Mr. Debendra Pokhrel is the perfect example of “When there is a will there’s a way”. He founded Cocina Mitho Chha (कोथिना मीठो छ) in 2010 with the motive of helping the financially backward youth to grab the opportunities in the market. Let’s look into how Cocina Mitho Chha has been doing so.
1. Can you tell us about your journey of Cocino Mitho Chha?
During my working days, I came in contact with Association Nepal Aki, a Spanish Association working in the area of youth empowerment and employment in Nepal. Having the needed experience and expertise, together we decided to establish a cooking school which would provide full scholarships to needy students, with special focus on youths from children’s homes in 2010 and named it Cocina Mitho Chha.
We opened a small restaurant, a kitchen and kick-started our training program with 10 students but since everything was free they were not serious and started dropping out Thus, we implemented a new policy of admission fee and deposit. After certain months, we affiliated with CTEVT further updated our policy of having both paid and unpaid training programs based on the financial capability of the students and this is how we have been operating in the present.
2. What motivated you into starting this venture?
When I came to Kathmandu I didn’t have sufficient money but with the financial support from my friend I was able to train myself and work in top hotels and restaurants which bestowed me with the needed experience and led to the establishment of this venture. So, behind Cocina Mitho Chha there is the support of many people along with my dedication and passion which motivates me every single day. Moreover, my struggles and hardships have further motivated me to support and empower the youths.
3. What is the revenue generation model of Cocina Mitho Chha?
We generate revenue from our paid training programs, a restaurant, and a BnB facility. Along with that, we also have a small souvenir shop that sells handmade and local Nepali products.
4. Why the name Cocina Mitho Chha?
Cocina is a Spanish word which means kitchen; mitho and chha are Nepali words; so the literal meaning is Tasty Kitchen. We have included the Spanish word because this organization is established in collaboration with the Spanish organizations, so we used the name Cocina Mitho Chha.
5. What stage is Cocina Mitho Chha in now?
It is still growing. We started from a very small scale with small funds and second-hand furniture, and other necessary equipment. Slowly our training program started growing.
6. What makes Cocina Mitho Chha different from other Hotel and Hospitality training centers and colleges?
We have live training, where our students can practically imply what they have learned using our kitchen and the restaurant and can also serve their cookings and network with the customers visiting our restaurants. Moreover, we have international support in designing the courses and syllabus. We also have international volunteering trainers, so they get to learn from international experts. Likewise, we also teach foreign languages like Chinese, Japanese, German and Spanish and provide training time flexibility to our students. Lastly, we are a social enterprise, whatever we do, we do with the sole objective of promoting the maximum benefits of our students. Hence, all these things make Cocina Mitho Chha different.
7. What is your current staff strength?
We have a team of 17 people, including trainers and a core management team working together. People from Switzerland, Germany, and Spain also train our students on a voluntary basis.
8. Does Cocina Mitho Chha have a branch?
Our first official outlet is located in Lazimpat and we’re planning to open a new outlet with bakery training and a BnB. The location is just 5 minutes away from the current outlet. Also, we have collaborated with Hotel Nepal that provides placements to our students.
9. Who are the target markets for your restaurant and BnB?
While we primarily focus on foreigners for our services, now we also focus on Nepali customers.
10. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
One of the major challenges is the funding due to which we started off with all the second-hand items. However, when you are working with good intentions, there are people who are always willing to help; we get small donations. Likewise, the lack of skillful manpower would be next. Apart from me and the trainers (teachers) all the others are our own products. So, initially, we didn’t have who we wanted; but with time and training, we now have the needed manpower running our restaurant and BnB. Also, there was difficulty in having students and lots of confusion regarding who should be granted a scholarship. Also, getting them here at Lazimpat was another problem.
11. How many customers do you have on a monthly basis?
On average, we have around 12 customers in BnB and around 500 customers in the restaurant in a month. Even though we offer small rooms, people from 60 different countries have used our BnB service.
12. What are your future plans with Cocino Mitho Chha?
We want to increase the capacity while further improving and focusing on the quality. Likewise, we are planning on new training programs addressing the issue of food safety and hygiene in Nepal. Moreover, we are also planning on opening new branches and we have recently decided on a collaborative training program in Gorkha. We are also planning to open a hair salon along with the respective training programs.
13. What is your say on expanding your BnB service to exotic tourist destinations of Nepal?
There are so many less explored destinations in Nepal like Manang, Namche Bazar and so on. We surely want to reach those places and offer our service. For this, we may collaborate with hotels and lodges located there but I don’t think we will be able to open our own branch in these places as of now. We surely would love to provide training to the manpower working there and upgrade their skills.
14. Apart from the training programs, BnB and restaurant are you involved in any other projects?
Yes, after the earthquake of 2015, we organized food and accommodation support programs in Gorkha which later turn into a project; now we are building a cooperative there, supporting children’s education and creating a friendly environment for elderly people living alone. Additionally, we are also involved in honey and coffee production projects in Gorkha; we sell and use the products generated here at Cocino Mitho Chha.
15. How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?
This journey has been exciting; I have met and connected with many people from around the world; I have seen the growth in myself as well as in my organization and most importantly I have been able to improve the lives of many individuals. So, yes this journey has been nothing more than rewarding and admirable.
16. Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers?
Brain drain among youth has been a burning issue, especially in a developing country like ours. Nepal doesn’t lack job opportunities, in fact, there are a lot of opportunities here. The problem is that we, especially the youth, have instant gratification and it is high time we change this. We need to be willing to start small and acquire as many skills as possible.
Interviewed and article by Trishna Shakya