Call it destiny or fate, Anurima Das Nambiar talks about her journey into owning and running 3 restaurants – all within a short time span – through the beginning of the global Covid Pandemic. It’s been a ride of sorts!

Born and raised in Shillong in North East India, Anurima Das Nambiar learned the ropes of the hospitality business from her father and grandfather, who themselves were in the restaurant business. It was hence, not surprising that she chose to study Hotel Management at university in Bangalore.

“The 3 years in university taught me a whole lot about food, drinks, hygiene, guest and employee management. I also realized that hospitality is a lot of hard work and is not as glamorous as it looks! If one wishes to continue in this line of work, he or she should be ready to get their hands dirty without thinking twice!” she says. After her graduation, she moved to Kolkata to work with her father at the family-owned Abcos Food Plaza’. She worked there for around 5 years and still remains active in the business.

Moving to Switzerland

Her husband’s job brought the family to Switzerland in 2006. “We came here soon after our wedding and it felt like a honeymoon initially. However, Rakesh got a permanent role with Nestlé and we stayed on,” she says. Over time, the couple had two children, learned French and made Switzerland their home. “The goal was for me to do something eventually, possibly get a job. But despite my credentials and background in hospitality, that was looking impossible in Switzerland.”

At her husband’s suggestion, Anurima did the Cantonale course and exam, which enabled her to get a license to start any food business. Once her son joined school, she enrolled herself in the 3-month course, which she thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from. The family also ran an Indian grocery store during this time and tried their hand at a few other ventures as well. However, Anurima’s heart always belonged to hospitality and she longed to go back to the industry.

Entering the Restaurant Business in Switzerland

Since getting the diploma to open a food business, Anurima had been looking at possible restaurants to take over but nothing really caught her eye. In 2018, Anurima came across a traditional Swiss restaurant that was up for sale. They contacted the agent and went ahead with the deal for the takeover in early 2019. Soon, they were officially the new owners of Restaurant Le Château de Villeneuve – a restaurant that was in existence for over 30 years. They decided to make only subtle changes to the menu and décor as it was important to understand the business and the regulations.

le-chateau restaurant

By the end of 2019, she happened to spot another restaurant up for sale. “Something inside us always wanted to have a modern Indian restaurant in the area with a menu and concept to match”, she explains. The family made the deal, took over the place and prepared to launch Moksha Lounge – an Indian restaurant with a lounge concept. However, with the pandemic, Moksha was launched in July 2020, 3 months later than planned. Through the 3 months and the first lockdown, they worked on the concept, décor, menu, staffing etc.

moksha restaurant

Within 3 weeks of launching Moksha, a woman walked into Moksha with a proposal for Anurima. She owned a restaurant property by the lake, the lease of the old restaurant, and she was looking for someone who was capable of launching a good project and a concept due to its location. Despite the risks involved, Anurima and Rakesh decided to go ahead with acquiring the restaurant. Ivy Brasserie Lounge was officially launched on December 22, 2020, and was open for just 5 days, before the second wave of the pandemic called for another lockdown.

Ivy Brasserie Lounge photo

Challenges along the way

“My first challenge was diving into a full-fledged French-speaking business. I was at first very conscious when speaking to the staff or the clients. Figuring out the paperwork was also a big hurdle. The next challenge was to make people take me seriously. Many people would disregard me purely for being a woman, who is not originally from the country and believing that I am a complete novice. However, with gradual interactions, over time people realized that I am not new to the industry and do know a lot more than they initially thought. I did notice a certain change In behavior and respect towards me from many clients and the providers.”

Anurima has learned to handle criticism and praise, but most importantly, to treat everyone with respect. She is grateful for her circle of local friends and people who comprise her support system. She is thankful for her family, whom she considers to be her biggest support, strength, “I have been very lucky to have been brought up with open-minded parents who never put any boundaries on our wishes, we were always encouraged to try” she says, “My greatest support and critique is my husband, who pushed me when I thought I could not.”
Covid-19 and its impact on the restaurant business.

Anurima tells us that the pandemic impacted her family’s restaurant business in India, where staff had to be let go, and how her own restaurants took the brunt in the very year that she opened two of them. “In Switzerland, we hoped to launch 2 restaurants in 2020, but could not do it as well as was planned. Social distancing meant losing half of the seating capacity, resulting in lower sales and footfalls. At Le Château we have an elderly clientele, most of whom stopped coming out as they were in the risk category. The fear kept many people away and going out to eat in a restaurant was not a necessity for many anymore.” She is glad that she decided to start takeaway options for the newly launched Moksha, through the delivery platforms.

Her advice to those in a similar situation? “Anyone in a similar situation should try to hang in there. This shall pass and normal times will be back. It is all the more important to remain hopeful and positive. This time could be used to look ahead, make changes in the business, work on a new idea or simply take time out for yourself and the family.”

Anurima believes that challenges should be met head-on. The pandemic didn’t dampen her aspirations and she encourages our readers to do the same. She says, “Everyone should believe in themselves and go get that wish – go get that certification, do the course, get that experience, go out of your comfort zone. Whatever may come, face those fears to come out stronger but never forget humility, gratitude and respect, for yourself and another.”

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