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50-year-old Pune homemaker takes over family’s legacy restaurant; grows business by 30%

"When I took charge, I decided to give the restaurant a complete facelift and also wanted to introduce new concepts such as a multi-functional banquet hall, and a vegetarian QSR."

Written by Dipanita Nath | Pune |
Updated: March 16, 2021 5:49:59 pm
Nisha belongs to a small Maharashtrian village near Manchar and is the eldest daughter in the family with three sisters and a brother.

Rajratna Executive in Chakan, one of the largest highway restaurants in the city, has increased profits by 30 per cent in the last two years, added two new divisions and undertaken a major renovation during the pandemic. Soon, it will launch a new look.

Less than two years ago, however, business was not running smoothly and the owners, Rajendra Walunj and his son Chetan Walunj, who were busy with their other enterprises, thought of employing a professional manager to operate the restaurant. In a bold move, Chetan approached his mother, 50-year-old Nisha Walunj, who had never held a professional portfolio before, to take over the business. “And I agreed,” says Nisha.

Rajratna Executive is an emotional landmark in Pune; most clients have been coming here since they were children and their parents have grown old with the restaurant. “When I took charge, I decided to give the restaurant a complete facelift and also wanted to introduce new concepts such as a multi-functional banquet hall, and a vegetarian QSR. For the funding part, we took a loan for the renovation. We had a staff strength of about 100 in the restaurant before COVID, but slowly many of them left for home due to fear of the disease. I still managed to retain the core team. One of them is our Chef Ajit, who has been with us since the beginning, more than 20 years ago. Right from budgeting, quality control, and hiring of new staff to menu selection, I take care of the entire operations with my team,” she says.

Nisha belongs to a small Maharashtrian village near Manchar and is the eldest daughter in the family with three sisters and a brother. She married at 17 and completed her Higher Secondary education while handling the responsibilities of her new home as the eldest bahu. The family consulted one another before taking a business decision and Nisha was a part of these discussions. Chetan would inform her about developments at the restaurant, she would visit the restaurant to inspect the kitchen or help out with food trials.

In planning the restaurant’s revival, Nisha decided to play by her strengths. “The toughest part was to handle a staff of 100 but, since I have an innate sense of understanding behaviour, it didn’t take me much time to get into the thick of things. The most important skill, according to me, is to understand the people who work with one. Most of the staff, which includes our servers, and even junior chefs, don’t come with a proper degree. So, training and managing them, while understanding their mindsets, is something that I have inculcated while at the job,” she says.

The neighbourhood of the restaurant is an industrial hub that is populated by corporates. “There is a huge demand for corporate events and weddings, and since we already had a great relationship with the people from the locality, it was a strategic decision for us to have a banquet hall that could cater to their needs. Since we are located on a busy highway from where people travel to Shirdi and Nashik, we get a huge number of customers who are Jains, Gujratis and Marwaris, and only want pure vegetarian food. Hence the decision of starting a QSR,” she says.

Her approach to the businesses could be a lesson for restaurants that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic? “I am more than 50, but I always look forward to embracing change. And that is the reason why I wanted to change the way our restaurant looks and feels – at the same time keeping our roots intact,” she says.

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