Bhopal: From farm workers to restaurateurs: Didis runs the Mantralaya canteen

The canteen is run by a SHG (self-help group) made up of all Ajivika Swasthya Sangam women | PF

Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Dhanwanti Meena, 29, doesn’t have a second to lose. Sitting at the counter of Ajivika Swasthya Sangam, Dhanwanti is surrounded by customers. Someone wants ‘ek chai’. Another wants ‘ek thali’. Dhanwanti takes money and gives them coupons which they can redeem for food of their choice.

Tastefully decorated with colorful tables, the neat and clean restaurant is the official canteen of Mantralaya, the seat of state government, in the city. But it’s not just another canteen. It is run by an all-women SHG (self-help group) and all the “Didis” working there receive the same salary – Rs 324 per day. And they have an equal share of the profits.

The Didis who work there receive the same salary – 324 rupees per day and have an equal share of the profits. | PF

The canteen, which was opened by the Chief Minister on March 9, to mark International Women’s Day, is the first venture in the state under the MP State Rural Livelihood Mission’s National Rural Economic Transformation Project .

The canteen’s initial capital was raised by eight Didis, who contributed Rs. 25,000 each. The state government has contributed with a grant of Rs 11 lakh. Air-conditioned rooms are free.

Tea and coffee are top selling items

Tea and coffee are the best-selling items | PF

Dhanwanti says tea and coffee are the top selling items. They manage to sell about 100 thalis every day. The place can accommodate 64 customers at a time. Daily attendance is around 300. Daily turnover is Rs 15,000 but is expected to increase once the restaurant starts ‘room service’.

In addition, Mantralaya employees also organize farewell and birthday parties on site. Laxmi Ahirwar, the chef, said she used to prepare food for the wedding and other parties. “I feel very good working here. But it’s hard work because the orders keep coming in,” she said.

The canteen's initial capital was raised by eight Didis, who contributed Rs. 25,000 each.

The canteen’s initial capital was raised by eight Didis, who contributed Rs. 25,000 each. | PF

Dhanwanti adds that the canteen has changed their lives. “Some of us worked in the fields with meager wages. Now we are all proud co-owners of this business,” she says. The rates are quite reasonable. A thali including dal, chawal, five rotis, vegetable curry, papad and salad costs just 70 rupees. cost Rs 8 and Rs 13 respectively and a cup of coffee costs Rs 15. Daily turnover is Rs 15,000 but is expected to increase once the restaurant starts “room service”.

Air-conditioned rooms are free.

“The quality, quantity and price are all very good,” says Rashmi, who was enjoying her meals there, adding that she felt like she was eating home-cooked meals. It feels good when customers tell us they like our food so much that they’ve stopped bringing tiffins from home, says Dhanwanti.

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