By Debamitra Mishra
Moving ahead with healthy eating is challenging in the time of urbanization. But not anymore for Bhubaneswar denizens as a newly-opened start-up ‘Select Fresh’ brings you some lip-smacking dishes made with millet. Yes, you read that right. From noodles, pasta, and sandwich to biriyani, dosa, cutlets, Koraput coffee, and many more, this place with a store and a rooftop cafe is a one-stop destination for healthy quality and quantity of snacks and meals made majorly of millet and other local products of Odisha.
‘Select Fresh’ is the brainchild of Sidhartha Sankar Rout and Ankit Mohanty, who told us in an exclusive conversation that the idea was born during the pandemic.
“I was in corporate for nine years. Since the pandemic made us work from home, so we got plenty of time to research new ideas, something out of the box. In February 2022, ‘Select Fresh’ started with its store in the beginning, and then we expanded it to a rooftop cafe. Even through online orders, we have garnered many new as well as repeat ordering customers which is feedback in itself,” says Sidhartha.
Sidhartha Sankar Rout (left), Ankit Mohanty (right)
Before this, the duo researched for a year on millet, its production, farmers, companies involved, and market base. They bought samples and tested them amongst themselves. Gradually, they decided to bring it to the market. With the current workforce of 6-7 people, both Sidhartha and Ankit envision spreading awareness about millet and Odisha’s other local products. On this, Sidhartha says, “the dishes and recipes in our cafe are self-developed after a lot of trial and customer feedback.”
“Entrepreneurship was earlier in my mind, but for agriculture and especially for millet it was born during the pandemic when we all were looking for some healthy and tasty food options. The lack of availability gave birth to this idea. The agriculture industry was one of the few ones which were running without any restrictions during that time. We came across the buzz for millet during our period of organic farming. It was one such healthy and nutritious option overall. Well, 2023 is declared as the year of millet. Also, the government of Odisha is promoting it. We believe that there is potential for the present and future of millet,” he told us further.
However, in the rush and race of city life, people are up to quick food options. Although the pandemic was quite a revolution in health awareness and lifestyle upliftment, but yet, at times failed choices in food and unhealthy eating take a toll on our health. Taking note of this, Sidhartha adds, “Firstly, the concern towards good health doesn’t get the proper focus. Second is the availability of healthy eating options. Urban people are the most vulnerable to refined flour, gluten foods, and quick-bite junk. People have money, but not time to research the availability of good food outside. Healthy foods need a revolution alongside lifestyle.”
Considered a staple food in that era, millet was a forgotten food. It is slowly coming back to the mainstream with efforts by the government of Odisha and independent organizations.
“Millet is old food and mostly consumed by the indigenous people in tribal parts of Odisha. After Green Revolution, things changed when new and hybrid crops entered in. Millet can be grown in barren lands, without much consumption of water and fertilizers. But after urbanization, agricultural lands got reduced. Wheat and rice got available in large portions for mass consumption and millet were forgotten. We are trying to bring it back to the mainstream,” he says.
The Rooftop Cafe
Adding to this, he expresses the encouragement and schemes from MSME, Odisha, the government of Odisha, and the Department of Agriculture, Odisha. ” I believe that the government was mostly focused on the production part of millet first. Now it has gotten into both production and consumption. We are into the latter part. So there’s indirect help from the government which is encouraging people to visit us and try millet foods. We haven’t directly started working with farmers. They need a guaranteed quantity purchase and buyer. Now govt is buying on PDS and selling through. But I as a private entity cannot buy a small amount from a farmer. I don’t have the data through which I can buy a huge quantity. So now it’s done through a trading channel. So, might not be now, but after a time farmers will get direct benefits from our business when we will require the bulk quantity of products.”
Not only healthy, but millet is an eco-friendly crop too. It is a drought-resilient crop that requires less water to grow. On this, Sidhartha adds, “After interacting with many farmers of Koraput, we came to know that millet in ample amounts can be grown without pesticides and fertilizers. Minimal or no use of such helps in soil health improvement and reduces water and air pollution. And less water consumption as it is mainly grown in hilly areas. Millet produces less CO2 than wheat and paddy. This way it helps in improving the soil health as well the whole environment.”
The first product of the duo was honey from the Balasore district of Odisha. “We came in contact with a person and procured 190-200 kgs of honey. We tried, tested, and trusted to give it a go. So, that was the seed from which the tree grew. Now alongside millet and honey, we have local products like homemade ghee, spices, Koraput coffee, Kandhamal turmeric, wood pressed, and cold-pressed oils. Our efforts are to give local, women, and small entrepreneurs a platform for quality products,” explains Sidhartha.
On a concluding note, he goes on to say, “Our experience will give many people an insight about millet in the market. Recently, we got calls from two hoteliers in Odisha who want to include millet food in their menu. What brought them to us is our market study and knowledge.
Our vision is to make people taste and have a live-in experience of the local products of Odisha they are buying for themselves. We are welcome to honest feedback also. With this venture in Odisha, we want to reach more people and spread the word for local products.”