Execute your ideas soon so you have plenty of time for experimentationToday, homemade Nepali pickles in a variety of flavours and tastes are available from a growing number of outlets, on both small and large scales.
Today, homemade Nepali pickles in a variety of flavours and tastes are available from a growing number of outlets, on both small and large scales. But there weren’t that many when Hajuri Bista started making homemade pickles, bottling and selling them in batches. In 1994, at the age of 39, Bista, tired of idling around at home, decided to start her own business making pickles with an ‘authentic Nepali taste’. Since then, the Hajuri Khadya Udhyog has scaled up, becoming a fully-fledged pickle factory and her brand, Navaras, is now available across the country. Recently, she partnered with Achaar Ghar, a Jhamsikhel restaurant that serves a menu built around Bista’s pickles. In this interview with the Post’s Saurav R Pandey, 63-year-old Bista speaks about her journey as an entrepre-neur, from the initial hurdles she overcame to her involvement in restaurants like the Achaar Ghar today. Excerpts:
What led you to start manufactur-ing pickles commercially at the age of 39?
As my children grew up and started taking more responsibility on their shoulders, I started to possess more leisure time than before. I had always planned to do professional work, par-ticularly a business, but I was unsure of what it would actually centre around. Then, I learned about a few weeks’ training programme organ-ised by Wean Multi-purpose Cooperative regarding food preserva-tion and processing. Around 25 years ago, a market survey had discovered that there was a demand for pickles with a typical Nepali taste but Indian pickles held almost a hundred percent of the market share. This was an opportunity for me and I started mak-ing traditional Nepali pickles.
What kinds of obstacles did you face when you first started?
I had a lot of things to learn. I had no experience producing pickles at a commercial level. It took a lot of time, three years to be precise, to slowly become adept at the art. I also needed a lot of time to grasp the knowledge of running a successful business. While my families and friends helped me, getting loans from banks was also slightly difficult. But I would say that my age was not a problem. Having the hunger to do something productive and possessing constant perseverance and determination time and again proves that age is just a number.
Every home makes pickles in Nepal. What would you say makes yours special? Also, you’ve said that your pickles have a ‘Nepali taste’ to them. Can you tell us more about what that means?
Like I said earlier, the most special thing about our pickles is that they possess a unique Nepali taste. The pickles imported from other countries generally had an excess of salt, spices and oil. In our pickles, we tick all the boxes regarding these characteristics, i.e., making sure that our products possess the right amount of all of these items. Realising the importance of fresh products, we also don’t use chemical preservatives. And these are, I believe, what make Nepali pick-les truly distinct.
You started out small but you’ve since expanded. How did you go from a small cooperative to oper-ating a factory like the Hajuri Khadya Udhyog?
For the first three years, my kitchen was my office. We made pickles, took it to the market and sought construc-tive suggestions from customers. When I decided to expand my venture, the first thing I needed was workers. Most workers who came to me were women, who were mostly migrant workers from outside Kathmandu. The next thing I needed was money for investment and purchasing new technology. We registered the Hajuri Khadya Udhyog in 1994 and began work officially.
At Achaar Ghar, the menu is apparently built around your pick-les. How involved are you with the restaurant?
I am only a shareholder of Achaar Ghar. I have been actively involved in selling pickles at this restaurant for the past two years. Kratu Raj Pandey is the CEO of Achaar Ghar, and we get along well regarding the business.
There are many pickle companies now. How do you stay ahead of the competition?
The most important thing is not to be afraid of competition. When we start-ed commercially, it was frustrating to see many other competitors coming our way. Yes, at one time, we were quite afraid of their impact on our company. All other companies had similar types of packaging but lower prices. But many of the competitors could not sustain the lower prices they offered and had to close after some time. There was one company that even introduced pickles at half our prices. But because of our prod-uct costs, we could never sell our pickle at such a low price and survive. So, what mattered was backing our intentions and confidence.
In addition, respecting one’s staff is equally important for a business to thrive. I hired my first staff after working alone for three years. Now, that person still works with me, solely because there is mutual respect between us. To embrace success in entrepreneurship, one must always love and care for one’s staff.
What are your future plans? Where does the Hajuri Khadya Udhyog go from here?
In general, my future plan is to take both my company and Achaar Ghar forward. But it’s not that we have a certain ‘to-do-list’ and act accordingly. Just one single outcome can open the door to a multitude of possibilities and we want to react according to what the situation demands. As for Achaar Ghar, Kratu and I do have plans of expanding the restaurant to some major cities outside the Kathmandu Valley but not immedi-ately as such.
The image of the entrepreneur is usually that of someone young. But you started at 39, showing that age has nothing to do with entrepreneurship. What advice do you have for both young and not-so-young entrepreneurs who want to start a business?
Looking back, I could have made a lot more progress had I started a few more years earlier. So, my advice to young adults would be to execute their ideas soon so that they have plenty of time for experimentation and decision-making processes. There are a lot of opportunities for the future generation and people must be hungry to grab each one that comes their way. For those who are already quite old, as clichéd as it may sound, never lose hope. It just takes one big moment to completely turn life around.