Remember, growing up, how we found people going gaga for city and metro life ― for those huge highways, bright lights and a Bollywood kinda nightlife? Well, only to realize that it wasn’t what most of us were seeking!
And probably this pandemic did teach us and made us realize what kind of humans we are ― some of us ended up settling in mountains while some are still playing with sand on their favourite beaches ― eventually, it’s all about peace and being close to mother nature!!
But like many other folks, Sheetal Bhati is one of those fun-loving women who realized her true calling early and decided to make a home in the mountains much before all this happened.
The Gurugram woman quit her full-time corporate job to start a cafe in the Himalayas.
Now, as desiring as it sounds, the path was definitely not easy for her!!
“We were nothing but outsiders for the locals ― trying to establish our business ― which they considered as a threat to their ‘dhandha’. Well, the society does take time to accept outsiders, and it took us almost two years to be a part of them,” says Sheetal.
The 31YO entrepreneur runs a pizza cafe in a small village, Bir, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Located at a serene and mesmerizing place, Bir Billing is famed worldwide for being the highest paragliding spot in India and the second highest in the world.
And though the village is quite known for its adventures, it had hardly any good cafes 4-5 years back. This very reason tempted Bhati to open her own cafe business in that village ― very next to the landing spot.
“I came to Bir for paragliding in 2017 along with my husband, Satish. We found this place really amazing and quiet but noticed that there weren’t many cafes around. The village had a few small eateries but nothing that could complement the view. And unlike Manali or Shimla, which are hell full loaded with hotels, cafes and restaurants, this place was not commercialized, had the capability to grow and give back. So we decided to make this our home. It’s been four amazing years, and yes, Bir is growing day by day,” Sheetal adds.
The entrepreneur took her husband’s help to build this place. “That man faced so many difficulties!!! I have to admit, and it wasn’t easy,” she chuckles. “Building something in hilly areas is anyways difficult. On top of that, we didn’t have many resources or connections to take help from. My husband used to get most of the construction materials from Delhi, Chandigarh & Ludhiana. And since he was into the real estate business, we eventually pulled it off.”
The cafe was bought on lease by the couple and later renovated to give the desired look. They named it ‘Himalayan Pizza’ and had been treating it like their baby ever since. The cafe is run by a total of 10-13 members, including the owners.
“Our business is just like any other business. There are ups and downs ― lows and highs ― profits and losses; but we got to keep going. Pandemic and the 2020 lockdown was one such time when we were making zero profits and giving salaries to all our team members every month. Ever since we started running this place, almost one and half years was gone into lockdown. And it did make me rethink my decision; I knew we would survive this. And now, since the tourists are returning back, we are getting back into the business ― slowly but exponentially,” she further adds.
Sheetal, being from a retail background, had no idea how to run an F&B business. But it was eventually her experience that got her through. Moreover, it was her team, she believes, that made it further possible for her business to grow. “Our menu is nothing different from what most of the cafes sell; it was our ingredients and the way we cook them that made those special. I had always believed in quality over quantity, so when it was time to finalize the menu, we decided that we would stick to limited recipes which were hassle-free to cook and delicious to serve,” she continues.
She also believes that one must take enough time to do the R&D before finalizing a location for any kind of cafe, boutique or homestay, “who doesn’t like to be their own boss ― but what needs to be the primary focus is how much your business/ location of the business and other factors are going to give you back. You have to sustain every single day while making sure you save enough for your team, family, vendors and maybe, for yourself too!!!”
The entrepreneur who grew up in an army household is also a mother of 5YO adorable daughter, Keyara. “It is slightly difficult and sometimes becomes overwhelming when you are a full-time mother as well as a businesswoman. To add that, especially when you are in the hospitality sector ― you meet different people with different moods every day! And no, you cannot lose yourself. There are days when I feel like shouting back, but instead, I go back and watch the mountains. They make me calm. You do not get weekends because that’s when your sales are on peak. Even on off days, you might have to entertain relatives and guests at your home who expect you to be a tour guide for them. I think we women juggle more than a clown in a circus. And we still do that flawlessly,” she says.
Well true! Over the months, I’ve met and written about so many women entrepreneurs ― all of them doing some amazing job in their respective fields ― sometimes they make me think if we are born this way, or we groom ourselves over time!
Unlike many women, Sheetal believes that she is lucky to have inlaws and a family that pushed her to live her dreams. “I didn’t have to bother about several things as I had many people to take care of those. I’m privileged; however, not everyone is. But either way, that doesn’t mean that you should stop or even wait. You gotta keep moving ahead,” she adds.
In the end, she asks every human out there to be confident and look out for themselves ― because if you won’t, you might be taken for granted!!
If you want to open your cafe somewhere in the mountains or want to enquire about anything about F&B business, you may reach out to Sheetal Bhati via her Instagram. Click here to know more about her venture Himalayan Pizza.
Stay tuned to this space and our series #PassionToProfession to read about more such women, their inspiring journeys and stories.
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