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‘A melting pot of cultures, Amsterdam is the perfect place to experiment’

Studying at Apeejay Faridabad taught her to think out of the box and become a better version of herself, says Manasi Khanna, the Netherlands-based founder and CEO of Tasty Talks

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Founder and CEO, Tasty Talks, AmsterdamManasi Khanna, an Indian expat in the Netherlands, recounts her entrepreneurial journey with a venture which brings people together over authentic cultural food meetups, the life lessons she picked up while studying at Apeejay School, Faridabad and how good interpersonal skills are critical in shaping your business and profession. Edited excerpts:

Apeejay School Faridabad alumnus Manasi Khanna, (left), created a platform that enables hosts from different parts of the world to host culinary events which feast on their cultural traditions

Please take us through your education and professional journey.

After my schooling, I pursued B.com (Hons) from Gargi College, Delhi University and hold a PGDM in Liberal Arts and leadership from Ashoka University, Sonipat. My educational journeys added a lot to my personality in addition to the knowledge and perspective I gained through them. I have walked diverse paths in my career in the last 10 years. I started my career as an auditor with Deloitte and moved to Social Development space four years later, to work with village artisans and help build a market for their products. I also moved base to a tribal village in Madhya Pradesh to get first-hand experience of working on the field. Now, I am a proud owner of my own venture, based in Amsterdam. It’s called Tasty Talks, a social dining platform that brings people together over authentic dining experiences.

How did the idea of launching a social dining platform that brings people together over authentic cultural food meet-ups, culinary tours and experiences in a setting of people’s own homes occur to you?

It was born out of a typical scenario of an expat missing the food of her homeland, the simple things like walking down the street to buy a samosa or pakodas from the street vendor. On a rainy evening in Amsterdam, I was having pakodas with my husband and I told him: “You know what, there’s so much joy in having pakodas as a huge group with friends and family. I really miss it.” So, within the next two days, I decided to act on it and created the first event on Facebook for Tasty Talks back in 2018. Luckily, I got people who were willing to pay for it and join me in my home to have a plate of pakodas. I started doing more such test events at my place, and before I knew it, the idea became popular and more and more people started joining in. Through these events, I realised that our guests loved the food and conversations in the events and meeting in someone’s home made it very special for them. By January 2019, I decided to dive into it fully and create a platform that enabled hosts coming from different parts of the world to host culinary events of their culture.

In a short span of 18 months, your business saw a stellar event host community with over 30 hosts, more than 5,000 followers, and nearly 200 culinary experiences within the Netherlands. How tough was your journey and how did you overcome these challenges?

We are now three years mature with a rich bank of 300 culinary experiences. The journey has been extremely challenging, but very rewarding. As an expat with absolutely no one to seek advice from, the biggest challenge was to find people (hosts and customers) who I could pitch my idea to. I remember travelling many kms on my bicycle to meet strangers who could be potential customers or hosts. It was a test of patience and endurance. Another challenge was not having advice on setting up the business and taxation laws. I once got a very heavy fine for not declaring the quarterly VAT. Further, there were and still are challenges in the everyday functioning of the business. Having said so, there are a lot of opportunities too. Being a melting pot of cultures from all across the world, Amsterdam is the perfect place to experiment with new ideas, specifically related to food and culture because the audience here is very open minded and willing to try new things.

What is the mantra for being a successful food entrepreneur in the social dining space? Please share some tips for those who want to follow your work trajectory?

  • Be consistent
  • Have patience
  • Listen to your audience and actively seek feedback from your regular customers
  • Be on top of market trends through social media or subscribing to relevant newsletters.
  • Focus on having a meaningful social media presence (not merely the count of followers), but more importantly focus on having a genuine personal connection with all the stakeholders

You have worked in Deloitte and in the social entrepreneurship sector as well as marketing. What is the common thread and the learnings that you picked up?

Irrespective of the sector I worked in, one thing that was common in all of them was the emphasis on how a good system goes a long way in ensuring efficiency in an organisation. Whether it’s a small NGO or a large multinational, when you have your processes perfectly laid down and standardised over a period of time, it becomes easier to delegate work. Another important thing I learnt in all my experiences is that you have to acquire the skill of dealing with people (your team members, potential business partners, customers or bosses). Half of our work life revolves around our team members, so it’s really important to be very good at interpersonal skills because these are the people who are going to help you achieve what you have envisioned.

Please share your memories of the time you spent at Apeejay School, Faridabad. Are there any faculty members you remember fondly in particular?

 I don’t think I can describe my time at Apeejay in a few lines but I have to say I have to say that my school was my temple. I used to love my teachers and respect them a lot. Apeejay was the place where the foundations of my personality were laid and the teachers did an incredible job at laying these foundations and shaping me as an individual. I used to look up to them and idolise them. For one, I remember wanting to be like our Principal, Mrs. S Samra. I was in absolute awe of her and wanted to talk like her. I was the house captain of Vivekanand House. I have really fond memories of our then house mistress, Mrs. Deepa Sharma, especially of the times when we would brainstorm activities for the house and she’d happily rely on me for getting things done.

Are there any life lessons that you picked up in school that have helped you later in your career?

 Absolutely. Like I mentioned earlier, school set the foundations of life for me. Right from shaping my attitude, to pushing me to do the right thing, having faith in my capabilities, challenging myself to become a better version of myself and thinking out of the box. All the qualities that I acquired during my school days have helped me come a long way in my personal and professional life.

What are your future plans, going forward?

My near future plans include growing my venture Tasty Talks two-fold in the coming year, and branching out to other European cities and India. On a personal front, I want to keep pursuing my hobbies and passions and build a side hustle out of them.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @Aasheesh74

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