This was an article I wrote some time ago for Parsi Times. I thought I’d share it on my blog. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
When my neighbour told me she was planning her wedding next year I asked her if she had booked the baug, she said no, if she had started any planning and again she said no but when I asked about the caterers I got a prompt ” haan haan Tanaz booked che, she was my first phone call.” One would imagine the first phone call a blushing to be bride makes when her engagement is announced is to friends and family or to a wedding planner but in our community the first person most brides call is Tanaz Godiwalla. I can confidently say NO ONE hasn’t heard of her or know who she is. In fact not only is she famous within our community but is even known to most non Parsis as the Queen of Parsi wedding catering, and justifiably so. At many (read as ALL) functions you will see Tanaz and her army of servers orchestrating what is the quickest and tightest dinner service ever. In fact, this sort of disciplined dining service will put most restaurants to shame.
She credits a huge part of her success to her parents saying they already did the ground work and established Godiwalla caterers and she’s just taken it forward. They started with a little canteen in Cusrow Baug in 1969 and slowly got involved in wedding and navjote food catering. Her mother Freny was the more interactive of her two parents and would always ask for feedback and mix with the customers. What today we call the “pr side” of business is what her mother was great at. Her father however was more reserved and Tanaz thinks she’s a perfect mix of both.
One would imagine because it was already a business that things fell into Tanaz’s lap and that it’s another case of following in with the family business- that couldn’t be any further from the truth. After losing her parents at 21 running the business on her own has been tremendously difficult. But Tanaz has no regrets. “I do it because I love it, I get a high from my job” says the soft spoken caterer, though agrees that things are getting tougher these days. From labour laws, maintaining good staff and the general business of running such massive catering events is not getting any easier but despite any set back or obstacles she’s adamant that she loves what she does. How can she not? Food is such a personal integral part of people’s lives and to be able to share that part on one of the most important days of their lives is nothing short of special.
“I’ve seen so many fights and squabbles over the menus that people are ready to cancel the wedding in a fit of anger” she chuckles. Maybe Tanaz at some point will introduce pre wedding catering counselling services! It just goes to show how seriously we Parsi folk take our food! Sometimes finding herself playing mediator more than caterer but she’s happy to be involved in the process. Tanaz admits that her strong quality lies in the fact that she can cater a menu as elaborate and fancy as possible or a regular menu depending on what the couple wants and of course how much they are willing to spend. It’s interesting that she brings this up because I’ve heard whispers of some pretty exotic items on her patru including things like lobster. For me I’m torn between thinking that items like these have no business on a traditional patru and they are so far from Parsi food that they don’t belong at all. Then again there is my curious food obsessed side that thinks there is nothing wrong with innovation and applauds her ability to push the envelope. Tanaz’s take on this is very simple. She likes to create new dishes and she aims to please the client. After years of eating the same things sometimes certain clients would like fancy items or what some would term outlandish items but it’s a case of delivering and giving the client what he wants. In fact most of her ideas (creations) come from the clients themselves. One client wanted a pink themed wedding so asked for the paneer to be coloured pink, another wanted to introduce a Sundae which she happily obliged. Whether it should be on the menu or shouldn’t is immaterial. “It’s their day and they should get what they want.” She insists. It’s very difficult to argue with that and I’m surprised at her ability to constantly please her clients. However even with popular inventions like lobster dari with a garlic dip or Chinese and BBQ flavours, the real winner on her menu is the saas ni macchi and the Sali murghi. Two classic favourites that are must haves on almost every client’s menu. Whether they have deep pockets and are willing to spend or even the ones that have moderate budgets. No client is displeased with the menu and food she delivers and to do that repeatedly is impressive.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was this Godiwalla Empire. What’s really surprising is that all through the years Tanaz has never done any advertising or marketing for her brand. It’s all based on her reputation and word of mouth referrals from previous clients. “Customer is King” Tanaz says, “It’s something my mother taught me” and she follows that till today. She’s always open to criticism or feedback and admits that a job well done is more important than any ad in a paper.
