It is slightly difficult for me to be objective about Shrimoyee Chakraborty, an entrepreneur based in London, who is the founder and CEO of Calcutta Street, the first restaurant in the city which specialises in Bengali food. My single most prominent memory of her is still of a school girl in ponytails, three years my senior, who always excelled in academics and extra-curricular activities. The fact that it would spiral into something so exciting and tangible only speaks volumes about this headstrong woman, who, as a marketing student in the UK six years ago, found the rendition of their curries rather disappointing.
But her culinary journey had started when she was just six-years-old, who loved spending time in the kitchen, as a result of which her mother had to bribe her with cooking chores for her to do her homework. Cut to her early 20s, when while pursuing a masters degree in Manchester, she started cooking for her friends and also maintaining a blog. Her love for throwing dinner parties sort of served as a catalyst for what was to come in the future.
She says, “I realised I wanted to do something of my own when I started getting recognised for my blog a lot more than the job I had at an economic think tank… I didn’t just want to work for other people doing things I am not really that passionate about.”
Having hosted about half-a-dozen successful pop-ups, she knew she didn’t have to ‘anglicise’ the food to suit the British palate. So, she curated a short but well thought out menu which boasted of star dishes like kosha mangsho, prawn malai curry, macher paturi to name a few.
Shrimoyee adds that 2016 was albeit a bit overwhelming, but also the best year of her life, “In the broader sense I mostly faced a lot of challenges being a woman and being 27 – most people don’t take you seriously for the first 15 minutes of a meeting. I find that extremely annoying. And also a lot of people assume that my family gave me a lot of money to start this business or they are involved in some way when none of this is true.
But besides that it’s just the general uphill task of finding a property, making sure the builders are not messing around, getting things done in time, getting the right staff, training them, managing them, putting the systems in place etc.”
Within four months of opening her restaurant, Shrimoyee recently hosted a New Year’s Eve party, which was full sold out, ” I had the best time with a bunch of strangers and they all individually came up to me and said how much fun they had. I looked back and realised that we had been covered by every big media house in the UK in just 4 months of opening – That felt good especially since I wasn’t born here and a new country has given me so much acceptance and love.”
The entrepreneur, who looks up to chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, now has her eyes on expanding the restaurant across the UK. She feels she is too early in her journey to advise other entrepreneurs, but asserts, “every individual needs to find their own path and make their own mistakes.”