food on wheels

Meet the woman driving Asia’s first all-female food truck in Bengaluru

Seventh Sin serves European food with an Indian twist.

If you have watched American film-maker Jon Favreau’s Chef, you might have felt a bit peeved with the excessive male bonding. In the road trip movie, which masquerades as a food film, men roast the meat, grill the Cubanos, chug beers and drive the truck – reminding us that while a woman’s place might be in the kitchen, chasing a career in the professional kitchen, that belongs to men.

“When you imagine chopping, cooking, dishes, cleaning up, women have been doing this all our lives at home, but it is still hard to find women chefs,” said 32-year-old Archana Singh. “The truth is, there are so many Indian homemakers who cook spectacularly for their families, but have not worked a day in their lives. They have never considered doing it professionally.”

This is why, when Singh started Seventh Sin, central to the business idea was providing women the opportunity to discover a safe space to sustain a career doing things they are naturally inclined to.

The idea for a food truck managed completely by women came to Singh in November 2015, but the Seventh Sin food truck hit Bengaluru’s roads only this August, once it had been through a thorough remodelling. Singh took that time to build her team.

Glocal flavours

A communications professional, Singh had held several corporate roles before she switched gears to an area that interested her – education and children. After another brief stint teaching, she moved to marketing a brand of schools across the country.

This was when her other passion, food, beckoned. Given the sheer number and short lives of Bengaluru’s restaurants, Singh decided to steer away from risk and potential loss, to explore a model that demands less overheads associated with managing a restaurant, such as rent and utility bills.

Once the requisite food licences were in place, the truck was remodelled and her team was set, (Singh depends wholly and completely on a team of women), Seventh Sin was ready for business.

The food is “glocal” – globally inspired, with a distinctly Indian touch. Seventh Sin’s chefs draw inspiration from European and Italian favourites, adding a comforting Indian twist to every dish, making it familiar, yet exciting. The menu features, among other dishes, biryani risotto, aloo tikki hotdogs, chicken tikka pasta and a paan-infused cheesecake.

Seventh Sin runs six days a week. It visits tech parks, communities and colleges in Bengaluru, confining itself to closed compounds, given Bengaluru’s notorious traffic jams. On occasion, when a particular neighbourhood reaches out to Singh with a special request, the truck travels to it. On the seventh day of the week, the truck distributes free food to the disadvantaged, and those in need.

Two months since their launch, Seventh Sin has received a phenomenal response, not just for the menu, but for their innovative business model too.

“I’m not really from a business background,” said Singh. “My dad is a navy officer, so I grew up travelling across the country, am I’m used to trying all kinds of different food – that’s my only exposure as far as food goes.”

Singh drives the truck to its destination every day. Her enterprise is backed by Chief Executive Officer Praveena Nandu, Chef Natasha Patrao who imagines and develops the menu, and Deepa, Usha and Hema who manage service on the truck every single day.

“I don’t know a life where I haven’t worked, whether it was during college or through maternity,” said Singh. “It’s not that everyone should work, but those who want to, should be able to.”

Breaking stereotypes

The team has been swamped with calls from women across a range of socio-economic backgrounds, requesting Singh for a chance to collaborate and bring her brand to tier-two and tier-three cities. She is already exploring the possibility of working in Aurangabad and Patna.

With most skilled and established chefs choosing to work with big brands, Singh has built a team of women with little to no work experience, partnering with foundations and non-governmental organisations that find employment for women, and relies heavily on training them.

“I prefer women who may not be educated, but have skills that we can build on,” she said. “Some of the girls we hired didn’t even know how to flip an egg, but we’ve trained them and now they can manage the food service beautifully.”

She added: “Being a woman, I want to be in a place to take risks, break stereotypes and take the chances that I can, and others maybe haven’t been able to. My daughter is nearly eight-years-old, and so many people told me not to take this chance. But I wanted to take a risk and break the stereotypes. There’s no dearth of able women, honestly.”

Singh plans to add three more company-owned trucks between Hyderabad and Chennai, over the next 6-8 months. She is also exploring the franchise model to work with women in smaller cities.

What about the men? According to Singh, plenty have approached her, with advice on changing the woman-centric business-model, something she is adamant she will not do.

“I tell them they can invest,” she said.

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.