Shilpa quietly walks up to the lectern, her eyes shyly scanning the applauding crowd in the room. She wrings her hands for a few seconds before leaning in and speaking. Her soft-spoken style and calm demeanour stand in contrast to the steely determination she has shown in her life and for which on this day she is at the St. Agnes College (Autonomous), Mangaluru, to collect the first-ever ‘Woman Entrepreneur Award’ by the Ethel Prabhu Foundation.
Set up as a way of encouraging women entrepreneurs from Mangaluru who are below the age of 50, the award is a perfect homage to Ethel Prabhu, who had been an inspirational teacher and a spirited entrepreneur herself. Shilpa, deservedly, becomes the first in a hopefully long line of entrepreneurs who will carry this legacy forward.
The proprietor of the popular Halli Mane Rotties food truck in the city, Shilpa began to forge a path of her own when about a decade ago, she suddenly found herself singly responsible for her young child and her livelihood. From the depths of despair, she found a calling. “I had always been interested in cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I realised then to try to use that skill to earn a living,” she recalled on the day of the award ceremony. Today, her business, run from the belly of a Mahindra Bolero pick-up truck, has become near-iconic. All the press coverage recently caught the eye of Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra Group, via Twitter, and led to the company investing in Shilpa’s venture through another Bolero pick-up truck to help her expand the business. The new truck will serve more customers in the city, after first undergoing some specific embellishments in Bengaluru.
It has been a heady journey for Shilpa and her family, and she never fails to mention how blessed she feels. It is also a story that has incredible hard work as its basis. The family’s day starts at 7 am. Shilpa’s mother, father and brother are all involved in the goings-on, especially since some recent health troubles have forced Shilpa to slow down and not stand around cooking as much as she used to earlier. All hands get busy in the household, some shopping for vegetables, some preparing the masalas, some readying the foundations of the dishes. Shilpa is the brains behind the culinary details – the recipes and innovations are all hers. By afternoon, the food is ready and carted off to the truck close-by, with brisk business running from about 5 pm to 10 pm. On some days, the food runs out by 9 pm!
Halli Mane Rotties serves an impressive variety of Malnad dishes, with some items dedicated to certain days of the week. Shilpa rattles off a long list of mouth-watering dishes as she explains her work – ragi mudde, donne biriyani, thatte idli, chicken curry – and one can’t help zoning out to imagine the appetising aroma and taste that her food truck must bring into people’s lives! “I am happy to have found an income doing what I love doing. I feel that is important. It should never be about, oh she is doing that so I will do that too and replicate her success. One needs to find one’s own strength and go after that!” Priceless entrepreneurial advice indeed!