LancasterThriving_Summer2017 - 10

PEOPLE: PATH TO THRIVING
THE RESTAURANT

"I really did not want to open a restaurant,"
Dasgupta confesses. But it was the only way to
fulfill the social mission. "I had to either open a
restaurant or close the operation."
Upohar's restaurant opened at 241 Roseville
Road, in a small shopping complex near Walmart
in Manheim Township. Gina D'Ambrosio, owner
of Food For Thought Catering, leased the
building for its commercial kitchen space. Having
no interest in operating a restaurant out of the
location, she invited Upohar. Dasgupta agreed,
with three conditions: That D'Ambrosio would
train her and her staff on running a restaurant
business, that her rent would be affordable, and
that she had an exit clause, which she would
exercise in two years.
Until then, she made it work, "reverse
engineering" solutions to her mission-driven
challenges.
To overcome a language barrier, the restaurant
offered buffet service with labels for each
dish and its ingredients. Eventually, refugee
employees cooked while employees from
homeless shelters, fluent in English, worked the
front of the house. But there was one challenge
she couldn't overcome.
"I looked at that location, and I thought, 'This isn't
going to work,'" Dasgupta admits. "Not only is it a
tough location for any restaurant, my staff doesn't
have transportation."
Dasgupta knew any feasible location had to be
on a bus route. But she laughs, "I didn't look at
the bus schedule!"
The last bus stopped at 5:30 p.m. So the
restaurant could only serve lunch. Later, it
arranged to open for dinner on Saturdays. After
two years running the restaurant, Upohar's revenues hit
$120,000, up from about $20,000 annually in its first two
years of catering. But the restaurant was losing money.
"It would have been viable if we had a different location, or
if we had bus service," Dasgupta believes. But "if I can't be
open for dinner when people actually want to come, then
there's no point staying open for lunch, because I can't work
the numbers."
THE FUTURE

"After I closed the restaurant, again it was a decision point,"
Dasgupta says. "I said, 'I'm done.' I tried my best. It didn't
work. Businesses close all the time."

10 | LANCASTERTHRIVING! | Spring/Summer2017

But, again, one of her employees pushed her to keep
Upohar alive.
"These employees, they keep me going."
With several catering orders booked through the spring,
Dasgupta and her former restaurant manager served the
events while trying to figure out what to do. Looking for
visibility, she tried a crowdfunding campaign to purchase
a food truck. She raised only about a third of the cost,
but purchased one anyway. She saw it as a marketing
investment.
But she still felt she needed an environment in between
the food truck and the catering business-somewhere she
could offer employees regular hours and provide training
for the catering side of the business. Dasgupta ran her ideas



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