Bhopal: From farm labourers to restaurateurs- Didis' running Mantralaya canteen

Ajivika Swad Sangam’s clean, reasonably-priced food draws compliments

SmitaUpdated: Monday, June 06, 2022, 02:12 PM IST
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Canteen is run by an all-women SHG (Self-help group) Ajivika Swad Sangam | FP

Bhopal(Madhya Pradesh): Dhanwanti Meena, 29, doesn’t have a second to spare. Sitting on the counter of Ajivika Swad Sangam, Dhanwanti is surrounded by customers. Someone wants ‘ek chai’. Another wants ‘ek thali’. Dhanwanti takes cash and hands over coupons to them, which they can exchange for the food stuff of their choice.

Tastefully decorated with colourful tables, the neat and clean eatery is the official canteen at Mantralaya, the headquarters of the state government, in the city. But it is not just another canteen. It is run by an all-women SHG (Self-help group) and all the ‘Didis’ working there are paid the same wages - Rs 324 per day. And they have an equal share in the profits.

Didis’ working there are paid the same wages - Rs 324 per day and have an equal share in the profits.

Didis’ working there are paid the same wages - Rs 324 per day and have an equal share in the profits. | FP

The canteen, which was inaugurated by the chief minister on March 9, to mark the International Women’s Day, is the first venture in the state under the National Rural Economic Transformation Project of the MP State Rural Livelihood Mission.

The initial capital for the canteen was raised by eight Didis, who contributed Rs 25,000 each. The state government chipped in with a subsidy of Rs 11 lakh. The air-conditioned premises are rent-free.

Tea and coffee are the highest-selling items

Tea and coffee are the highest-selling items | FP

Dhanwanti says that tea and coffee are the highest-selling items. They manage to sell around 100 thalis every day. The place can seat 64 customers at one time. The daily footfall is around 300. The daily turnover is Rs 15,000 but is expected to grow once the restaurant starts ‘room service’.

In addition, Mantralaya employees also hold farewell and birthday parties at the place. Laxmi Ahirwar, the chef, said that earlier she used to prepare food for marriage and other parties. “I am feeling very nice working here. But it is challenging work as orders keep on flowing,” she said.

The initial capital for the canteen was raised by eight Didis, who contributed Rs 25,000 each.

The initial capital for the canteen was raised by eight Didis, who contributed Rs 25,000 each. | FP

Dhanwanti adds that the canteen has changed their lives. “Some of us toiled in the fields on meagre wages. Now, all of us are proud co-owners of this venture,” she says. The rates are quite reasonable. A thali comprising dal, chawal, five rotis, a vegetable curry, papad and salad costs just Rs 70. A special thali, with two vegetable curries, a seasonal sweet and buttermilk, thrown in additionally is priced at Rs 120. Half and full chai cost Rs 8 and Rs 13 respectively and a cup of coffee is priced at Rs 15. The daily turnover is Rs 15,000 but is expected to grow once the restaurant starts ‘room service’.

The air-conditioned premises are rent-free.

“The quality, quantity and price - all are very good,” says Rashmi, who was enjoying her meals at the place, adding that she feels as if she is eating home-cooked food. It feels great when customers tell us that they like our food so much that they have stopped bringing tiffins from their home, Dhanwanti says.

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