“Food and hospitality is a family tradition with us,” says Anum, who along with her sister Suman Laghari has opened an eatery in Hyderabad. The sister duo have become the first women entrepreneurs to open a restaurant in their city.
“It was always our dream to have our own food outlet,” Anum tells Eos. “You can’t go wrong with the food business, it is always profitable because whatever the situation may be, people always eat.”
Now in their mid-twenties, the sisters grew up in a rural area, with a strong culture of being hospitable to guests. “Our father Mazhar Ali Laghari is a landlord and has always enjoyed a big social circle,” says Suman. “We used to manage lots of guests staying over in our house near Juddho city, in Mirpurkhas district, serving them home-cooked meals, while cooking was done in a small kitchen.”
Anum and Suman believe that black pepper, which is known as the king of spices, adds a unique taste in any cuisine. So they chose ‘Black Pepper’ as the name for their restaurant which serves a variety of food.
Two sisters are challenging social norms by opening and running their own restaurant in Hyderabad
While Black Pepper’s signature offering, the Royal Sindhi Biryani is a best-seller along with their club sandwich and chicken karahi, the extensive menu also offers other fast food options, Chinese, barbecue, vegetarian and Desi specialties.
Their head chef Akbar Solangi belongs to a family of chefs that the Lagharis have known for many years. “The recipes have been tried and tested at home,” says Suman, a computer science graduate who manages the cash till at the restaurant. “We are also planning to introduce our Aunt’s special pudding recipe that has been served to guests for many years at our village home.”
The restaurant was ready to open early last year, but the plans were delayed when the government imposed a lockdown. “We finally opened in December 2021,” says Anum, who looks after the overall management of the restaurant. “The first day we served only two customers, but now we have around 150 to 200 customers daily. We are also seeing more women customers now, because they seem to feel comfortable coming to Black Pepper, knowing that it is run by women.”
After completing her masters in economics, Anum worked as a district health officer for a non-governmental organisation for three years. She left her nine to five job when she started their restaurant. “Instead of being tied to working for a fixed amount of money, I always wanted to work harder, be my own boss and earn better,” she says. “So when our plans for the restaurant were ready to roll out, I quit my job. The restaurant makes us feel independent and more productive.”
The restaurant was ready to open early last year, but the plans were delayed when the government imposed a lockdown. “We finally opened in December 2021,” says Anum, who looks after the overall management of the restaurant. “The first day we served only two customers, but now we have around 150 to 200 customers daily.
The sisters bought and merged two shops in the busy market area of main Qasimabad for the restaurant. Decorated with wallpapers, chairs, tables and couches, a portion of the restaurant is reserved for family seating.
“Food must always be delicious and we don’t compromise on quality,” says Anum. “Even though things are getting more and more expensive, we try to keep our customers happy by low pricing and consistent standards. Every item is priced about 30 rupees lower than the market rate.”
Presently, Liza Bhatti is the only female server they have, but they plan to hire more girls so that women clients feel more comfortable. “We have also hired security guards from the very first day to avoid any unpleasant situation in a restaurant that people know is run by women.”
On top of all the other challenges that come with launching a new business, Suman and Anum also worried about acceptance from society. It was their father’s encouragement and support that made it relatively easier to tackle this male dominated space in Hyderabad.
“Despite relatives and other people asking, ‘How can women run a restaurant?’ our father stood by us, supportive and proud,” says Anum.
“There is a patriarchal set up in rural areas and small cities, and men monopolise everything,” says Dr Ghazala Panhwar, professor of sociology at the University of Sindh. “Women are seldom educated and are not given their rights as individuals. It is admirable to see these courageous girls breaking stereotypes by setting up their own food business. Women need to step forward with education or skills to face social challenges for economic sustainability.”
Apart from running Black Pepper, Anum also runs two schools in Hyderabad through donations and support by friends.
“Roshni is a school and vocation centre for transgender individuals, where apart from education, they are taught various skills such as sewing and embroidery,” says Anum. “The other is a street school in Naseem Nagar, Qasimabad, for children who cannot afford to pay for their education.”
Anum, who can cope well with difficulties, and Suman, whose strengths are in being bold and blunt, hope that other women will also follow in their steps. “Cooking and serving food comes naturally to women and it is something they all do at home,” says Anum. “So instead of miserably waiting for jobs and husbands to materialise, and being dependent on your family, it is better to run your business. And what better than food?”
The writer is a Sindhi fiction writer, blogger and journalist
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, March 20th, 2022