Ayesha Ali, C.E.O of Yeh Ghar Ka Hai, ‘bahu’ of Zil-e-Huma, is one of the most renowned home-based chefs of Lahore. She has been a successful entrepreneur and is an example to all other women entrepreneurs.
According to Punjab Food Authority, she is the first home-based food business with a licence.
Q: Yeh Ghar Ka Hai is a phenomenal idea, how did it begin?
A: Since I was born and raised and married into a Kashmiri family, food was in my blood. Somehow, I always had this feeling of after my marriage that I was going to cook for everyone in my in laws. My mother in law, Zil-e-Huma, always wanted the typical kind of bahu. I started cooking for friends and family and got a lot of appreciation. So once these online food forums started, my husband started posting random pictures of my food. Then Nadia Jamil came to my place for brunch. I am not related to her and it was just random. We were connected on Twitter and through extended friends and family. She knew Ahmed Ali Butt,who is my brother in law. I made ‘Payyaas’ and all the other desi stuff. She was raving over the food and she took pictures and wrote a review of my food on the online forums and pages. People started calling my husband to ask if I had taken up cooking professionally. So, I received my first order because of something that started online. That was an achievement for me. The feeling is in explainable. I was a one-man army doing everything myself. I have a small family so I have never had a servant. It has been 3 years now since I started YGKH.
Q: Women entrepreneurs in our country are growing but there is a backlash also. What struggles did you face during these 3 years?
A: Many times, people have tried to pull me down. I don’t get it. What is it? I feel that people try to pull me down because of my appearance. They feel insecure. Many times, men have been appreciating my cooking skills in front of their wives. Letting your wife down and praising someone else is not a good idea. No one is perfect. Some women understand but others start developing negative thoughts about me. They’ll start with, “ye kya pehnti hai, isay sharam nae ati, ye kaisi lag rae hai?” These things really bother me. This kind of negativity is bad.
On the other hand, men don’t have respect for working women. They treat me exactly like they would treat their kitchen boys. Just to clear it to all, YGKH is not my bread and butter, it is something I do out of passion, for food and cooking. I belong to a very respectable and well to do family. My husband MashaAllah earns a pretty handsome amount; my in laws are very good to me. There are many hurdles and at times I just want to quit. But why should I leave my passion behind for others?
Q: Who was your support system through all this time?
A: To be very honest, my family and my husband. He supported me through everything. I am heartbroken to see even a single negative comment on my page. But then he points out the facts to me, saying, “Would you rather give importance to this one comment or would you rather give importance to the millions of positive comments of praise and duas?”
Along with this, my mother, who has passed away now. She used to say it with such depth, “Ashi tu mitti bhi uthaye to sona banay” This keeps me going. I tell you when I see negativity, I think to myself that with my mother’s prayers by my side, nothing can happen to me. And I repeatedly tell myself, I will not back off and I will not be afraid of anything.
However, my children, only boys, are the greatest critics of my food. When I cook for them, I stand there staring at them, waiting for their comments, and all I get is “its fine” or “jaise banta hai” .They have their own way of supporting me, they keep telling me to add and subtract some ingredients.
When I started making burgers, I added everything possible to make the best burgers, and when I presented it to my son he said, “Ye apne mujhe chappli kabab bana k diya hai?”
I then actually had to study about everything and I bought books. I kept my research going regarding everything that I was cooking.
Q: YGKH was one of the best sellers at the coke festival 2018, how have you seen your progress in these years?
A: This was the third Coke Festival and I was there at all the three events. The first year I was really nervous and I had no idea of how I should be managing things. Alhumdulilah I was sold out. Orders were pouring in and I was overwhelmed. They were kind enough to listen and understand and they gave me the confidence and space. I was relieved. I had to request all of the customers to wait, I even told them I was sold out but my loyal customers, stood there waiting. I refused because, being my first time at such a huge festival, I didn’t want to take any risks.
The response I got was amazing. MashaALLAH
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I’ve decided to open up a small restaurant, a place that will go with the name, YEH GHAR KA HAI. It has to be related to the name. I want my customers to feel the same comfort they have in their own home. For that, I need some time, because I am the only woman of the house. I have children and my husband to take care of. I want to take it slow and easy. But for now, I am expanding my kitchen; I am going to have a dirty kitchen and a big kitchen where I can start live videos. People are approaching me with their brands and they want me to use their brand in my videos. Slow and steady wins the race, so let’s see.
Q: A message to all the women entrepreneurs on Khouj Women.
A: The one thing that I would say to all women is, believe in yourself! I used to underestimate these words. The determination and energy you have when starting something on you own, was within me. But I never realized it. You just need to believe in yourself. This is exactly how I started. My mother in law used to say, “ Ashu restaurant kholte hain” and I used to ask her who would be interested in our food? And today I actually miss her words. If she were here she would have made sure I had a restaurant of my own. She did not believe in waiting. She was the kind of person who made decisions over night.
However, the day you believe in yourself, you can touch the sky. I don’t pray five times a day, but there have been so many times where I prayed to Allah and He instantly responded to my prayers. So I am blessed.
Ayesha’s hospitality, however, is worth mentioning. We were blessed to have tasted just a pinch of the magic used to make “Yeh Ghar Ka Hai” such a great success.