How a Housewife Built a Multi-crore Business Starting with Zero-Investment
From being a housewife to the owner of multiple businesses, chef and author Nita Mehta’s 36-year-old career has been truly remarkable.
She started with giving cooking lessons from home for Rs 100 per student in 1982. Today, the collective turnover of her ventures – Nita Mehta Foods, Nita Mehta Spices and Sabe Publishing – under the parent company Nita Mehta Private Limited is over Rs 7 crore.
“Change is a necessity, and we must be a step ahead of the times for success to embrace us,” says Nita, whose success has been due to her ability to change in keeping with the need of the hour.
Her latest venture is Nita Mehta Foods: boxes of fresh ready-to-cook ingredients for different recipes. Starting in November 2017, it has already become a roaring success.
Sitting in her buzzing factory kitchen at Okhla Phase 2 in Delhi with five staff members, Nita explains the concept. “A box of Paneer Lababdar Bao that serves 4-5 people contains the required sauces, chopped veggies, pickled ginger and fresh baos,” she says. “You only need to sauté the veggies and assemble the sauces and the meal is ready.”
Nita Mehta Foods, operational only in Delhi NCR for now, sells 300 boxes per month and their target turnover in the first year is Rs 1 crore. Its consumers are working people, who don’t have the time to chop veggies and make sauces while rushing to the office or after a long day.
It is this very ability to move with the times that made Nita start cooking classes in 1982. Her husband’s medicine business was going downhill and she decided to chip in with whatever little she could do.
Inspired by her mother, who was herself a great cook, she started on a journey that would change her life forever.
Her classes were on ice creams. Nirula’s 21 flavours range was new in the market and a big hit at that time and Nita knew people would be keen to make them at home. She tried all the flavours and perfected recreating them.
“My kids were grown up and didn’t need me as much as earlier,” says Nita. “I started the classes at home with zero investment as all the required amenities were already available.”
Once she started, her students wanted to learn more. She again hit the restaurants to figure out the best recipes to teach.
“I even attended some cookery classes and found them really boring and ensured that my classes will not be like those,” she laughs.
Nita started teaching Chinese, Mughlai, Continental and Indian recipes. Charging Rs 100 per student for a three-day class, she taught about 20 students in each batch.
“This kind of money was pretty good in those days. The students were queuing up. They would just stand in the waiting area and watch others while they were cooking,” she remembers with a twinkle in her eyes.
Her classes focused on the joy of cooking, and learning the fine art. “Instead of wasting time in noting down recipes, I gave handouts to them,” she explains. “The students enjoyed the classes, as they cooked and socialised and enjoyed the food. Charging only about 15 per cent extra in comparison to other classes, I ensured that each student became confident about their cooking skills.”
Since the recipes were tried and tested there was no scope of failure. She also generously gave out tips and hints that helped students beyond their expectations.
Encouraged by her popularity, and some publisher friends, she started writing her first book in 1992, Vegetarian Wonders. However once she finished, she couldn’t find a publisher.
“My husband encouraged me to break my fixed deposits, and I self-published it,” she says, “a radical thought at that time.”
The book sold only 3,000 copies that year. She was expecting it to be a bigger success because her classes were always so popular.
“I pondered over the reasons for this and figured that I wasn’t offering anything new to the readers,” says Nita. “I had subconsciously written a book in a style and format that had been done to death.”
So for her next self-published book, Paneer All the Way, she went for a smaller size, and made it a handy booklet. It had Indian, Chinese and Continental recipes with paneer and even desserts, like paneer kheer.
“With this niche subject, once the book came out, it flew off the shelves,” says Nita.
It sold 3,000 copies within the first week and there were pre-orders for more.
After hitting the mantra for a successful cookbook there was no looking back. She went on to write about 400 cookbooks. Her book Flavors of Indian Cooking went on to win the World Cook Book Fair Award in Paris in 1997.
A smart business person is one who realises the potential of a new venture at the right time. “Somewhere while getting my books published I realised it will be a good idea to start my own publishing house, as this will mean better profits,” shares Nita, now 66.
She started a publishing house, Snab Publishers, in 1994. Knowing that cookbooks might lose their charm with the advent of the internet, she diversified into publishing children’s books by other authors, on various topics like mythology, folk tales and history.
Starting with Rs 4 lakh, Snab now has a turnover of more than Rs 4 crore, with eight dedicated staff members.
In 2016, Nita started her own range of spices, Nita Mehta Spices. She took inputs from food technologists and added her own expertise. “I have never used readymade masalas and always prefer grinding and mixing my own spices,” says Nita, “but over time I figured it is not possible for everybody to do this tedious task all the time. My range of masalas has the same ingredients that I use at home. They bring out the essence of each recipe.”
It took a team of about 20 core members a year to lock in on the packaging design and setting up the plant. Nine staff members oversee various processes and ensure that the spices reach the stores as soon as possible. In the market for the past one year, they yielded a turnover of around Rs 3 crore in the first year.
“It is a boon for health freaks as they know what they are eating is fresh and healthy,” says Nita, once again showing her acumen for tapping into the current trends.
Besides all these ventures, her classes continue in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, where she built a state-of-the-art kitchen academy in 2000, and still gets a sizeable number of students. Her son, Anurag Mehta, who helms the marketing and logistics of the Nita Mehta brand, is her pillar of support.
All her businesses run under Nita Mehta Private Limited, of which her husband owns 30 per cent and her son 20 per cent. The rest is owned by Nita Mehta herself.
“I have now started my YouTube channel as well, where all the recipes can be accessed easily,” says Nita, who signs off by showing that even after crossing the age of 60 she can adapt her talent to the changing times yet again.