Ms. Sarika Benjamin : The Homepreneur With a Cause
Benji’s Home Cooking was started by Ms. Sarika Benjamin in 2007 as a hobby and eventually
grew into an organization that empowers underprivileged women by giving them the platform and opportunity to grow through skill development while providing them with an extra source of income to support their families. We recently got the opportunity to interview Ms. Benjamin and had a lovely conversation with her about her home business and motivations which provided some wonderful insights and nuggets of inspiration throughout.
How It Started
Unlike most professional bakers, Ms. Benjamin’s love for baking wasn’t something fostered from a young age or a lifelong passion that she decided to pursue. Believe it or not, she had never even baked a cake till the age of 32. This all started with a carrot cake…
One day at a Bible study session, one of her group leaders brought a delicious carrot cake for everyone to share and Ms. Benjamin was amazed to find out it was the result of a simple homemade recipe. She thought back to an oven gathering dust in her attic - a parting gift when her avid baker of a cousin relocated from India - and decided it was time to put it to use. With the carrot cake recipe from her friend Ruth and some words of encouragement, she was all set to bake for the very first time.
Marveled by the results, Ms. Benjamin was struck by the love for baking and there was no looking back. She wanted to put a cake on the table at every dinner party. Impressed by her delicious cakes, her friends and family soon went to her to get cakes for every occasion and eventually motivated her to open a business by suggesting that she start charging for these.
Eventually, she started exploring other foods and diversified her business to include pastries, catering, and healthy food. Although she started small - slowly and steadily expanding in the initial 5-6 years - over the decade, her business has grown immensely and has even branched out to become an organization with a strong social cause.
The Social Cause That Inspired Her
Initially, Ms. Benjamin used to bake these cakes by herself but eventually, her helper offered to assist her with small tasks during preparation to make everything more organized and systematic. One day she got an order that required some extra help and her helper called over one of her friends to help. As the orders grew, more and more of these women came to her assistance and she gained the confidence to accept large orders. Working mainly as house helps, these large orders provided the women with an opportunity to make some extra income while assisting Ms. Benjamin. She realized that their daily jobs of sweeping and mopping did not provide the women with an opportunity for skill development and was inspired to do more for them.
Along with her cake business, which was initially just a side venture, Ms. Benjamin and her husband were life skill trainers with their organization called Lighthouse Leadership. She and her husband decided to invest in their baking business to provide the women with a regular income and a constant source of skill development which they could not afford otherwise.
The business allows her to assist her women in other ways such as sponsoring their children's education. For instance, she was able to support her head chef’s son’s education since grade 6 which allowed him to go on to be the first fully educated person in the family.
Of course, this entire process has not been completely smooth sailing and there were certainly obstacles and difficulties she had to encounter along the way. Between managing her time for family and her business as well as changes in circumstances, Ms. Benjamin had her fair share of personal and business-related challenges that she overcame.
From the floods in Chennai to the severe cyclones, there were quite a few speed bumps to the growth of the business but they persisted, taking it one step at a time and rebuilding with resilience. Furthermore, the recent Covid-19 pandemic also proved to be downtime due to the lockdowns and restrictions that slowed down the business. However, Ms. Benjamin decided to take a unique approach, focusing on catering with the idea that when people are stuck at home during lockdown with no restaurants open, the solution is to eat from someone else’s home - hence advertising her homemade catered food as food provided many with comfort during the uncertain times.
Other than those challenges, Ms. Benjamin also faced the struggle of balancing her family and work-life initially as she had two young kids to look after. Furthermore, she faced pricing concerns when it came to her food. She found it difficult to price her food high as people were unwilling to pay prices similar to big shops and restaurants for homemade food and they had to use attractive prices to interest these buyers. Moreover, customers with large orders would often bargain for significant price reductions due to a bulk order which made pricing the food well a difficult task.
Motivation to Push-On
Despite the many challenges, Ms. Benjamin always adorned a resilient face in light of adversity, trying new and unique approaches to keep going which brought about the question of how she managed to stay so motivated despite any problems. When asked about this, she answered without any hesitation, that the duty of helping her people keeps her going. The essence is that many people look forward to her business as a means to support their families. Ms. Benjamin shared how for her, the value of her business matters more than the size of the business - placing emphasis on how it provides a source of help and opportunity for the women working with her rather than caring about her profits and acclamation.
She also acknowledged her strong support system, saying her family has been her cheerleaders, with her husband constantly being her biggest supporter. Even her two kids acted as a support system, introducing her to the world of social media in order to elevate her home business, especially pushing her to explore posting recipes on YouTube.
Advice for Aspiring Homepreneurs
Consistency is key.
Ups and downs are the norms in most businesses, however, the businesses that last are the ones where you remain dedicated and give the business time. Even after 10-12 years of business, there are bound to be dull moments. However, It is important to ensure you are not phased by the downtimes and continue with innovative ideas. For example, when Ms. Benjamin faced slow business, she tried new strategies to attract customers. From weekend sales to innovating new products to creating new combos to improve sales, she tried it all.
Continue to market the business, whether it is a budding or established one.
Ms. Benjamin used various strategies to ensure she remained in people’s minds, such as Facebook posts and Whatsapp circulations.
Do not get complacent
Ms. Benjamin stressed the importance of innovation to ensure you continue to hold the interest of the customers, especially in fields where competition is in abundance. Dedication should be a constant principle at all times, whether they are high points or low points.
We hope that you found these snippets from the conversation with Ms. Benjamin as interesting and helpful as we did. Stay tuned for more similar articles, on inspiring women, here on Siragu Salute!
Links for Benji’s Home Cooking: