Ms. Shaina: Foodie, Entrepreneur and more…

Hazelnut is an eatery on the Ashoka University campus that has been running for close to four years now.  Known for its mouth-watering burgers and refreshing smoothies, it has carved out a place in the hearts of most Ashokans.  Ms. Shaina, co-founder of Hazelnut, talks to us about how Hazelnut began, her passion for food, and her experiences at Ashoka.


Why did you choose to start Hazelnut on the Ashoka campus?

I believe in starting from scratch. When I came to Ashoka 4 years ago, it had only about 250 students but I still chose to set up here because I believed it would become a world-renowned university one day. Additionally, opening Hazelnut at Ashoka so early on allowed us to gain a monopoly over the food outlets at Ashoka. Everyone recognizes Hazelnut. They give us a lot of love and I love serving them.

What aspect of Ashoka intrigued you?

Nothing in particular. I simply wanted to expand Hazelnut and what better place than Ashoka? It’s close to where I live so that’s always a plus point.


What are the things you like/dislike your workspace at Ashoka?

First of all, if I dislike something about my workspace, then I can’t work the way I do, so I can’t dislike it. You have to love your workplace if you want to be efficient. Every place has its own setup and rules, of course, but I love following them. Why shouldn’t I? They are for our benefit, too. The only thing I wish I could have was a bigger space. It would allow me to include a lot of new dishes and recipes, which I can’t do now due to our size. However, I love Hazelnut’s location, it’s fantastic! I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. I have no regrets.

Would you join Ashoka if you were a student?

Yes. Why not? I love everything about Ashoka. It is liberal and non-judgmental. It’s different from the entire Indian society. It gives its students the freedom to make informed choices and do what they want to do and as long they follow the basic rules, they can do anything. The students here are over eighteen and know what is right and wrong. I love that about Ashoka.  I have provided a similar kind of freedom to my own children. There’s a certain kind of openness that is lacking in the Indian society right now, but Ashoka is willing to provide it. For instance, a woman smoking a cigarette is considered as lacking character. However, Ashoka has normalized this. I personally do not believe that being a smoker affects your character. And the fact that the university does not force anything down anyone’s throat is a very accepting outlook. Of course, the academics are great too. The faculty is really good, so being a student here would be good.

So if you were a student, what would you be studying?

I have done my Masters in English Literature, but I would have studied Psychiatry. I would love to become a psychiatrist. I feel like I can read people’s minds, you know!

What’s your #1 go-to spot on campus?

Go-to spot? I barely get time to eat lunch! The only spot I go to is the washroom! I don’t get time to go anywhere; but I love when they set up the Haat on campus. I just rush out and buy whatever I like! Even though I don’t get time to do anything else, I’m really happy with what we do. I believe that unless and until you are happy doing what you’re doing, you can’t be successful. We are happy the way we are.

Based on the interactions you’ve had with them, what do you think of the student body at Ashoka?

It depends from individual to individual. If a student is already in a bad mood before coming to my counter, then you can guess it won’t be the most positive experience. They aren’t to be blamed, though. I’ve learnt a lot from these experiences. I have learnt to realise when a student is in a good/bad mood. If I understand this, then I can handle whatever comes at me. Initially, I was a lot more impatient, but I’ve changed now.  Despite all of this, I haven’t had any terrible experiences with the student body in my four years here. The little bumps along the way aren’t much and can be easily dealt with.

Who’s your favorite Ashokan?

My primary interaction is with the administration so I’d say, Mr. Arvinder Bains, the director of campus administration. He knows how to handle everybody. He corrects us when we are wrong and guides us very well. We are, after all, like one big family.

Have you tried the mess food? What do you think about it?

I have tried it several times, usually when I don’t feel like bringing something from home. Unfortunately, and I don’t want to be misunderstood, the food is quite bad. The chicken tastes sweet and the paneer is pale white as if it has no haemoglobin in it! I believe that food should look good since you first eat with your eyes. If it doesn’t look good, I don’t think it can taste any better.  I could be wrong, but the dishes taste the same to me. Being a part of the food industry and being a woman, I can say that the food isn’t good and making it better isn’t rocket science.

What makes Hazelnut different from other food outlets on campus?

Our main USP is that we serve the same quality and quantity of food that we used to when we joined Ashoka. Our speed of service is another big factor. I believe that no one has time to waste, so I have no right to waste anyone’s time. Our entire team works as a single unit to provide quick service, because we all value the time of the students, especially when they happen to have class or a shuttle to catch.

What are the top three things you would recommend at Hazelnut?

By now, everyone has their own favorites at Hazelnut. Whenever someone enters, I know what it is that they want. I don’t have the right to recommend anything to anyone. I’d say that you come, try our dishes, and pick your own favorite. I, personally, eat everything! I have Maggi every day and I don’t believe anything is junk. It’s all about balance and moderation. As long as you’re burning your calories, eat everything and be happy!

Edited by Gauri Jhangiani

All images are courtesy of Viraj Malani and Sanjna Misra