The Business of Baking: Geetha’s Experimentative Journey

More often than not, people place a lot of emphasis on the big moments in life. What they do forget, is that the big moments have millions of small, seemingly insignificant but important in hindsight instances behind them. If we talk about Geetha’s life, that small, and a bit embarrassing moment, came in the form of a botched-up batch of brownies. “I decided to tinker with the recipe and not follow it to the last T. It turned into a brick. That’s when I realised baking is not the same as cooking; it’s basically a science and everything has to be proportional.”

When talking about her business, which is also her passion, Geetha exudes passion, clarity and deep love for what she does. “It’s magical, right? You mix a few things and put them on a tray, and they look like a mess when they go into the oven, but they come out as beautiful yummy things.” Her child-like wonder and passion for cooking was mellowed in the years to come because of her job in a totally different arena of technology, but once married and settled abroad, Geetha had time to experiment in the kitchen. “I stuffed puff sheets with gaajar halwa and sent it to my husband’s office for him and the staff. They really loved it!”

Geetha has always been an intrepid innovator. “I take risks. We make it a habit to add two products to our menu each month, be it an experiment or just an addition. I even encourage my employees to keep trying. What if they fail the first time? Maybe next time would be better.” But as her experience with the brownie dictates, innovation must also align to certain principles. Bizarre is not a food type she’d serve on her menu. “I’d opened a restaurant of my own against my better judgement, and I was peeved at people coming in and asking for a food which is supposed to be eaten in a certain way to be served in an almost diametrically opposite manner. Why would someone lace their white sauce pasta with chilli flakes or hot sauce?”

But whatever happens, she’s enjoyed this life, which she calls a rollercoaster, and met all the challenges thrown at her head-on. “I even had to teach myself to be a little tactful in my approach with government officials. A lot of times they did not want to talk to me, but asked me to call my husband. I’ve struggled with this, that my no-nonsense attitude and being a woman can ruffle some feathers.” But being a woman has its advantages too. “I think we’re naturally gifted with management skills. We can manage things and people very well, and that’s a great upper-hand we have.”

What motivates her is the kind of support she receives from her clients. “While we faced some technical difficulties during our digital transition at the beginning of the lockdown, many of my customers offered their help and made things easier for us.” And it does not stop at that. Fragrant Kitchen has been actively helping out people in distress by sending in food to charities and institutions. “None of our products go to waste. Whatever is left, we send to an old-age home nearby. We also send buns to two other organizations.” Her food, she says, has made a slight detour and actually nested in people’s hearts rather than their stomachs. “I remember that one of our customers told me her elderly mother refused to eat bread. But after having our bread, she said her mother eats nothing else now. That’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve received.”

The Growtherator programme was a perfect fit for her. “I wouldn’t have taken a few risks had it not been for the programme and its sessions. Also, I’m not scared of finances anymore! The Excel sheet part is a bit tricky, but I’m sure I’ll ace that too. It has changed my mindset and made me focus on the revenue stream and the financial situation of the business too.”

Despite not having any formal training in baking, or in business management, Geetha and her business have thrived. She’s been slowed down by circumstances; has stumbled and fallen on her innovations and experiments, but she’s never stopped. “It’s just that you have to take the first step. Having a big picture is important, but I know that it gets overwhelming. What you have to remember is to take smaller steps to growth. If I can do it, so can anyone.”