From a single pot of Khichdi to Khichdi Empire; This is a story about Abha Singhaal who had a simple dream to create something of her own. While the details were unclear, her motivation was crystal clear.
Abha Singhaal’s Unconventional Dream
Abha desired to challenge conventional expectations that women should be married by a certain age, have a secure profession, and “settle down” by a certain age. She made the decision to leave her family’s aspirations behind as divisions grew against them.
“My father had financed my education, but I wanted to start over when it came to choosing a career. I worked part-time while attending school to support myself. I truly didn’t want to be married by 24 as everyone else does, says Abha.
She made the decision to leave her home at age 23, with the only other option being to join the family company. She moved into a rented home in Mumbai with a roommate and started a job that paid her Rs 22,000 per month with just an MBA in marketing.
The rise of Khichdi in Abha’s life
Abha had limited time and resources as a student while completing her master’s in London, for which she received a partial scholarship. What could she quickly prepare with few ingredients that would satisfy the stomach and provide comfort? Obviously, the common khichdi (a rice and lentil dish).
From Modelling to Entrepreneurship
“I had roughly an hour between classes and lived near to the campus. Since khichdi was quick, easy on the wallet, and satisfied my tummy, I started making it. During my MBA, I truly learned the khichdi craft,” she continues. Abha started making several khichdi versions after that and developed into a khichdi aficionado.
The Birth of Khichdi Express
She wanted to be independent after she had returned to India.
“I moved into a one-room kitchen flat with a friend after leaving home with just two pairs of clothes. My only material goods were a mattress that cost 500 rupees and a few thousand rupees that I needed for rent and everyday costs. I made a cupboard out of an old shoe rack. A marketing company hired me, paying me Rs 22,000 per month. 12,000 rupees were spent on rent and power out of this, she continues.
She stopped going out, became more solitary, and learned to live alone in order to save money. She sought comfort in her ‘affordable friend’s’ khichdi. She would devote hours to making the dish, which is well-liked throughout India.
“I found comfort in making khichdi through difficult times. I didn’t have a “Plan B” when I left. If I didn’t land a job, I had no idea what I would do. It was a risk, but success requires taking risks, she continues.
She was found at this time by an advertising director, who gave her her first break. For this acting role, she received Rs 40,000. The businesswoman made the decision to take her first risk at this point.
“I received Rs 40,000 for a single day of filming. I made the risky decision to resign from my position. After all, I was earning nearly twice as much for a single day of labour. I later collaborated with renowned production companies and advertising firms and participated in modelling campaigns for companies like Cadbury, Kalyan Jewelers, Samsung, and others, she continues.
Abha made the decision to launch her own business after working in the modelling industry for a number of years. She met Mahendra Kumar, who is now her husband and a co-founder of their business, at about the same time.
When we first met, I made him khichdi, and the flavour really blew him away. He proposed that we launch a khichdi business while we were coming up with ideas. My life’s trajectory changed at this point, claims Abha.
Abha and Mahendra launched Khichdi Express in July 2019 in Hyderabad as a cloud kitchen with just one employee, pooling her whole life savings of Rs 3 lakhs.
“When Mahendra recommended this concept, I got to work researching it and discovered how well-liked this meal is. Since renting spaces in Hyderabad are less expensive than those in Mumbai, we chose to build the first branch there after I created the menu. We were the only two in the kitchen. When we first started, all we had were our dreams, she continues.
They offer a variety of khichdis. The menu carries on to finer selections including cheese chilli, palak paneer, pav bhaji, kolhapuri, corn mushroom khichdi, and more after starting with popular favourites like dal, palak (spinach), and mixed veggie khichdi. Their khichdis, which range in price from Rs 209 to Rs 349 and are accompanied with a papad, may be consumed as a full meal, says Abha.
One of the most fulfilling times in her life, according to the businesswoman, was when they were able to pay the salaries of their employees within the first month of operation.
