COVID-19 affected the lives of many, people lost their jobs and livelihoods. Tourism industry was one of the first sectors to be hit by the pandemic and Akshay Pravin Parkar, like many others, lost his job too after his company decided to halt all operations until further notice in February 2020. With no jobs, hotels operating with minimum staff and cutting salaries, Akshay was being offered a quarter of what he was worth, that’s when this chef decided to sell his “5-star” biryani at a roadside stall in Dadar, Mumbai.
After funding his own education, Akshay didn’t have the money or means to do a course in Hotel Management but his love and passion didn’t let him give up, he managed to do an apprenticeship with Taj, where he got a stipend of Rs 1,500 per month. It was an opportunity for him to learn from the best chefs in the business and that’s what he did for three years. His life changed after he got a job as a chef on an international cruise. He worked with the same company for seven years and was left unemployed in June because of the pandemic.
He tried getting a job at 3-star, 5-star hotels, but they were all either operating with minimum staff or offering him a quarter of what he was worth. It was a tough phase for Akshay and he had given up all hope.
By September 2020, all his savings had dried up, he and his family didn’t have enough money to even buy the basic necessities, that’s when his mother encouraged him to start his life from scratch, once again. They invested 5,000 rupees out of the 10,000 left into a small roadside biryani stall. But, the struggle was far from over. With no customers, no money for advertising and a lot of money going into making the food, Akshay was finding it hard to navigate through the new life.
“If I cooked 1 kg biryani, only half of it would sell. I managed to sell just 1-2 portions, so I was quite upset with the results and questioned my decision. Because I wasn’t making any money, I was only putting more money in the business. Of course, you can’t waste food so I’d just give whatever didn’t sell to the neighbours, for free. Two months went just like that and I just wanted to give up.”Akshay Pravin Parkar
Akshay’s friend, Harshada Karana, who now helps him with the business, suggested they put a post on Facebook. Through some contacts, they managed to put up a post on a page called ‘Being Malwani’ and in just a few hours, his story went viral.
Almost very publication picked his story and people started queueing up at his stall. Akshay still doesn’t have the funds to keep extra staff, even a delivery boy. So, all the work is divided between four people. While Akshay puts all his focus on cooking his now super-hit biryani, Harshada helps in cutting vegetables and handling customers, Akshay’s mom runs around to get all the supplies and cleans the utensils and Akshay’s father prepares the raita.
“For now, we are trying to manage everything on our own but we do need more manpower because the demand is also increasing. It doesn’t look good when I tell customers that we don’t have a delivery boy. But, I’m grateful that they come from so far, just to pick my biryani.”Akshay Parkar
Akshay’s dream is to open a chain of restaurants and make as many people eat his top-class biryani.
Edit: Veeru Krishan Mohan
Camera: Sanjoy Deb
Camera Assistant: Gautam Sharma
Producer: Divya Talwar