FROM A FOODIE MUMBAIKER TO BECOMING THE ULTIMATE BUSINESSWOMAN, THE GORGEOUS SWETA AYTHORA ROY HAS NEVER COMPROMISED WITH HER PASSION FOR FOOD!
Let us begin with your early life and education.
Sure, I was born and brought up in Mumbai. I studied banking and Insurance in college. I completed my studies in the city as well. It was a totally newly introduced course at that time. So, till the 6th semester, we did not have a fixed course structure. We even worked in various banks during our college days. So, till I graduated I already achieved working experience from six different finance institutions. I indulged in my banking career. But I always wanted to do something else; like something with food and maybe the sales industry.
So, how did you finally came up with the idea of opening a restaurant?
Even, during my college days, my friends and I would sit around and chill while planning for the far future. At that time we discussed opening a restaurant in the suburbs of Bombay. Well, we all did our best but that plan didn’t work out; although it was quite early. We were around 17 or 18 years old then. But post that time, we finally decided to go on with our plans and do something with food. Then we started planning about setting up pubs and restaurants. Now we have a couple of them there in Bombay.
That’s amazing. Then, how did you shift to Ahmedabad and set up anew?
Well, I got married and my husband had to move to Ahmedabad. As my work was in Bombay I stayed there for about one and a half years. But, ultimately I had to choose between the two most important parts that are my husband and my work. Well, you know Gujarati upbringing does and obviously, I chose my husband. So, I moved here to Ahmedabad. I shifted with a very happy face as I took it as a chance for a fresh start. Although life moved quite slower than it used to be in Bombay. I had a few cousins here who are very close to me. They helped me out in doing something on my own in this city.
We finally started with Bombay Street Café in Ahmedabad. It was a stall in Law Garden. It was my first work here as I wanted to understand how the market is here; as you know coming from Bombay, I can say street food is the basic life there. Obviously, Ahmedabad has a wide variety of street food. But people here also love street foods from the south. And there is nothing like the ones we get in Bombay like the premium dosa. We call it cocktail dosa. So, I picked up the menu from where I spent my childhood and grown-up as the woman I am now; eating their dosa, pav bhaji, Frankie’s, sandwich. We started with those. I approached them and they started the business with me. We expanded to a couple of outlets here; then we moved to Bhopal and Amravati.
With time, the stall in Law Garden did not work well. Of course, it picked up well but it is no more in existence. So, we pulled out from there. When we started Bombay Street Café, in six months more dosa sellers lined up there. Our menu was kind of unique though with unique names like Ginnie dosa, Janak Janak Bhayal dosa etc; my chefs came out with these quirky names. But immediately they were copied by others that too sold in cheaper. I made good food and because of that, the price was comparatively high. And other sellers would give anything and everything to charge lower. And customers would definitely go away!
I did not want to deal with that kind of thing so I moved the café outlets to other places I said. And they are still running pretty well but my love for street food continues as it had been when I was there in Bombay, and I totally miss that. I was quite authentic in carrying the real taste of Bombay to Ahmedabad as the men who used to cook there, I brought them here. My other restaurants in Bombay are still there in Ghatkopar, Andheri, and other areas, and they are doing just fine.
That was a long journey you had! How did you come up with I Love Sandwich House?
I came across a friend Chitrak who was running a chain of sandwiches and quiches. We spoke and he was like I want to hire you as a consultant to do the Sandwich House (I Love Sandwich House) work. He wanted to revamp the menu from what it usually was. So, I said let’s do it and took the work on. We started from scratch and there was lots and lots of struggle to make the Sandwich House what it is today.
Will you share about the struggles you had to face while setting up the restaurant?
It was quite hard as you know getting basic ingredients like cherry tomato, red or yellow pepper, broccoli was tough in Ahmedabad. Those things are rare here. There were vendors who would say today we have these so you take it today! I was like how am I gonna run a restaurant like that if it goes on like this! I would need different kinds of breads, croissants, and other staff, and they have to be available whenever I need them. Then, I began growing my own veggies which helped a lot finally. We started procuring cheese from Bombay and other places. There is this Halloumi cheese which used to be sold in just a few stores and that too not regularly. And I included Halloumi Sandwich in the menu. The cheese itself costs 750 rupees whereas we sold the sandwich for 550 bucks. So, it used to be very difficult for me but I was like the pioneer. I was the first one to get Burrata cheese in Ahmedabad. Even kale, different kinds of lettuces, and all these exotic veggies you see today in the city that is overflowing now, I was the first one to bring them here as I got none of them this easily!
It was very difficult to set up the menu but ultimate we did it. And post setting up the menu we revamped the site and changed the whole place into what it is now. And that’s how my agenda of introducing sandwiches from all over the world with a local fusion taste to Ahmedabad succeeded. I got to bring the world palate to the city which you will not find anywhere in India!
We were really doing it and our next job was to inculcate the taste in the clients. As it was an altogether different kind of tastes we had to put some local tastes as well. And slowly after facing a lot of critics, I can also call ‘bullying’ on social media, lots of reviews like we are overpriced, this or that, and many many struggles, eventually I managed to offer our goodness to Ahmedabad. We definitely knew it would take time which it did. But, with time it got a place and we are still growing and building up.