“I was overjoyed when I was able to pay someone a wage that was equal to what I received at my first job. The fact that it came from profits and we didn’t need to take out a loan or make an investment for it only made things happier, she continues.
Expanding Khichdi Express
They opened their second branch in Mumbai within six months, encouraged by the sales. They already have eight locations between Mumbai and Hyderabad, and this month they intend to add three more.
Demand for Khichdi surge during the Covid Pandemic
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been switching to better diets, and one of the foods that doctors usually recommend is khichdi—whether it’s dal khichdi in the north or pongal in the south. As more peoplef began ordering the dish, businesses like Khichdi Express experienced a surge.
We received numerous orders from hospitals, isolation facilities, and residents of homes. We gave away free khichdi to Mumbai street dwellers. People would call and ask for fewer spices, per their instructions. After their family members had recovered, they would phone and express gratitude. It was a satisfying experience. We were thrilled that our meals could help individuals, she continues.
Lavanya, a Hyderabad resident and fan of khichdi, claims that she has been ordering from Khichdi Express for the past 12 months.
“Their khichdis are delicious and satisfying. Their usual dal khichdi is my favourite and is incredibly opulent. Through the food delivery service Zomato, I discovered them. It’s a blessing and a full meal for everyday meals for office workers like myself,” says Lavanya.
Proving Doubters Wrong
Abha claims that when she mentioned beginning a khichdi company, people scoffed at her. “I was told that khichdi is only consumed by those who are ill. We have shown them incorrect,” she claims.
The Grit and Determination of Abha and Mahendra
Although they spent all of their profits into the company, the road wasn’t always easy; there were times when they didn’t have enough money to even buy a cup of tea.
“In an effort to succeed, we risked everything. Mahendra and I frequently had to share a cup of tea because we didn’t even have Rs 30 in our pockets. But that’s how we discovered it. Nothing can stop us, even if we don’t have any money, because we have the knowledge and business-building skills, she continues.
However, she takes satisfaction in the fact that the business is entirely self-funded. They are now seeking investors as they prepare to grow their company by building 300 additional branches around the nation and entering the international market in the coming years.
Abha’s message of Empowerment
Abha has created a ‘khichdi’ empire after deciding to live life on her own terms, which is a difficult decision. She encourages people to take chances and to go against social conventions and expectations, especially women.
Go beyond your comfort zone. Take chances and defy social conventions. Only if you go above and beyond can you succeed. Look inside of yourself to discover your strengths. Keep your ‘Plan Bs’ in mind without getting frightened. Dream big and stand up for yourself, she advises.
Abha Singhaal’s incredible journey serves as an uplifting example of the power of resiliency and self-determination in a society where cultural expectations frequently determine one’s course. Abha bucked expectations by putting her family’s hopes aside in order to follow her own, singular dream. Abha’s journey, from her beginnings in a rented flat to the debut of Khichdi Express, is a monument to tenacity and perseverance.
- What is the story of Abha Singhaal, and who is she?
Ans. Abha Singhaal is a businesswoman who founded a khichdi company. Her story is about pursuing her dreams and building a successful business empire, despite facing societal expectations and challenges.
- In what way did Abha start her khichdi journey?
Ans. When Abha was a student in London, she would make khichdi since it was a filling, cheap, and easy lunch. She developed her khichdi-making abilities while enrolled in her MBA degree.
- What intentions does Abha have for the Khichdi Express going forward?
Ans. In the upcoming years, Abha and Mahendra intend to expand Khichdi Express by building 300 more locations around the country and breaking into the foreign market.
- What varieties of khichdi does Khichdi Express sell, and what is their price range?
Ans. In addition to dal khichdi, Khichdi Express also serves cheese chilli, palak paneer, pav bhaji, kolhapuri, and other khichdi alternatives. Every khichdi costs between Rs 209 and Rs 349, and a papad is included with every order.