Meet The 72-Year-Old Entrepreneur Who Is Driving India’s Only Zero-Waste Juice Bar With Expert Hands
Want to get inspired by the story of 72-year-old Saroja Velan who became an entrepreneur when she was 70 and is the driving force of Eat Raja, India’s first zero-waste juice bar? Silver Talkies’ new series Silver Talkies Culture Trail has lots in store for you.
Are you aware of India’s first zero-waste juice bar- Eat Raja in the heart of Malleswaram, one of Bengaluru’s oldest places? Did you know that the driving force behind this novel juice bar that has achieved zero waste generation by completely banning the usage of plastic and paper cups, straws and pet bottles and making use of fruit peel cups to serve fresh juice to its customers, is none other than 72-year-old Saroja Velan? This septuagenarian had stepped into the shoes of an entrepreneur just two years back in 2018 and with her son’s support, has become the talk of the country today for her noble initiative towards making her business zero-waste. She has been invited by the International Institute of Waste Management to be a part of the Women’s Day special Wave Conclave in Jaipur that aims to celebrate women entrepreneurs in the country on March 31 this year. As a part of its Culture Trail Series, Silver Talkies recently visited the juice counter of Eat Raja to get to know about the inspiring journey of this 72-year-old.
Velan was clueless about running a business and was a homemaker until September 2017 when she lost her spouse. Her husband ran a juice shop for 50 years until his demise and never wanted Velan to step out of the house and join the business. “After his death, we had to shut the shop for about six months when I expressed my desire to start something new as I felt lonely at home. All I knew was cooking as that is what I have been doing all my life. My son suggested turning my cooking skills into a business. That’s how Eat Raja was conceptualised in March 2018,” says Velan who has never been absent for work for a single day in the last two years despite failing health.
Velan’s entrepreneurial journey is a story of how the young and old joining hands could do things in a fresher and greener way. Anand Raj BSN, Velan’s son who quit a 13-year-long career as a radio jockey to help his mom do well in her new venture was all in to support Velan but had one condition. “I told Mom that we won’t do the business the way my dad did. This time we won‘t use any paper or plastic cups, straws and pet bottles. Instead, we will use fruit peel cups to serve juice to our customers. While initially, she said it won’t work, she now explains to her customers why we use fruit peel cups and convince them,” says Raj.
The 72-year-old faced all odds that came her way
While grit and determination made Velan start it off all alone as a café in 2018, it was not easy. Initially, she started making some roti-sabji and juice for her customers and found it difficult to get trustworthy helping hands at the shop. Also, she had never run a business before and knew nothing about how to do a business transaction. After her husband’s death, she had also lost a number of loyal customers. In order to make it a zero-waste business, she had stopped parcelling juice and customers were initially not used to drinking juice from fruit peel cups at the counter. That cut down many of her customers. But she never gave up.
“My son explained to me how excessive use of plastic and wastage of water are ruining the environment and I made my customers realise the same. Using fruit peel cups prevents me from wasting water to wash the glasses. My customers have gradually embraced the new concept and now they visit my shop only to enjoy fresh juices in fruit peel cups,” says Velan.
Zero-waste business strategy is what made her juice bar famous
While the mother-son duo started with watermelon shells and gradually moved on to using muskmelon and sun melon shells as juice cups, they now serve juices only in several fruit cups including cucumber shells and coconut shells, going completely waste-free. “Our juice bar has no disposable waste at all, be it paper cups, plastic glasses, straws or pet bottles and we don’t use them. Thus, there’s hardly any dry waste generation. Wet waste includes fruit cups, citrus peels, pulp and seed filters. My mom uses seed filters to do some artwork like rangoli and more. We make bio-enzymes from the citrus peels and 80 per cent of the fruit waste is consumed by our cow. Thus, we make sure nothing goes to the landfill,” says Raj.
As an entrepreneur, Velan makes sure all her staff get their salary on the same day without any delay. She is a firm believer in zero-waste and is a multitasker and a true example of active ageing. Even at 72, she manages everything efficiently, be it the shop, the household chores, her finances or business planning and is very strict about the quality of juices being served at her shop. She’s shown us that age is never a bar when it comes to learning something new and trying it out — be it business or going green.
Click here to read about 76-year-old Harjinder Singh who runs a voluntary auto ambulance service in Delhi for road accident victims.