Who does not like a gift? More so, if it comes as a surprise!
To gift a gift is the greatest joy and the sweeter it is, the greater the joy. Leave all this to super gift hamper specialist Neenu, who packs a big packet of goodies to make everything sweet for the giver and the receiver. Home-maker and delectable delicacies expert Neenu opens up about her hobby-turned-business venture of gift-wrapping a collection of home-made sweets to make special occasions more special.
This is the story of Neenu, who doffed off her academic cap and donned that of a chef to try her hand at a trade totally different from what she was trained for. But she took that leap of faith and has not looked back. The college teacher opted for a break from lecturing and turned to cooking home-made stuff which she lovingly packed and dressed up into a gift hamper. Till she stepped out of her comfort zone, Neenu’s life was pretty much the stuff of mundane existence… cooking, cleaning, raising kids and working. Her routine hit a rough patch when parenting clashed with professional schedules forcing her to go in for a break.
However, a full-time job at home was not quite what she had been looking for. Then came the idea. Why not do something creative from the confines of home? Neenu decided to go back to her world of flavours.
As her husband was running a hotel, it looked like this was her calling. Besides, her mother used to come up with a regular supply of nutmeg syrup and chammanthi powder to be put up for sale in the hotel. Neenu followed suit. The demand was not too great initially, but once things started looking up, she had to open a cookery unit at her residence with items like nutmeg syrup, chammanthi powder and pickles being readied and packed. Yet she was restless. She had to have something special, something out of the ordinary.
Thus came up the idea of a gift hamper. This thought was twined with the art of crafting too. It was not to be just a gift hamper, it had to be crafted well too. Neenu knew she could do it, for the art of crafting was very much a part of her being. A gift kit was what she visualized, something special to delight the receiver with. To begin with, her gifts were got up only for close friends and relations during the Christmas of 2019. She packed around 60 hampers that year.
Recalling the genesis of her venture Neenu says she was not professionally ready for the task. The early hamper kits were actually the boxes in which dates were supplied to the hotel. She would give them a makeover, gift-wrapping them attractively. The gift hamper idea got a shot in the arm when the response started coming in. They were well received which made her stick to her decision. The hampers, handpicked by Neenu herself, were transformed into eye-catching designs with made-to-order items securely packed inside.
With her endeavour tasting success, Neenu acquired her home-food making licence last year. Today, Cusiny Home Grow is a beaming production venture. She chose the name Kushini as her goodies were straight from her kitchen and hence had to sound as homely as they could, says Neenu. She also runs a shop in Aluva under the same name.
Neenu credits the success of her business to the flavours handed down from her mother and grandmothers with which she now sells appam, pickles and batter for dosa. The gift hampers too have a fine running. But 2020 was a year of upsets. The COVID wreaked havoc and Neenu hardly expected orders for Christmas this time around. But contrary to what she feared, the orders came pouring in. There were even orders for more than 20 hampers from single sources. The hampers were priced between Rs 400 and Rs 1500.
Customers can choose from a list on display. The items chosen are wrapped and delivered. Though the hampers had cakes last year, there were no orders for them this time.
Each kit contains three syrups, ghee cookies, pickles, pineapple balls and chocolate jars. Honey bottle, spices jar and dry fruits are also packed in as per orders. Of these, pineapple balls are the trademark item in Neenu’s hamper kit. As for the ghee cookies, they are a special from Neenu's sister-in-law.
The hamper entrepreneur is happy that the whole family chipped in this time, a fact she is grateful for. “I'm what I am thanks to their support”, says Neenu.
When the venture took off, the hampers were directly delivered to customers. But as the business expanded, the help of distributors had to be sought. Today, Neenu’s gift hampers can be had from anywhere in Kerala except the interiors of Wayanad. Orders are also coming in from Canada, New Zealand and the Middle-East.
Be it wedding, baptism, Christmas or New Year celebrations, guests can be sure of getting a gift hamper from Neenu’s Cusiny Home Grow.
The happy home-maker chef is happy to share her pineapple balls recipe with readers.
Mix and cook pineapple, sugar, coconut bits and powdered cardamom to a fine thickness. Dust them with avulose podi (roasted rice flour with coconut) and roll into balls.