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.
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.”
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.