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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Female Foodpreneurs: Shababa Ishmam on her journey to Red Window and more

The 22-year-old Shababa was a confused young woman, venturing into her dream world. But the 26-year-old Shababa probably understands that dreams are hard to fulfill but the end game is always worth it.

Most people, when they look at me as an entrepreneur at a young age, think I have had it easy. But the contrary is true. It would be a lie to say that creative work such as baking and cooking did not interest me from an early age, but starting my own restaurant was still the most daunting thing I did. From starting our own restaurant RED WINDOW with my mother and sister-in-law to successfully having my name on three major restaurants in Dhanmondi, the path wasn’t always filled with rose petals, because, with roses, there will always be thorns. 

I remember the day RED WINDOW opened vividly. The very day of the opening, a nerve-racking truth almost shattered my dreams. As we unsheathed the banner for RED WINDOW, another billboard was put on display right in front of the restaurant; Suvastu developer had taken over the building. My dreams started to crumble up as the impending danger clouded my senses. Would we have to close? Would I lose the money I had invested? Would my dreams come to a halt? But I still fought for it. Even when the officials would send a notice about closing the restaurant because of it being in a residential area, I fought for it. And it wasn’t easy. All my partners were female and I was only 22. While many friends like Labib Tarafdar ( owner of Madchef) and N.R. Vicky (owner of Mirage) helped me with sourcing and other things, it was still hard in 2016 to be a female and be successful as a foodpreneur. There were more obstacles such as Police, VAT Officers coming with a new challenge everyday, City Corporation coming and trying to shut down the restaurant, Hijras disrupting business hours. But now all these people have become my friends and they often come to have coffee or chit chat.

I still remember how I felt when the pastry chef that I trained for 3 months at my own home, suddenly told me that he was leaving to open a dessert cart and reiterated that I couldn’t be successful anyway. Why? Because I was a woman. However, we still put in our effort and succeeded. When RED WINDOW was asked to be a part of Unilever, that was our first success stone. Soon the business flourished and we even opened an outlet in Gulshan but due to the pandemic, it currently has not started.

After RED WINDOW became a success, we opened BHEJA FRY and TOKYO EXPRESS collaborated with us to open in Dhanmondi. Everything felt like a dream but it was all hard work and dedication. I was ecstatic not only because my business was going well but also because I was helping someone’s family and education by providing employment. My waiters and staff are like my family and brothers. I have always believed that if you treat your staff as your own they will treat the business as their own.

But I also had my fair share of failures. I had started my catering business that failed miserably. I opened 16 business pages on Facebook and only about 6 to 7 had taken off. Was I upset about it? Maybe a little. Did I want to give up? Never. I have always believed that the most important thing a person needs is trusting themselves. Everyone has weaknesses. But rather than making the weakness your obstacle, you should regenerate it into strength. You are unstoppable if only you believe in yourself. You must do things that people think you cannot do. And with that ideology in mind, I will always move forward no matter the obstacles, no matter the circumstances. The only thing needed is trust and belief in myself and having lots of fun along the way.

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