Shelley Subawalla: Founder Of Zarin’s Secrets In Conversation


January 16, 2018

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Tell  us about yourself and your background

It is always so difficult to talk about oneself. I am a 40-year-old Parsi (Zoroastrian) lady residing in New Delhi, India. A married mother-of-two, I completed my education in Delhi at the Carmel Convent school followed by Jesus and Mary college where I attained my Bachelor’s degree in History. After my education was completed I spent a year or two working at O&M, NIS (the National Institute of Sales) and Selvel Media Services Pvt. Ltd. I put my career on a back seat after my children and then proceeded to be a full time mother for the next sixteen years. I started ‘Zarin’s Secrets’ in 2015.

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5068481890-e1469697625742I am an avid reader with a voracious appetite for travel. I yearn and try my best to visit and see new places whenever possible. I can spend days with my nose buried in my book and have recently ventured into the world of writing with my blog. It emphasises family, culture, traditions and how all these, along with food, play an important role in one’s life for generations to come.

I come from a typical Parsee family, brought up with stories of tradition, religious sanctity and community pride. I am doing my best to bring up my children with the same values, communal pride and individuality.

Along with being a homemaker and running ’Zarin’s Secrets’, I head the event planning committee for our Parsee community in Delhi. We are a small community of around 600 individuals and we try and do our best to organise regular events and get-togethers (over and above our annual festivals) in order to promote communal interaction, longevity and harmony. The reason behind my doing this is to, in my small way, give back to my community a tiny bit of what it has given me my entire life.

Being a mother of two children, I try and volunteer my time in their school; planning and executing reading programmes and other activities to inculcate in today’s children a need and love for reading.

Tell us about the company you have set up?

‘Zarin’s Secrets’ was started in 2015. We have recently celebrated our one-year anniversary and I must confess it has been extremely exciting. We basically deal with making and selling homemade, authentic Parsee spices and condiments. We are still a small set up, operating from the house, but I am happy and honoured to say that we have started making a name for ourselves and deliver all over India. We make spices like the famous Dhan saak masala, typical Parsee pickles, sweet and sweet and spicy chutnies and biscuits, amongst others.

Parsee cuisine is a very niche market with everyone enamoured by it and wanting to try it, however, hesitating as they think it complicated. It has become extremely popular recently as a lot of people want to try and experiment with new cuisines. Our aim is to show and prove to the world that Parsee cuisine, alongside being delicious (which it is), is also extremely easy to make. Toward that end, we include a recipe for the dish along with every spice packet that a person purchases.

My target audience is basically all cooks, everywhere! Along with being extremely popular amongst the Parsee households, who like mine, deal with Parsee food on a regular basis and hence need the special spices required; we have also found a huge demand for our products from non-Parsee families, belonging to other communities. A large part of our clients are made up of people who basically just love to eat and cook.

Why did you set up the company? / What drove you to become an Entrepreneur?

The Parsee community is a small community steeped in rich culture, tradition, harmony and a varied heritage. There are so many distinct aspects that set us apart from all other communities. Through ‘Zarin’s Secrets’, I hope to spread awareness and bring to light this uniqueness and wealth of tradition that can only enrich and enhance the lives of those surrounding us. Food is an amazing rope, that, when made with love, will always keep communities bound together.

Female-Entrepreneur-Shelley-SubawallaOur main distinguishing feature is that our products are all 100 per cent authentic, traditionally Parsee. I have been cooking for my family since the day I got married, as have my sisters, aunts, my mother, her mother before her and so on and so forth. To help in my cooking, my grandmother gave me all her family recipes, which have been in my family for generations. My friends and family had been after me for years to start making the spices and condiments on a professional basis as they saw how open and eager the market was.

I finally gave in and started the company in my grandmother’s name Zarin, as she was the one responsible for teaching me how to cook and for enhancing my cooking knowledge.

I decided to create the company and become an entrepreneur as I was receiving a lot of requests for my spices and found that since I had a bit of time on my hands as my children were older, now would be the right time to finally take the plunge and start doing what I had been wanting to do for years.

What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?

Since I deal with running ‘Zarin’s Secrets’, my hectic community work, the school voluntary programmes, looking after the house and family and bringing up two children, to name but a few; I would say my biggest challenge would be time management and adequacy. As enjoyable and exciting as it might be, there are times when it is extremely difficult to manage everything together and give it your best without compromising on the quality of effort and achievement.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

We are a small company so far. So, small yet important things give us pleasure and are considered an achievement. We were mentioned in a popular blog ‘A movable feast’ by a food writer Anoothi Vishal, we have participated in fairs, exhibitions and put up stalls at events. But most of all, our greatest achievement has been the love, support and demand we have received from everyone which just goes to show the popularity and seal of quality on our products and company. Customer satisfaction is our greatest achievement.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration has been my maternal grandmother Zarin Gimi, in whose name I started this venture. All my life I saw her manage the house and the family as well as work hand in hand with my grandfather in his business and his various social activities. If ever there was a complete woman: it was her. Whatever I do, I do with her in mind and hope that I can become one tenth of the woman that she was.

How do you balance your work life and home life?

That is a rather valid and important question. I wouldn’t say it was easy at all. For a woman who is a homemaker, venturing out into the big bad business world, juggling various balls up in the air simultaneously, it’s never easy. I guess, what I try to do is plan my day well and systematically finish all my outside jobs and commitments when the children are in school and keep the second half free for the home based cooking and product creation. Life is all about balance and one just has to find the best combination and structure that works.

What advice do you have for women starting out on their own?

My advice would be: I know it’s scary, but please just take a deep breath and plunge in. Once in, you will find your way. One only has to gather the courage to take that first, terrifying, bold step. Along with the usual and kind encouragers, there will be a lot of people who will try their best to discourage and scare you. Please ignore them and follow your heart. Find yourself a wonderful support system, be it a close friend or family, and never look back.

5068481892If you could ask for one thing to help propel your business what would it be?

Healthy appetites and inquisitive palates.

What does the future hold for you?

The future, at the moment, is a work in progress. Plans are in place and massive efforts are being put in to turn them into reality. I would like, through my efforts, to try and bring the wonder of Parsee food into every kitchen of India. I would love to continue working for my community and do my bit to preserve its existence.

‘Zarins Secrets’ is planning on venturing into pop-up events to spread the taste and word about Parsee cuisine. We also plan to add a few more products to our repertoire.

When all is said and done, the future sounds extremely exciting and with my grandmother’s blessings, I will hopefully succeed.

About Shelley Subawalla

I am a 40-year-old mother of two, who loves to cook, read, write and travel. I possess an adventurous streak and rather look forward to venturing out into the unknown. I like to keep myself busy by involving myself in multiple activities. I look after my children and home, work actively for my community, write a blog and have now started a business of my own. Having started out on this road, I find myself changing my earlier conservative and safe outlook toward life. I now believe that life is all about taking risks, following your heart, setting goals and working hard toward achieving them. Being a proud Zoroastrian, I work very hard to inculcate in my children the same pride in the uniqueness and wonder of our community that I myself possess.

Contacting Shelley Subwalla