VOICES OF LEWISHAM
For the past five years, Catford resident Rinku Dutt has been operating her Indian street food stall Raastawala, specialising in north-east Indian street food, with strong influences from old family recipes.
The pandemic forced Rinku to close the business overnight – but she found a way to turn adversity into a positive.
“The biggest challenge was going from operating a six-days-a-week business to suddenly closing down. It obviously took a bit of time to react to what was happening. I naturally felt very worried. Building the brand and gaining loyal followers throughout the years had taken such a huge amount of work, and then all of a sudden we had to shut shop overnight. I was so concerned that having done all this hard work, that if we didn’t maintain some sort of presence we could easily be forgotten.
“For the first couple of weeks, my husband, his father and I were thinking over the challenges, and how we could turn them into a positive. For me, the norm was to go to work, to cook, to offer food, to feed people. This is what I’m known for, and at a time when people are on the front line and for all those who need to stay at home, this was the ideal moment for me to use my skill set.
“I started a community group called ‘Helping the neighbours.’ This involved cooking and delivering meals to our more vulnerable neighbours. The initiative was also supported by Catford Food Market which allowed me to deliver meals to a wider community.
“I also wanted to help these front line workers. I worked with a collective, which involved having our food delivered to the Intensive Care Unit department in Lewisham Hospital twice a week. One of their nurses said: ‘Thank you so much for the food. It reminds me so much of my (Indian) mother in law’s cooking. Under these circumstances, we sadly can’t go and visit her. Your food makes us feel as if we’re not on our own, it makes us feel that this really is a team effort for everyone involved, and that people are behind us.’
“I know that it’s massively important as a charitable endeavour, but also from my point of view as a small business, it was important to remind people that we were still here and what better way of doing this than being involved in such an important initiative?
“My business financial situation has definitely been affected by the pandemic. I’ve had to downsize and steer the business in whichever direction needed to keep it afloat. Although, customers have been wonderful and really supported us along throughout. I now sell food through home deliveries and from my pop-up trailer at Abbotshall community centre in Catford on Fridays from 5-8pm.
“Personally, whilst we have to be cautious about our spending as one income has reduced significantly, we are lucky as my husband has an income that is able to support us as a family.”
We spoke to Rinku in November 2020.