Jul 6, 2019
Patricia Narayan - the very name evokes grit, determination, courage, passion, success and simply awe. She is the true epitome of women empowerment which was the result of her own hard work, fortitude sheer guts in the face of adversity. Anyone else in her condition would have resigned to fate and given up the fight for survival by embracing death. But Patricia was made up of sterner stuff and she faced life head on only to succeed and tell her story of triumph to inspire countless women. Patricia’s life unfolds like a typical Bollywood film scene flashing in front of us. Patricia Thomas was born into an Orthodox Christian family of Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu and her parents were in Government service. She fell in love and married secretly at 17 to a Hindu boy who was 13 years her senior against the wishes of her family. Her inter-faith marriage gave a cultural shock to the family those days and her family disowned her soon after.
It was not the usual ‘they lived happily ever after’ kind of marriage for Patricia. It did not take long for Patricia to realize that her husband was abusive, alcoholic and drug addict who could not provide food, shelter or financial support to her and her two children. She decided to fend for herself and her children. Though her parents had disowned her after her marriage they sheltered her along with her husband when she was in dire straits.
She is often quoted as saying “I reached the crossroads where I had to choose between living and dying. I chose to live”. It was not just the question of her very survival but her desire to lead a dignified and independent life that transformed her into a successful restaurateur. However, it was a long and lonely journey to begin with and took nearly 3 decades of hard work and perseverance to emerge a winner in the face of adversity.
Necessity they is the mother of inventions. For Patricia it her necessity to earn a living and not be a burden on her parents proved rewarding. She had a passion for cooking and she decided to make use of her culinary skills by borrowing 100 rupees from her mother. She prepared jams, squashes and pickles at home which her mother sold to her colleagues in the office. The encouraging response and positive feedback boosted her morale and at the same time opportunity came knocking at her doorstep when she was given a mobile cart by her father’s friend on the condition that she gives employment to two physically challenged people. Patricia grabbed the opportunity and decided to put her mobile cart near Anna Square on Chennai’s famous Marina beach as it was close to her home. The year was 1982 and on the first day she sold only one coffee and earned 50 paisa on day one.
Though crestfallen by the meager earning her mother’s encouragement motivated her to continue with her cart business. She put herself in an advantageous position by selling snacks when other carts were selling just cigarettes and tea. Her hard work paid off as she did a business worth more than Rs. 600/- on the second day and there has been no looking back for Patricia since then. Brimming with confidence Patricia began to believe in herself reassuring that she was not a failure and that she could be successful in her battle for survival. The mobile cart experience taught her what she could not have learnt even if she had a MBA from any reputed business school. Patricia’s success had turned the spotlight on her and even when she continued with the cart business another opportunity came her way. The then chairman of slum clearance board who saw her work and the quality of her food offered her another opportunity to run the canteen at his office. Patricia grabbed the offer and once more proved that she could be successful and this work fetched her steady monthly income of about 20,000/-.
Good work never goes unrewarded and it was true in Patricia’s case. Her success in profitably managing the office canteen brought her another contract to run the Bank of Madurai canteen where she had to serve about 300 people daily. Once again she proved her flair for success which was possible only through hard work, loads of determination and the burning desire to succeed.
Her next destination was the was the National Port Management Training School of the Central government which was looking for a caterer to provide 3 meals a day for about 700 students. This contract also gave her quarters to reside and once again Patricia tasted success much to her own bewilderment as she improved her earnings a great deal by providing quality food. Credit goes to her for maintaining the quality of the food and hygiene she provided in all the canteens she managed and that was her USP. By now she has become a thorough professional in managing catering and was ready to shoulder even more challenging opportunities. It was her good fortune that opportunities cam on her way repeatedly. In 1998 Patricia was offered a golden opportunity of partnership by desi vegetarian food chain Sangeetha group of hotels and that is how she came to be associated with restaurants. Later her son suggested that the time was just right to have their own brand of restaurant.
In the meantime two incidents occurred in quick succession. Her husband Narayan who continued to pester and ill treat her and abuse her when he did not get enough money for his addiction died in 2002. In 2003 she stopped her mobile cart business 21 years after she started the very cart that proved to be her stepping stone for greater glory.
When everything was going right for Patricia life destiny rendered a cruel blow leaving her completely shattered. A road accident had claimed the lives of her daughter Pratibha Sandra and son-in law along with two relatives just a month after her marriage. It was a big blow for Patricia who had only her two children to fall back upon during her long struggle spanning 3 decades. She was shell-shocked from the tragic death and more so from the apathy. The accident victims were left to bleed to death on the road for more than two hours and the ambulance operators refused to pick them saying they don’t carry dead bodies. The bodies finally were brought to the hospital in the boot of a car and Patricia could not forget that scene. In memory of her daughter and also in order to help victims of road accidents she decided to keep an ambulance in the very spot where her daughter died.
She went into depression following the tragedy leaving the business in the care of her son Praveen who started ‘Sandeepha’ restaurant in the memory of her daughter in 2006. Patricia who is known for her resilience came back after two years of the tragedy to continue from where she had left. She nurtured the restaurant with the same passion and devotion with which she had nurtured her daughter and helped her son in managing the restaurant. It did not take long to recognize her incredible success as a restaurateur when she won the FICCI Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 for her extraordinary achievement considering the hardships she had to endure.
Like all her earlier ventures Sandeepha restaurant also proved to be a grand success and Patricia went on to have 14 outlets from then on. It is the same Patricia who had started her journey towards independence earning 50 paise in Marina beach and today the average earning from her 14 outlets is over Rs. 2 lakhs daily. She started her business employed 2 physically challenged people and today has more than 200 people working in her restaurants.
Patricia is certainly a woman of substance, who a businesswoman by providence and proved that there is nothing impossible for women if they make up their mind. Patricia’s life story is a true inspiration to all those women who believe in themselves and in their capabilities.