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8 years: From New Immigrant to Business Woman of the Year

November 16, 2020 Accolades No Comments

Chef Sunita Kumar of DAANA restaurant in Canberra surprised her parents. Late one night a telegram arrived at their home in Bangalore, India. The telegram was an invitation for Sunita to attend an interview at Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) Bangalore, the next day. Hospitality at the time in India was not the preferred career path for a young woman. Sunita’s parents permitted her to attend the interview and to become a Chef, as long as the training would take place in Bangalore. Successful in her interview, Sunita gave up her university studies, to follow her heart and study hospitality in her home city of Bangalore. It was at IHM Bangalore that Sunita met a senior student; her now husband, fellow Chef and business partner, Sanjay Kumar.

Today Chefs Sunita and Sanjay now own and operate the multi award-winning DAANA restaurant, in Canberra, Australia. At the National Arboretum in Canberra on Thursday November 5 – Chef Sunita Kumar was named the 2020 Rubik3 Canberra Women in Business – Business Woman of the Year. She is the first immigrant Indian woman to receive the prestigious award.

“I’m still pinching myself in disbelief to make sure I’m not dreaming!” says Chef Sunita. “In 2012 if someone was to have predicted THIS for my future in 2020, I would have laughed! What a journey it has been for my husband Chef Sanjay Kumar and myself.”

In January 2012 Chefs Sunita and Sanjay Kumar, their two young children and Sanjay’s mother, arrived on a one-way ticket from India to Australia. The family left behind a comfortable life in India to give themselves and their family a fresh start. They arrived in Australia with only four suitcases and the determination to chase their dreams! Their first three years saw the Kumars work in the fast-food, corporate and academic sectors. Their plan, however, was always to do food – and in 2015 their restaurant DAANA, launched.

“Our first offering was Indian street food from a 40ft shipping container in a pop-up village on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin.” Chef Sunita explains. “At the time, Indian street food was a relatively new offering in the nation’s capital. When we moved to commercial premises in 2016, we quickly learned that the street food wasn’t right for the restaurant. So our offering moved to South and Regional Indian cuisines.”

Like all hospitality businesses across Australia – DAANA was impacted by the COVID pandemic and lockdown. The catering arm of their business vanished overnight. Initially the Kumars spoke to their suppliers and landlord about adjusted payments and reduced their staffing. To cope the Kumars had to scale back their menu to improve their margins. Then the restaurant closed to diners from April to June. DAANA moved to a takeaway and prepared meal menu in April 2020; innovating a new weekly menu to kept guests coming back.

“While our goal is to create a fresh approach to Indian cuisine – it still takes courage and confidence to be pioneers, to change the status quo.” describes Chef Sunita. “When it comes to business one needs to keep growing both your skills and your mindset with patience. More importantly, you need to be willing to reach out and ask for help or advice when you need it. With that help, you achieve more than you could otherwise have by yourself.”

“The journey, for DAANA and me, has just begun. Business is a marathon. Sanjay and I are in it for the long haul.” Chef Sunita says. “We look forward to restarting DAANA Catering and launching our next offering DAANA’s Pantry. DAANA Pantry will deliver chef-prepared Ready Meals and Meal Kits directly to your door. We plan to grow the business, the brand and more importantly the community that DAANA is connected to and supports. We are open to new collaborations and opportunities that will help us realise DAANA’s vision: To Inspire, To Be Inspired and To Connect with People through Food.”

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