How can a history lecturer end up being a preferred cook for lunch and dinner in various localities of Jaipur?
If you ask this question directly to Vinod Jain he would probably only give you a sober smile. If you hang around the cooking area watching him energetically perform his tasks, the answer would soon hit you as a realisation.
The rush hours in the life of Vinod Jain and his wife Harshlata Jain starts at 5 am when they get their two daughters ready for their school. Within an hour, Vinod Jain switches his hates from being a parent to an entrepreneur. He is found at either Sanganer mandi or Lal Kothi mandi taking decisions that will determine what his customers will eat for lunch and dinner today. The choice of picking up the right kind of vegetables at the right price is very crucial. With a load of almost 10 kgs safely stacked on the back carrier, Vinodji slowly cycles back towards his house where Harshlataji is about to complete her chore of cleaning the house and setting the stage for rest of the days activities.
But wait. Who are they? Was it always like this for them?
Actually, no. After graduating from Barkatullah University, Bhopal, Vinodji set up his tea stall near his college itself. Over time, the stall gained popularity and earned him enough for his needs. One day, few old professor friends who were familiar with Vinodji’s knack for Indian history suggested him to join the college as a lecturer. He agreed. Soon, in the mornings he would teach students about the evolutions that shaped his country and by the afternoons he would serve people its national drink. But this hunky-dory life attracted regular forceful dealings with the local goons. During this time, Vinodji got married and wanted to travel the country. Both Vinodji and Harshlataji, who shared her husband’s passion for cooking, joined traveling troops as cooks.
Its 7 am and after a thorough wash of the vegetables and utensils, cooking has already started at Jain Tiffin Centre. The target is to complete all the dishes for lunch by 9 am, ensuring none of the 120+ customers go hungry today. The couple avails the help of 4 co-workers to complete this tasks daily. Harshlataji occupies her place close to the burner with one helper. Her task for the next 3 hours is to roll out 1,000 doughs, place them on the pan (4 at a time) and see to it that the helper takes it off as soon as each one is cooked. Vinodji and his helpers, in the mean while, do the chopping of the vegetables and simultaneously cook rice and dal. A regular tiffin of Jain Tiffin Centre would comprise of a combination of two vegetables dishes or one vegetable dish and one dal packed with fixed set of six rotis and a small bowl of rice. They often surprise their customers with special dishes like kheer or pickles on odd days which keeps the excitement of opening the tiffin with new expectations alive everyday, just like old school days.
Vinodji learned these tricks of the trade only after he along with his family decided to settle in Jaipur in 2009. In the initial days of struggle, he worked few odd jobs at various tiffin centres. In the process, he made himself aware about the taste of the Jaipurites and also learned the drawbacks of those centres, which he covered up in his own tiffin centre. He started with one tiffin subscription on day one to now more than 120 subscribers. Over time he has made sure that the food is cooked in a neat environment and the ‘home cooked’ taste is kept intact.
“Maintaining a constant taste is the most crucial as well as the toughest task of running a food business.” says Vinodji while he takes account of the number of tiffins that needs to be packed and delivered for lunch. The phone calls from various customers, some regular and some new, keep the couples multi-tasking. Few customers drop in at their house, which doubles up as the tiffin centre, to collect their tiffins. Vinodji, greets them and if requested also customises the items in their tiffin according to the demands. Only when the name of each of his regular customer’s name is written on the tiffin is it ready for distribution. Vinodji then gets ready and sets off with the tiffins for it to reach its rightful owner. In the mean while, Harshlataji again cleans the floor and utensils. In about an hour, at around 2 pm, this entire process will be repeated with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm for dinner.
India is full of ‘gali’ entrepreneurs like Vinod and Harshlata Jain, who endures lot of hardships day in day out to maintain the quality of their product. We need business solutions that can help such businesses facilitate their operations and reach out to more people.
Thanks to Vinod Jain and Harshlata Jain for sharing a day in your life with us.