Adjacent to the Pentland-pet road near Gandhinagar at Mannagudde in Mangaluru city, business is brisk for 'Halli Mane Rotties', a mobile fast-food joint that exclusively serves North Karnataka delicacies. Run by 34-year-old Shilpa, a home-maker turned entrepreneur, the story behind one of Mangaluru’s most famous food trucks is the old adage: Necessity is the mother of all invention.
Ask Shilpa about her story though, and she calls it one of ‘accidental success.’ The single mother has not even finished school – she dropped out after Class 10, and says she thought herself incapable of managing even her household before she started her business.
"It was my circumstances, not a decision to become an entrepreneur, that led to the starting of this business. The local residents supported my initiative, and it just clicked,” Shilpa says.
A native of Hassan, Shilpa was raised in a well-to-do agriculturist family, along with her younger brother Chiranjeevi. "We had a carefree childhood. Our family never insisted on me doing any of the household chores. But I was personally interested in experimental cooking," she says.
In 2005, Shilpa moved to Mangaluru with her three-year-old son to live with her husband Rajshekar, a city-based businessman.Things sailed smoothly for a while, and some time after Shilpa moved there, the couple even invited Shilpa’s parents and brother to move in with them.
However, in February 2008, Rajshekar who operated a transportation fleet for a Bellary based mining firm, left to Bengaluru for some work. "That was the last time we saw him," Shilpa says.
Rajshekar was out of contact, and while both Shilpa and Rajshekar’s families frantically tried to look for him, they weren’t successful. His family even filed a missing complaint, but to no avail. Even his mobile phone was switched off.
Shilpa went into depression, and nothing that her family or friends said or did seemed to help. Meanwhile, her parents fell sick. “The bills were mounting. I had to look after my child, parents and brother, but barely had any cash in hand,” she says.
Overwhelmed by increasing expenditures, Shilpa first took up a job at a local cyber-cafe, and later worked as a saleswoman at a cosmetics store. "But Rs 6000 a month was not sufficient to feed four people," she says.
During a casual conversation, Shilpa's family started praising her cooking skills, and vouched for her ability to prepare delicious North Karnataka cuisine. That’s when Shilpa considered starting a food joint seriously.
"I convinced by brother that we could start one – based around serving healthy foods," Shilpa says.
Short of finances, Shilpa reluctantly withdrew a Rs 1 lakh deposit that she had set aside for her son’s education. She bought a Mahindra Bolero pick-up truck and then set-up her standalone food joint.
During the course of setting-up her business, Shilpa was criticised by many for her business decisions, including buying a brand new vehicle instead of a second hand one, and for not picking a spot close to a mall or an educational institution. "Most of all, we got an earful for trying to sell North Karnataka dishes in Dakshina Kannada. Even we had our doubts. But I couldn't help it because North Karnataka food was all that I knew,” she says.
Shilpa’s truck opened up for business in late 2015, and the overwhelming response it received left not just the critics dumbfounded, but even Shilpa herself.
The eatery that operates between 4pm and 10pm is visited by a large number of people every day, and yields a daily turnover of Rs 3,000 to Rs 7,000.
"Nearly 80% of my clients are locals from Dakshina Kannada. Then there are doctors, students, or IT professionals who are looking for home food,” Shilpa says. A few tech-savvy student patrons have even mapped Shilpa’s food truck on the Google search engine, giving it an online visibility.
On their daily menu, the canteen offers three types of rotis made of ragi, jowar and rice. Along with Thatte Idli, rice variants with chicken green masala or veg accompaniments are served at the outlet; twice a week, even Ragi Muddhe is served.
Shilpa says the key to her food is that she sources the material from her hometown. "Besides, we want to go by the concept of healthy street food. So we don’t mix additives or taste or colour enhancers, and want to keep the food homely," she says.
Once she had a stable income, Shilpa asked her graduate brother Chiranjeevi to quit his job as a security guard and help her run the truck.
“As the day breaks, the entire family gets down to work. While vegetables and groceries are procured by my parents, my brother and I take turns to run the mobile stall. Besides, I have to look after my 12-year-old son too,” Shilpa says.
Shilpa says, her family has not stopped looking for her husband Rajshekar. "We are hopeful that he has not deserted us and he will return," she says. Come February, Shilpa says she plans to start her second outlet, which can help her brother sustain independently.
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