|The Khabzey Kitchen in Daragaon and the Jero stall at Sajong|
In earlier times, family members would gather to prepare these food items especially whenever the occasion demanded. Apart from cutting down on the time and effort required to prepare these items, it also served as an opportunity for the family to come together. This practice is however fast disappearing, but the Khabzey and Jero survive and in fact have gained popularity with commercial small scale production taking over.
48-year-old Munna quit a temporary government job around 10 years back and set up Sukhim Food Processors at Daragaon, Tadong. One of her products, “Mountain Cookies” which is packaged Khabzey, is now available at shops all over Sikkim and even in the neighbouring regions of Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
“In the year 2005, when I became jobless for a few months, I used to listen to Chief Minister Pawan Chamling’s speeches, where he used to encourage everyone to become self-reliant,” recalls Ms. Munna. Inspired by the CM’s words, she along with a female helper started the Khabzey business starting with just 3 kgs Maida.
“I started this business on a trial basis with zero bank balance but survived,” she shares.
Today, her unit supplies Khabzey whipped up from 25 kg flour every day. There are five ladies and a male staff working for her now. Besides Khabzey, she also supplies Namkeens and other snacks, but in lesser quantities.
Her regular supply ‘Mountain Cookies’ weighs around 200gms per packet and is available for Rs 30 per packet in retail outlets.
“At first my intention was to target tourists visiting Sikkim because when one returns from Nepal one brings Pashupati ko titaura and from Darjeeling Lopchu’s peda. However, my product hardly attracts tourists and has become popular with locals instead,” she informs.
Besides regular supply, she also takes orders for weddings, birthday parties, etc. Special orders can also receive customized designs depending on the customer's choice.
“Sometimes I have to hire casual workers because of the bulk orders,” she says further adding that she is paying a minimum of Rs. 2,500 per month to her regular staff.
“With this volume of business I’m able to manage household expenditures after making staff payment and around Rs. 5,000 as house rent and other liabilities,” she shares.
On expansion of her business, she registers dismay over the attitude of the banks, where, she says that despite fulfilling almost all criteria she could not get any loans to finance her expansion plans.
“I prepared project reports and submitted to the banks but they discarded my prayer saying it was a small venture which doesn’t need financial help,” she said adding that if she could have fetched Rs. 10-15 lakhs as loan her factory could have been equipped with modern machineries and hired 10 regular employees by doubling production.
For orders one has to inform her at least a day earlier at her Mobile No. 9832344373 for quantity and design.
Another person in this line is 36-year-old Diki Ongmu of Sajong, Rumtek who started manufacturing and selling Jero a little over three years ago. Her shop [canteen] at Sajong sells around 25 pkts of Jero per day [a packet contains 12 pieces]. Her retail price is fixed at Rs. 130 per packet. However, she offers some concession for relatives and neighbours.
“I started this canteen selling tea, momo, thukpa etc. which earned me hardly any income which is when the idea to prepare Jero struck me and I started with around 10 Kgs LS Rice,” she recalls. 10 kgs rice produces around 18 pkts of Jero.
The Jero business has done well and now she sells Jero made of more than 15kgs rice per day apart from the orders for weddings, birthday parties and death ceremonies. Additional orders come from Yangang, Jorethang and even from Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
Not only Jero, she also sells and supplies Honeycomb and Fini which is also grabbing the market slowly, she informs. Honeycomb is priced at Rs. 150 per packet [34 pcs] and Fini is priced at Rs. 12 per piece.
Also on offer is a special variety of Jero made of Basti ko Chamal which costs Rs. 150 per packet.
“Following my entry into this business, all the neighbouring women are now also in the same business and their supplies have covered the entire Lal Bazaar market,” she informs.
Diki hires two workers for grinding rice and frying Jero whom she pays Rs. 500-600 per day.
“I’m planning to expand the business with the New Year but am facing acute manpower shortage,” she says further adding that getting regular manpower is very difficult.
For bulk orders, one has to inform Diki at least 3 days in advance by calling on her Mobile No. 7547998647.