth. The idea of opening a café was exciting and challenging. I just felt that starting something small would bring a nice zest into my life. However, this suddenly overshadowed my other business…it became a bigger project!”

As a fashion designer, with her own label, Puja had faced the trials of being an entrepreneur. She says, “I had already dealt with all the disadvantages that come with being an entrepreneur. I faced several issues, like problems with labour, landlords and clients. So when I started The Potbelly I had gained enough experience to boldly venture out into something radically different.”

Breaking stereotypes
Puja shares how the novel concept of serving Bihari cuisine came into being. “Bihari food happened because I am from Bihar and the recipes are my mother’s. One thing I was certain of was that the food we eat at home is very good and a lot of friends tell me that. But I wasn’t sure we could market this because Bihari food is unheard of and there are many clichés and preconceived notions about Bihar. I have faced this myself. When people would ask me where I am from and I would say Bihar, they would say “Oh you don’t look like a Bihari!” I knew that there were a lot of prejudices, clichés and stereotypes associated with Bihar. But my friend, Vivita was confident that this would work!”

Puja and Vivita realised that the key to the success of the café would be to serve authentic cuisine. She shares, “Our café is on the fourth floor and we wanted to sell something authentic and something that you don’t get anywhere else because otherwise why would anybody climb four floors up! It’s a nondescript building and a lesser known market, so it had to be a whole adventure of coming and exploring something new. Even if it was out of curiosity or cynicism –it would drive people.”

The process of setting up the kitchen, training the staff and getting the café up and running was far from a cakewalk. Puja shares, “We started training local dhaba cooks and cooks from smaller restaurants because that’s what we could afford and also we didn’t want very experienced chefs who would not be willing to undergo training and be high-headed about what they know and all of that. So training was a bit tough, we took several months to train these people. Food had to be perfect, full of flavour and very authentic.”

Puja recounts how they had to make an all out effort to introduce Bihari cuisine to the city palate. “We did several food trials; we wanted people to sample our food. So we went about giving boxes of our food and we invited people from around Shahpur Jat to come and eat the food. And with time, through word of mouth people started trickling in. The good part was that whoever came once, would come back again.”

The road to success
The Potbelly has soon placed itself firmly on the food map of the capital. It is patronised by adventurous foodies, other restaurateurs, expats, food critics and those who relish good food in a relaxed atmosphere. The café has also been covered widely in several magazines and newspapers. Puja’s keen aesthetic sense is reflected in the inviting and airy interiors of the café and table settings.

Puja believes that the tide is turning in favour of women entrepreneurs. She says, “People don’t look down on us anymore. People appreciate and admire you for what you are doing.”

Her message to aspiring women entrepreneurs is very clear. “Be convinced of your potential, be focused, persistent, wise and practical. Be a little idealistic when you are starting and do not look at only the monetary aspect. If you are passionate about your product, the natural outcome will be that it will do well commercially. Even if it doesn’t take off instantly be patient and not short-sighted. When I started, for one year we didn’t have too many people coming in. I told myself that it’s a new product and it will take a while to take off. Don’t give up on your dream!”

At WEBO Power we applaud Puja for following her passion, breaking stereotypes and establishing a café that reflects her love for good food, her aesthetics for beautiful surroundings and her pride in her heritage.

Interviewed By: Supriya Mathur, Team WEBO Power
Posted On: July 11, 2013

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