Tanaz credits a lot of her success to her team. It’s a well oiled machine that works perfectly with everyone working in sync. Her team consists of loyal and conscientious people who she’s grown up with and considers them her family. Through the years she’s worked out a system which works for them. No one questions things, every challenge is accepted and no task is too small for anyone. A lot of her cooks and servers come from up north and though it’s very difficult to maintain labour through the years for the most part she’s earned their respect and they have hers.
She fondly remembers a trip she took with her staff to one of their native villages up north somewhere near Lucknow, when she went to see how and where they lived. What she thought would be a little town near the city turned out to be much further in the middle of nowhere. Scared stiff, thinking she was in no man’s land it dawned on her that this is how far people come just to earn a decent wage. Of course what she thought would be a regular yet interesting trip turned out to be the most over whelming experience of her life and as I sit across her listening to her narrate how beautifully they welcomes her into their village I can see just how moving the entire experience was. With everyone offering their mud thatched houses for her to stay in, to randomly pressing her feet to make sure she’s comfortable, and each house insisting she come to their house and serenade her with mithais, all these gestures made her realise just how many families in this little unknown village survive based on her business. It is incredibly humbling I’m sure for her to realise how many lives are dependent on her but at the same time I can’t help but think what a beautiful gift to be in a position where directly or indirectly you are helping and touching so many lives.
To handle a staff of nearly 300 people, cater to multiple events in a day during season time and ensuring that everything moves smoothly and the clients go home happy is exhausting. The months we consider lagan navjote peak season time really takes a toll on her and she insists that in the other months or off season time she relaxes, unwinds and re charges her battery. April – October is what she calls My Time where she doesn’t take on any catering functions at all. She’s an avid yet curious traveller who makes it a point to travel during her off time. She usually visits her sister who is in Oxford England however also makes sure she visits new places. Though she’s seen most of the world her current wish list includes South America and Japan, which she is very confident she will see eventually.
Though her love for travelling and discovering the world is how she likes to spend her holiday time, Tanaz has another project which is very special to her. Many years ago she bought a plot of land in Nasik and today has cultivated her very own vineyard. They do not grow grapes for wine, in fact they grow export quality table grapes for regular consumption and the entire vineyard is a labour of love. It’s a place Tanaz goes to unwind and thoroughly enjoys cultivating her grapes. The land in that area is barren and not much grows but it’s extremely favourable for grapes so instead of just sitting on the land she thought it best to cultivate further. Though grapes are a difficult crop to grow as they require constant attention Tanaz enjoys the entire process. Her plans go much further than just grape cultivation. She would like to very soon create a party deck where she can invite people to come to her vineyards, stay the weekend and host parties where of course she will be more than happy to cater the event! At this point I very worriedly inject I hope she has no plans to retire soon and she laughs at me. “No not yet, I love what I do too much to shut shop just yet” she says. Though eventually her plan is to retire and shift her entire catering to Nasik at her vineyard. Again, read as change in Parsi wedding and Navjote functions- we will as we all know go any distance for good food!
From Parsi food catering, travelling the world and now her own vineyard Tanaz Godiwalla seems to be enjoying her life and handling her businesses with ease and élan. For someone who’s reputation is magnanimous I was expecting to be very intimidated but the more we spoke and more I asked about her work and her life I realised I was less intimidated and more inspired. Tanaz is extremely soft spoken, quiet and fiercely private. I feel privileged not just that she opened up to me but that I got to see a glimpse of such an amazing personality. She’s the epitome of the phrase “there is no substitute to hard work” and I think Tanaz is a wonderful role model. As a child I feel even though we don’t out rightly say it, we are always trying to make our parents proud. I think Tanaz is a great daughter that has made her parents proud and I can tell she wishes they were here to share her success. She’s a very shy person and not in the least flamboyant. She keeps to herself, and she probably doesn’t even realise how much of an impact she has. Tanaz is an entrepreneur, a woman that makes me sit up and think that the world really is my oyster and if she could do it at such a young age and carry on the legacy, I most certainly can do anything!