We will say hard work definitely pays off. And Sweta’s journey has been living proof of it! Let’s get to know the awesome person some more…
How long have you been in this field?
I guess it’s ten to twelve years now.
Is there anyone special who inspired you the most to follow your passion?
(Laughing) Inspiration I would say it myself only as I am a big foodie. I am a self-taught person. I love to visit restaurants. I love to experience different kinds of traditional restaurants; like going there, feeling the ambience, dining there, chatting over food. You know I always connect to people over food. Even my meetings are settled over lunch, dinner, snacks, and such gatherings. So, yeah. My inspiration has always been food and my crazy love for it. I am a diehard fan of food; I can say #PyaarMeinHoonTere.
Other than this can you see yourself doing anything else?
I do of course. I have already set up Soft Play Area; like kids’ play areas. I have two in Bombay and I have consulted about one in Ahmedabad. I curate play areas with food and soft toys for kids. Maybe it’s because of my love for kids but yeah, I do it.
Do you have any secrets about the ingredients in your food?
Like I will tell you (laughs)! Actually, I will. It’s love. Love and passion is the secret ingredient. Other than that there’s no secret.
What about your hobbies other than food?
My hobby is chilling. There’s nothing specific. I like to play with kids. I like spending time with my girls, watch movies, that’s all.
Your favorite food that is not on the menu of I Love Sandwich House?
Everything about food and I Love Sandwich House is my favorite. And if you ask that way, well, I love Pav Bhaji and street foods. They are not available in I Love Sandwich House.
Tell us about the one specialty in I Love Sandwich House that you prefer the most and want everyone to try.
I will say this; as we have derived the name I Love Sandwich House from our dedication to sandwiches. But we have also understood that the market needs more. So we have around twenty kinds of salads along with tartines and sandwiches. I would like people to try something from every bit or maybe every section of the menu. There is Pesto Paneer Panini Sandwich. For the salad, you should try the basic Ceaser Salad. Then, my Hummus Pasta is fabulous. The Zucchini Ravioli is really good. Yeah, you should try them all; rather I would say try everything!
So, as the audience you know now what to try from the food heaven, I Love Sandwich House. The mastermind herself has suggested them!
Do you have a message about going organic and being healthy regarding the choice of food?
Basically, it depends on what you eat and how much you do. Like butter contains calories but cheese does not if you consume it in the right proportion. You cannot go berserk if you eat 500 grams of cheese in one day. I have a few sandwiches which are filled with cheese but at the same time, most of them are prepared with the perfect amount of ingredients so it is easy to eat. Even, all my sandwiches are made with either brown bread or beetroot. In my Pita falafel, Pitas are also in brown. So everything is looked after very well. I don’t believe in white breads. They are only used for my street style sandwiches. Otherwise, everything you get here in I Love Sandwich House are completely healthy. I practice a very ethical way of being in the kitchen. I never go otherwise as I know I am doing this for the stomach of people. So I cannot take a risk with that. So yeah, I am totally careful when it’s food. That is how I believe you can grow organically. You need to take your time, give your products the required time and explain it to the market, you have to market it well, hammer it to the clients’ heads and then the clients are yours!
How do you handle the tough phases in life? Like from the very beginning, you set up business in Bombay, then moving to a different city, setting up in an entirely different market. How have you dealt with all of it?
I believe it is all adaptability. I never have a tough phase in life. I would say I do not believe in them. Change and adapting to it is something that is constant in human life. It’s like if you want a child you have to go through labour. Life is like that only. When you are prepared for something it’s not gonna hurt you, even if it’s tough.
So according to me, I handle situations very happily and nicely. You will never see the stress on my face and recently my Instagram account got hacked! Just ten days back it happened and it was almost impossible to retrieve it. Even the handle of I Love Sandwich House also got hacked! When I went to cyber-crime they said it’s because of the location. It is being done by ones in the city itself. They would hack it and delete all the pictures and then they will sell the account off! In my case, the pictures and everything remained the same. I take it as a lifetime achievement, I guess because I got the account back in ten days! I faced it coolly. The person who did it did not succeed. I wasn’t stressed at all. In the meantime, I opened another account and began working there.
So the person who knows what she wants and knows that this much is my appetite, they are content. They are always happy. So that’s how it works. I face all situations nicely without getting stressed; because stress will only bring wrinkles!
What message do you have for your customers who love I Love Sandwich House?
I believe in food. I love my food. Whatever I cook I make them with a lot of warmth and lots of love. I want to convey to everyone who comes to I Love Sandwich House to eat the food here. We are very welcoming people. If anything goes wrong with the food or anything you do not like, just let us know and we will change it immediately. Secondly, I cook with love and I expect you to try the food with love. Taste everything that is on the menu because every dish is made with love!
What is the timing of I Love Sandwich House now?
From August 1, 2021, it will be open from 9:30 AM to 10 PM. And at the weekends we open for breakfasts at 8:30 AM.
Any message you wish to give to Gujarat Celebs?
You guys are doing a fab job! I see a lot of posts of you all. The way you promote people, even migrant people like me; you know I am called ‘migrant’ a lot, but it is fabulous. You promote everyone so nicely that it is really good. I want to thank you.