Patricia Narayan – Struggling Single Mum Builds Catering Empire

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” Bill Clinton


Consider yourself lucky if you have never had to confront adversity. If you have, consider yourself equally lucky. Adversity by definition is a difficult or unpleasant situation and given the choice you and I would categorically prefer to avoid it. However, life does not work simply and in your lifetime adversity will strike. As Bill Clinton says, it is how you handle adversity that is significant. Never quit, never quit, never quit!

Confronted with a difficult situation, the key to escape is to continually take action, focus on the resources and skills you have and acquire the additional proficiencies later. Dwell on your misfortune and you waste valuable time and delay in seeking a solution.

The success of Patricia Narayan is such a story. Patricia is a woman who despite her impoverished circumstances, mastered her path into building a vast catering empire. She may never have envisioned the mammoth success she would achieve but her perseverance to better herself and improve her circumstances eventually paid off and after 30 years of struggle Patricia is the successful owner of 14 restaurants.  This is her story…


The Early Years

Patricia was born to a conservative Christian family and had two siblings. Both her parents worked as government employees. Patricia studied at Queen Mary’s College and at age 17 she met and fell in love with Narayan, a Hindu Brahmin who was thirteen years her senior. Knowing her parents would disapprove of the relationship, the couple married in a registrar’s office, hoping to advise Patricia’s parents after she completed college. However, three months into the marriage, Narayan put pressure on Patricia to inform her parents, reluctantly she did. For the marriage to be socially accepted, the couple married again in a church but both families still disapproved of the union and cut ties with the young couple after the wedding.

Patricia quickly discovered that her husband had no intention of working, instead opting to abuse her and indulge in alcohol and drugs. Patricia had two children with Narayan, Sandeepha and Praveen. Unable to contend with the abuse, Patricia left Narayan; she was now homeless, without food and money, raising two children.

“I reached the crossroads where I had to choose between living and dying. I chose to live. My entire life has been driven by my determination to be independent.” Patricia Narayan

Despite her father’s disapproval of her relationship, he allowed Patricia to return to the family home. Patricia had no skills, no qualifications or income to support her young two children; her only talent was cooking, so she borrowed 100 rupees from her mother and prepared pickles and jams, which her mother sold to her work colleagues. As demand for Patricia’s products grew, so too did her confidence.


Expanding the Cooking Venture

One of Patricia’s father’s friend ran a school for children with disabilities and would loan mobile carts on the condition that two children with disabilities were employed. Patricia saw this as an opportunity and trained two of the children to make and serve coffee to the customers. The other mobile carts merely sold coffee, therefore Patricia opted to sell juices and a selection of Indian snacks. Patricia’s first day of business however was abysmal; she sold one cup of coffee for 50 paisas. The following day was a step-up; she earned Rs. 600 – Rs. 700 from her snack foods. Patricia was unrelenting and from 1982 to 2003 worked tirelessly on her cart business, working from 3:00pm to 11:00pm and on occasion from 5:00am to 9:00am.

A further opportunity presented itself when the chairman of the Slum Clearance Board invited Patricia to run the organisation canteen. She accepted and juggled her work commitments between running the canteen and her cart. Patricia worked 5:00am to 9:00am selling snack foods from her cart, dashed to the canteen, later returning to her cart working until 11:00pm. Her monthly income flourished to Rs. 20,000 allowing her to hire several staff.

As her reputation grew, another opportunity arose at Madurai Canteen to cater three meals for 700 students. The new contract enabled Patricia’s income to swell to Rs. 80,000 a week which later increased to one lakh.

“Willpower is the most important attribute to succeed.” Patricia Narayan

The prospect to develop further continued when Patricia was offered a partnership to work with the Sangeetha Restaurant Group. Sadly tragedy struck in Patricia’s personal life when her daughter and son-in-law were heartbreakingly killed in a car accident just after one month of marriage. To further aggravate Patricia’s loss, the ambulance refused to take the bodies. Patricia was mortified in seeing her daughter’s body being removed from the boot of a car and the experience necessitated taking considerable time away from her business to heal. Praveen continued the business in 2006 naming the restaurant Sandeepha in memory of his sister. After the shock, Patricia returned to work. She purchased an ambulance to operate as a free service to be stationed in the area where her daughter died; to transport victims, whether deceased or alive.

Life Lessons to be Learned from Patricia Narayan

  • Always believe in yourself, never lose self-confidence.
  • Never compromise on quality.
  • Utilise the knowledge and skills you have to the best of your ability.
  • Struggles help keep you grounded for success, so in the face of hardship, keep persevering
  • Success is not a status or possession but rather a continuing journey of development and progression.
  • Pain is an inevitable part of life and it should not stop you from moving forwards – ‘moving is life’ and ‘still is dead’.
  • To be a successful entrepreneur, you do not have to be highly educated simply a vision, ambition, focus and drive.


Patricia Narayan’s story represents that in order to be successful, a formal education is not always necessary and what you accomplish with the resources and skills you acquire is sometimes the only tools you need. A steadfast focus, determination and dream are the other essential ingredients to master your escape from overcoming adversity.