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The food business is a hard taskmaster. It keeps your nose to the grindstone around the clock without any weekly off, and every few decades, it forces you to re-think your strategy as the marketplace evolves. Those who don’t bend with the wind find themselves irrelevant when times change. The Batra family have managed to keep their business relevant.
If you live in Naraina and have attended a wedding or banquet function there, you would probably have heard of Batra Banquets. It has positioned itself rather astutely in the mid segment. Famous for the quality of its food rather than for the lavish interiors of its banquet halls, it was one of the earliest banquet halls in the area and has been the template for other newer entrants. However, what is the most unusual aspect of Batra Banquets is that it has been run by a lady, the redoubtable Usha Batra.
It was a sudden change of fortune in the Batra household decades ago when it became incumbent upon the newly wed couple to adopt some work pronto. Usha Batra, then hardly more than a young bride, went to her parents to seek their help. “Why don’t you get into the catering line, like us?” her father and uncle advised her. Usha Batra came from the well-known Gola family, whose business was catering. Luck, a vacuum in the market and an innate proficiency with hospitality helped the Batras. Mr. Batra had his hands full with his garment business, so it fell to the lot of Usha Batra to run the catering unit. In those days – the 1980s – catering included breakfast for Sikh weddings, mid-morning kitty parties, lunch parties for local committees, tea parties for children’s birthdays and dinner parties for everything from anniversaries and birthdays to weddings and mehendi ceremonies.
Even today, you can count on the thumbs of one hand, the number of ladies across Delhi who have ventured into the banqueting business, but when she started out, Usha Batra stood out like a giant, despite being little more than 5 feet. It really does need a woman’s eye to spot the tiny details that elude most people in a large wedding and this is where Usha Batra made her name. She makes suggestions to her customers, some of which are actually designed to save them money by truncating the menu.
However, today the focus is moving away from banquets: except for weddings, where the number of guests is too large to fit into a home, now catered parties at home are the norm, and even wedding functions are shrinking from five a few years ago to two functions today. In today’s Delhi, what drives the city is the restaurant business. So, as the older generation in the Batra family get set to retire, the second generation have already eased themselves into the restaurant business. They have deciphered the writing on the wall and managed to swim with the tide.