Today we bring to you the story of a young baker who is on a mission to spread a little sweetness and a whole lot of joy.
“Whatever I’m doing, I’m not doing it for money, I’m just doing it for the happiness and satisfaction of myself and my customer.” ~ Hanshika
What led to the start of Sweet Meraki by Hanshika?
I’ve been baking since I was really young at home but I only got into it professionally in grade 10. I never looked at it from a business point of view earlier. When I changed schools in grade 11 and came to Delhi Public School, Srinagar, I took part in a competition that was conducted by the Institute of Hotel Management. I was skeptical and apprehensive to even participate because I wasn’t professionally trained and lacked confidence. I decided to just go for it. I ended up winning the competition. This, I would say, was a turning point in my life in terms of baking. I began getting orders from outside my immediate friends and family. That’s the moment when I realized that what I’ve been doing at home can be converted into something bigger.
What I believe I was lacking earlier was self-esteem and I think winning the competition helped turn that around. I also kept in mind that these two years (grade 11 and 12) were important and I could not simply abandon my studies. I had to find a way to balance both studying and baking. I’ve had to say no to orders more than once because of an exam or other school-related stuff. I wasn’t into baking full time; it was only one or two cakes per week, made in my kitchen, by myself.
Why the change from ‘Cakes by Hanshika’ to ‘Sweet Meraki by Hanshika’?
I think that the reason I called it Cakes by Hanshika earlier was that it was just the easiest thing to do. It stayed this way till I was almost done with grade 12. During the pandemic, I began taking more orders since I had more time. I would say that 2020 was a gamechanger for me. Most of my day would be spent in the kitchen.
The change to ‘Sweet Meraki by Hanshika’ was a gradual one. I thought that ‘Cakes by Hanshika’ was a bit too simplistic and didn’t do justice to everything that I do behind the scenes. It took me about two months to come up with another name. Naming what you’re doing isn’t an easy thing to do. I had to dig a little deeper and introspect to find words that would define what I’m doing. ‘Meraki’ means to do something with your heart and soul. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing this with love and I’m putting everything into it.
Did you ever learn baking professionally?
While I never joined any professional institute to learn how to bake, I did attend a few workshops outside Kashmir. What these workshops essentially do is that they teach you a particular technique. They typically last for two to three days, about three to four hours each day. The reason I attended these workshops is that I believe when you’re doing something, it’s important to see how others are doing it. I learned what I was doing wrong by observing others.
All of this of course doesn’t go to say that I didn’t have my share of failure. I think that getting a recipe and making something is a convenient thing to do. When you try something on your own, you think more, and eventually, get something new out of it, even if you fail along the way. You end up discovering your own potential.
What role did your friends and family play in making your initiative a success?
I would say that both my friends, as well as family, had a big role to play. I believe that you can do nothing without the support of your family. I think the fact that my family supported me from the beginning made things easier for me not only in a monetary sense but from an emotional aspect as well. My father is a businessman and that certainly had its advantages too. My friends would always encourage me and I would send them new recipes and even make them taste some stuff.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of your work and how did the pandemic affect what you do?
I would say that I got more time because of the lockdown due to the pandemic and this allowed me to go all in. At the same time, people were certainly more cautious of making purchases so I had to take extra care about the packaging and hygiene to ensure that the customers were satisfied.
I think that most people don’t realize that there are a few other aspects involved in what I do than just baking. I’m doing it all on my own – managing social media, taking orders, answering queries, etc. So there’s a lot of ways that things could go wrong even without a pandemic. For instance, the vehicle you’re using for deliveries could come across a pothole in the road and the shape of the cake could get ruined. What matters at the end of the day is that you deal with it to the best of your ability.
What are your plans for the future of Sweet Meraki by Hanshika?
I’ll be going to college in pursuit of my bachelor’s this year. That said, even though I’m not thinking of expanding right now, I won’t let the business die. I’ve invested a lot in it and I’ll make sure that it continues in some form.
What message would you like to give to young people who are hoping to start their own initiatives?
In the beginning, I think it’s important to show your work to people and not sell it. You may even have to start by providing your goods or services for free to show people what you’re capable of. Also, don’t think about the money; make sure you like what you do otherwise you won’t give your best and that will reduce the quality of whatever it is that you have to offer. This may seem like a very simple thing to say but if you’re not giving your best, it’s not realistic to expect good returns in terms of both money and happiness.
I don’t really look at what I do as work or as a business because I’m not doing it just for money; I don’t have any monetary targets for the month or the day. Whatever I’m doing, I’m not doing it for money, I’m just doing it for the happiness and satisfaction of myself and my customer. There are times when I don’t take orders because I want some time to spend by myself or with my family. If I’m not happy with the product I’m giving, then there’s no point in it.
Finally, I would say, be sure not to miss out on any opportunities that you can grab. Had I not taken orders from friends and extended family or participated in that competition, Sweet Meraki probably would not even exist. You have to be willing to make an effort. I would say that whatever you do, make sure you’re ready to give your all to it and be prepared to fail along the way. Try and find people who are doing what you want to do and make connections. I know that it can feel daunting and there are certainly a lot of challenges involved in business but I would encourage people to just take that first step. There will be more challenges than rewards but it’s the challenges that you will learn from.