How I Built a Plastic- and Preservative-Free ‘Farm-to-Fork’ Cafe That’s Helping 250 Artisans Earn More

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PPeople often say that craftsmanship is supposed to be imperfect, but when it comes to choosing a piece to buy for their home, they want something perfect,” says Ankita Jaiswal, owner of Brio Art House and Cafe at Lucknow. In this space, people can get a sense of Indian art while gorging on delicious snacks.

Having started as a Facebook page in 2011, Brio today is not only empowering artisans, but also focusing on sustainability in its businesses.

A slice of art with your cellar

The self-taught artist says she has always been drawn to how artisans are integral to the creative process.

Recounting her own journey, she says that she took a course in business management and then a short course in sculpture, but the artist in her has always been alive. So she started Brio as a page on Facebook in an attempt to express herself and in 2017 she set up one of her own art galleries in Lucknow.

The artwork at Brio Art Cafe

Its motive was simple – to incorporate different crafts and art by craftsmen.

Over the years, the gallery evolved from a space that only displayed art to a space where people could snack cobblestone vada and sip masala chai as you admire the art installations.

To heighten the authenticity of the experience, Ankita also brought in young artists to play Indian musical instruments.

In 2019, the range of foods served expanded, new dishes were added, and Brio Art Cafe was born.

Brio Art Cafe
Brio Art Cafe

From farm to fork

At the cafe, all of the ingredients for the dishes are grown on the property itself. A childhood nostalgia served as inspiration for this.

During her growing years, Ankita ate potato chips freshly made by her Grandmother at home. “I want to bring that culture back to coffee,” she says.

If you walk around the five-star property on Kanpur Road in Lucknow in winter, you will come across rose bushes in full bloom. It is not surprising that the gulkand served to your table is made by fermenting these flowers with sugar.

In the summer, you can enjoy fresh buttermilk served in kulhad.

“All of our food and beverages are the result of a careful thought process,” says Ankita. Depending on the season, the menu varies. Choose from a range of healthy delights such as vegan coconut milk and pumpkin soup, salads brimming with cherry tomatoes, mint, pickled onions and daals with rice.

Traditional Lucknow recipes such as Subz ki Galouti, Daal Sultani are also served.

True to its principle of being all-natural, the coffee follows a “preservative-free” policy and packaged meals have a shelf life of approximately 20 days.

You can also buy homemade gulkand, ramdana laddoos, aachar done here.

Sustainability at your table

The pride of the cafe is its many artisans from Uttar Pradesh. “We are a family,” says Ankita, explaining how her relationship with them goes beyond that of employer and employee.

She educates them on banking and managing their money. During the COVID pandemic, as artisans across the country were affected, those in Brio received food and medicine.

More than 250 artisans are empowered through coffee operations
More than 250 artisans are empowered through coffee operations

We spoke to one of the Shaban artisans who has worked with Ankita for as long as he can remember. He says: “I have been making parts for years. At Brio, there is always something new to learn every day, which gives me the assurance that the profession will continue to live. It also gives my children a chance to have a good education and allows me to bring home bread every night.

The cafe is extremely aware of the materials used for operations. Plastic is a big no and it is being replaced by the most eco-friendly kulhad which is made by rural women in Lucknow and surrounding areas.

Waste from one process ends up as the main material for another at Brio.

Wooden crates that are no longer used, as well as wood waste are transformed into trays and furniture. In this way, Ankita says they also support women who are artisans by giving them a chance to earn a living.

Bone china is replaced by ceramic dishes and boxes are repurposed for courier packaging instead of using plastic for the same. Baskets made from dried mulberry branches show Ankita’s love for using freely available materials as decoration in the café.

“It was an organic journey coupled with a love for nature and the support of these fellow artisans,” says Ankita, adding that the cafe currently works with around 250 artisans.

This number increases exponentially.

How?

Each time Ankita discovers a new craft in a region of India, she takes on more craftsmen with the aim of introducing it into coffee. This includes glassware by craftsmen from Firozabad, brass making by craftsmen from Moradabad, marble masonry by craftsmen from Agra, etc.

Ask her about the challenges that have marked her career as an entrepreneur and she replies that there are many.

“It hasn’t been easy to create a plastic-free space,” she says, adding that people often tend to focus more on packaging than on craftsmanship.

“I create pieces at Brio that are sustainable and eco-friendly,” she says. “The works of art we create will last you as long as you take care of them,” she adds.

While on the one hand she tries to make people understand the importance of supporting local art, on the other hand is the challenge of getting artisans to turn her ideas into craftsmanship. “A craftsman breaks three glasses to create a certain piece,” she says, explaining that while the local craftsmanship looks pretty, there’s a lot of trial and error involved.

The business is self-funded and Ankita says it receives around “100 orders per month”, adding that the number is constantly growing.

As you browse their collection online, you’ll see arts and crafts that have a special touch and are unique because their designs set them apart.

You can check out their collection of handmade paper bags, hand painted wall plates, neem bark napkin holders and more here.

“When you see the images of the artworks, you will notice that we click on them ourselves,” says Ankita, explaining that they want their customers to have a clear picture of what will be delivered to them and therefore do not see the artwork. interest in broadcasting images that may be misleading.

“Our photos may not be perfect. But our job definitely is.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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