Wordsmith Casebook : Family Business Nightmare – Catering Business, Silchar


In mid-eighties, two young men started a “catering business” in Silchar – caterer was a word that was considered an “anti-tradition”, “up-start”, “fashion” thing because society was more clannish, well-knit, tribal and a marriage was managed by the community and not by caterer or event managers as of now. More importantly, there were less disposable income and hence each needed each one’s support. Residents of Salt Lake, Calcutta (from where I am writing this now) may remember and be justifiably nostalgic about the “golden days” in the seventies and eighties when there was great community (para) feeling, which is almost non-existent now. Why ? Human nature has not changed, underlying social and economic situations have changed.

Our two-men catering business in Silchar flourished. They became a “brand” as they positioned themselves in a particular segment gloriously : Brahmin, vegetarian and priest-like cooks, quality ingredients, traditional food – today we may call them as “Sanskari Caterer.” After thirty years or so, they did not need to negotiate – their order book for the year remained full and they had the luxury to choose and pick the customers and payment was 50-100% in advance. I was and remain their customer.

The business is now stalling. Owners / Leaders were not able to face changes and challenges as Catering Business is changing fast with new customer demands coming up, unknown and unthinkable  five years ago. Catering was not longer a business of feeding but a tool to make a statement of wealth, power, prestige and in facebook and social media.

First Investigative Measures and De-Briefing 

  • You were once a challenger (remember those days when society seniors told you as upstart and destroyer of tradition for money)  and now you have become an incumbent and doing the same thing. You are in denial – you are becoming dated and you are blaming everyone but yourself.
  • You both want to retire, you tell me, then retire. Who is preventing you ? But if you are going to sell this / close the business, then why you are working so hard now ? Sell off now. But I think in your heart, you do not want to close this but you find change difficult and this retirement dream is a manifestation of denial and defeat.
  • You have become pompous fool and tell me that your quality is so unique that you find no one around to replace you (the TINA foolishness – There is no alternative). Nature abhors vacuum – no one is irreplaceable – She will manage all absences. Don’t you make a fool of yourself.
  • You have become too selfish… you being owner think that you shall close. What about your supply chain people ? Your staff ? People who have given their life for your business. Would you have been so successful without them ? Now, you toy the idea of closing and having a retired life  – only me, me…
  • You both have family, staff and network – what prevents you finding people and then mentoring them to continue the brand which you built with blood and sweat. What sins your customers committed you just leaving them fend for themselves.

Latest Report

As soon as Pandemic and Lock-down regime started, I had called them to know how was business. Thing was bad indeed – they had opened a community kitchen and creating some income stream for the cooks and staff. The staff, many from Orissa, stood by the firm. In this crisis, change came and so came a leader naturally. Wife of one and daughter of another teamed up and they took the leadership of the transformed business model. They became food supplier to many hospitals and nursing homes. This is one of the good things I found arising from the crisis of pandemic and lock-down. Business Owners who were thinking of only themselves found out in a rude way,  the world was not created for your aram.

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