Food entrepreneur Harbhajan Kaur is living proof of the well-worn adage that age is, after all, just a number. At 94, when most people would struggle to be physically independent, Kaur has managed to achieve financial independence as well, while being hands-on at work.
Even more heartening is that Kaur had embarked on her entrepreneurial journey when in her late eighties.
“I told Raveena that I wanted to earn some money of own,” Kaur said, recalling a conversation with her daughter (Raveena Suri) in 2016.
Harbhajan was on the threshold of 90 at that point, but unwilling to call it a day. A desire to create something she could call her own and also financially rewarding still burned deep within her.
Fortunately for Kaur, Raveena did not just patiently hear her out but also encouraged her to pursue her dream.
“She asked me to look at something I was good at. The first idea that came to mind was food-related. When I told her about it, she got the ingredients the very next day, and my entrepreneurial journey began,” Kaur said.
A compulsive foodie for a good part of her life, Harbhajan had got to know of many recipes from her parents and relatives while growing up. Interestingly, cooking was a hobby for her parents and not a profession.
Drawing from that well of knowledge and her own experience over the years, Kaur set up ‘Harbhajan’s - Made With Love’, an enterprise that would steadily grow over the next five years.
Kaur began small, setting up a stall at a pop-up in Chandigarh. She was confident of her culinary skills, but even she did not expect her ‘Besan di barfi' to be a runaway hit with the customers.
“I learnt the recipe from my father when I used to help him in preparing it,” Kaur said. And it helped that she was fond of the dish herself and so never forgot how to prepare it.
“Every single piece of the barfi was sold out. I netted Rs 2000 from the debut sale,” Harbhajan said. “The amount may not seem large, but I can’t tell you what a boost that gave to my self-confidence.”
The initial success encouraged Kaur to set up a stall at another pop-up and this time with some more dishes. Once again, gourmets eagerly scooped up everything on offer, convincing Kaur that she could make a go of the business.
Besides her trademark ‘besan di barfi’, Kaur’s culinary repository includes a variety of halwas, pickles, chutneys, sherbet, and jams, among others.
Kaur is grateful to Wahe Guru (almighty) that things have gone off smoothly over the last five years. At her age, she wouldn’t want to think of starting over if something were to go wrong.
She is very much hands-on and oversees quality control, ingredient mix, and recipe development. Her day begins at 5 am, with morning prayers, but work starts only after breakfast.
Her granddaughter-in-law Supriya said, “We take at least three days to complete an order. We do the packaging after lunch and she (Kaur) wraps up her day by 5 pm. She works thrice a week, given her age.”
Kaur’s products are preservative-free, last for a month-and-a-half and need refrigeration.
“Our major customers are from Punjab, Mumbai and Delhi,” Supriya said.
“We have been able to make inroads into cities like Coimbatore, Hyderabad and are trying to expand our reach,” she said. The client list includes celebrities like Neetu Singh, Karan Johar, and actor Anil Kapoor’s wife Sunita among others.
As the number of clients and orders increased, family members stepped in to help Kaur run the operations.
Kaur’s grandson Manav Suri, a trained chef, manages production; daughter Raveena takes care of recipe development, granddaughter Mallika is in charge of packaging and branding, and Supriya coordinates with clients, handles PR and promotions.
When she had got into the food business, the thought of leaving a legacy for future generations never occurred to her. But with the venture now has grown to a certain size, Kaur is hoping that her successors will be able to take it to the next level.
“Her cooking is what binds our family, and now she is known for it in many parts of the country as well,” her daughter Raveena proudly said.