After completing her internship in 2014, Zakia Ferdushi Nila, a pharmacy student, started a business driven by her passion for cooking. She used to cook delicious food and post pictures in girls' groups on Facebook. The concept of a homemade food business was not popular back then.
Her family and friends were sceptical, but she chose to carry on. In her words, she was so "naive" back then that she used to deliver her food herself, but did not know one could ask for delivery charge separately. Within a short period, she made a reputation for making good food.
However, everyone in her family wanted her to go for a regular "decent" job that fit her educational qualifications. So, after running her business for more than a year, she joined Beacon Pharmaceuticals Limited.
Nila was posted in Mymensingh as an executive of quality compliance. By that time, she got married. She used to travel to Mymensingh from Dhaka regularly.
When she thought life could not get more difficult, she had a miscarriage. She understood it happened because of the hectic journey every day. So, in February this year, when she conceived again, she moved in to the factory dormitory to avoid the long journey.
But she had a miscarriage again. Finally, she decided to resign from her job. At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, she resigned and resumed the business that she had left four years back.
Chef Nila's Kitchen
This time, it was not her family but she herself who was sceptical about the potential for success, considering the inimical circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But she did not want to sit idle at home. So she took a leap of faith and started again.
She tried to become more organised this time. She opened a Facebook page named "Chef Nila's Kitchen" and communicated with some of her previous regular customers. She informed them that she would be on board again.
People loved restaurant food and hangouts more than ordering from small homemade food ventures. Since hygiene has become an issue now, the scenario has changed completely.
"I have seen the market in 2014 and I am observing it now. Though I was praised for my products, it was a niche market. People loved restaurant food and hangouts more than ordering from small homemade food ventures. Since hygiene has become an issue now, the scenario has changed completely," said Nila.
She said she had doubts whether people would buy homemade food or not, but they are now preferring that over restaurant meals. It has been five months that she started her business, and her income has been Tk30,000-40,000 per month.
Talking about profits, she said, "I do not make incredible profits, but it is more than enough for me. Whatever I am doing, I am doing it from home, and I do not get tired of it."
Her husband helps her with grocery shopping. She manages the rest of the work alone, starting from preparing food to packaging and keeping track of orders. She uses courier services for delivery now.
In her kitchen, she has a wide range of food items like cake, pizza, Nakshi Pakon pitha, cheese samosa, chicken bun, roll, etc. Her cake and pizza are getting the most appreciative reactions. So she has concentrated on these two products.
Talking about her experience, she said she loved cooking so much that she completed the level one course from a culinary institute. She has the qualification of a chef.
"I loved being a pharmacist and I equally loved being a chef. This time, I will not be giving up on my passion," said Nila.
She wants to open a brand food shop in future. Now she is working according to that plan.
For a few people like Nila, coronavirus came as a blessing in disguise. It provided them with time and opportunity to think and re-start what they were doing in the pre-pandemic period. Shila's story is somewhat similar.
Shila'r Rondhonshala (Shila's Kitchen)
Shila'r Rondhonshala is based in Jatrabari and Shila visits Dhaka regularly as she has orders to deliver here.
She grew up in a broken family where she was married off at the age of 15. Her husband's family was well off but the marriage failed to survive, as he became an addict. After visiting rehabilitation centres several times, he ended up as an unemployed person.
Shila already had two kids and a sick mother-in-law to take care of. The family was always struggling to make ends meet.
It was two years back when she started a catering business on a small scale. She provided food to events in Jatrabari. Only a few people knew about her.
When she would take her kids to school, she would tell other guardians about her business. Her relatives and acquaintances would refer her for different occasions to provide catering services. Thus, she used to make Tk5,000-10,000 in profits per month. That was the sole earning in her family.
People suggested she open a Facebook page and advertise her products, but she did not have an android phone to do that. Life was going on like this when coronavirus broke out in the country.
She lost the events she used to supply food to, as any kind of gathering was banned. She thought the last strain of hope was gone.
Then one day, one of her cousins came to her, took pictures of her products, and posted in a Facebook group named WE. Her products were sold out right away.
The cousin helped her open the Facebook page "Shila'r Rondhonshala". Her Nakshi pitha sold like hot cakes. Her orders increased and she was struggling to keep up. Her crippled mother-in-law stepped up to help her.
They were having orders from Gulshan, Banani, and even from as far away as Munshiganj. Initially, she herself was doing the task of delivering the products. After a while, her husband also started helping her.
When the pandemic is gone, I will open my own pitha shop in my town.
She is still the sole breadwinner of the family. Now, she has been making a profit of Tk25,000 every month for the last three months. Her dreams have become bigger now.
"When the pandemic is gone, I will open my own pitha shop in my town," Shila told The Business Standard.
Unlike Nila and Shila, Rukshana Rumpa started a brand-new business during the pandemic. The crisis had given her time and the chance to implement the idea she had been cherishing for a long time.
It all started when she came to Rajshahi from Chattogram after marriage in 2015. Her foodie in-laws loved her delicacies. They often told her how profitable it would be if she started a restaurant.
Rumpa often pondered over the idea but could never act on it. After the birth of her child in 2017, the idea became more far-fetched as she alone could not do it, and no one had time to invest alongside her.
However, the lockdown changed the equation for her. For the first time in years, everyone was at home. They all got time to themselves.
The profit we are making is still very small. But we love doing this... We intend to continue this and have our own restaurant, but we do not know how it will turn out in future
So, when she again expressed her idea, her sister-in-law, a university student, stepped up and promised to work hand in hand with her as the university was closed down. They started working accordingly. They opened a Facebook page named "Ghoroni".
In July, they started with frozen food and chicken roll as they thought people were going to need these during lockdown. People liked the items but Rumpa received the highest response when she introduced kachchi biriyani and morog polao.
"The profit we are making is still very small. But we love doing this. None of us, me or my sister-in-law, wants to get a 9-5 job. We intend to continue this and have our own restaurant, but we do not know how it will turn out in future," said Rumpa.