A Fresh Start for Helly Raichura
From intimate dinners hosted in her own home to a dedicated new venue in Melbourne’s inner north, Helly Raichura star has truly risen.
Enter Via Laundry, now one of Melbourne’s hottest new restaurant destinations, was born of sheer survival instinct. Its founder, Helly Raichura, knew shortly after giving birth to her first child eight-and-a-half years ago that she wasn’t herself. “I had a long depression,” Helly shares in a measured way.
For a young woman who had done everything right – bravely coming to Australia alone at 22 years of age from her home region of Gujarat, a state along the western coast of India – you can imagine the emotional discombobulation. Helly had studied. Got the good corporate HR job. Married Vishal, from the same community with similar values. Bought a house. Had kids.
Therapy had only made things “worse,” Helly shares, “with the lack of social understanding in those days of how Indian society or culture is framed. It was only after I started cooking that I felt ok. I had some purpose in life. And I’m not just going into work, interviewing, recruiting, coming back home and then tomorrow doing it again, waking up in the morning to another day of ‘(sigh) oh god, it’s just not working out, it’s just not worth it.’” She gives a small, sad rueful laugh.
Much has been written about Helly Raichura’s bold turnaround from HR to the embryonic beginnings of her restaurant in her family dining room in Melbourne’s suburban Box Hill South, tantalising friends with authentic cooking rooted in the regions of her mother country India.
But it’s the journey to that first sign, that sent arriving guests down the side path to the laundry entrance of her home, that tells you most about how Helly Raichura cooked up the new version of herself. “I was trying to do things that I liked,” she remembers.
After a treat dinner out one night at South Melbourne’s experimental fine diner Lûmé, she talked herself into a trial with then-owner Shaun Quade. “I went to find out if the kitchen world was for me.” For a new mum, it clearly wasn’t at the time. But her head was kept above the crashing emotional waves by the urging of her husband Vishal. “He was the one person who said, ‘you love to cook, you love to bake; you should go back to baking and cooking.’”
So she cooked a little more. More than she normally would just for the family. She read about India, and experimented with regional foods beyond her own patch. So far, so good.
A Pivotal Moment for Helly Raichura
It’s 2017. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards event is being held in Melbourne, only the second time since 2002 the awards are being hosted outside London. It’s the year Indian chef Gaggan Anand claims the #1 position for a third consecutive year at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony with his Bangkok restaurant Gaggan, whilst climbing to #7 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants rankings.
Gaggan was in Melbourne for the awards, and a panel session. Helly bought herself a ticket, and psyched herself up for the advertised Q&A after the event. Hers was the last question taken that day, “and Gaggan is a businessman so I knew what to say,” she shares. Helly went in hard.
“I said, ‘Look, India’s got so much regional food, and there’s a huge untapped market of regional cuisine – why are we not cooking that?’” She’d got the man’s attention.
“That’s a good point,” Gaggan mused. Helly kept going. “I want to cook that,” Helly pushed on, seeing a glimmer of light in the tunnel of her despair. “How about you teach me to cook that in a restaurant setting?”
To which Gaggan Anand said, “Meet me backstage.” Helly did. Gaggan Anand threw out an invitation to work in his kitchen at Gaggan. “And I went home and said to my husband ‘What on earth have I done?’ but Vishal said, ‘You should totally go. This is exactly what you should do. Go go go.’ Not even knowing how long it would be.”
So Helly’s mother travelled from India a short while later to look after their infant son in Melbourne, with Helly soon packing up and travelling alone to Bangkok to work in the Gaggan kitchen. “I thought it would be like a week in the kitchen, and then we’d go for a holiday. But it turned out it was a good two months of working seven days, 14 hours a day for no wages in a World’s 50 Best restaurant, with a three-year-old at home as well.”
Once back, Helly returned to Lûmé and “learned a little bit more.” And then, after a few months, “I thought well, I can’t just sit around and not cook anything after I’ve learned so much from all these different places.” So that's when Helly Raichura started cooking from home for her friends and family, who then said that they had friends who would love this food and would pay for it… and could they bring them?
“And honestly,” says Helly, “I didn’t make money out of it – it was just mostly paying for the ingredients. And then it just happened.”
I can't just sit around and not cook anything after I've learned so much from all these different places.
Of course, ‘it’ didn’t ‘ just happen’. In fact, her corporate experience added a mindfulness to her unfolding evolution that proved invaluable. “The IT firm I used to work with was a startup with young owners who had an agile, robust mentality. They would produce something, then release it and then work to improve on it, rather than waiting until everything is completely ready. Because by the time everything is completely ready, it’s probably not in demand anymore. So I put that into play. I thought, ‘I’m going to start learning something, and once I’ve learned it, I’ll release it and test it.’ Like iterations of software, I’m doing iterations of my recipes and my business and my restaurant.”
It’s this mindset that has taken Enter Via Laundry from Helly and Vishal’s dining room table to Covid-complying Pop Ups at disused wedding venues, through social restrictions to now, signing a lease at a restaurant in North Carlton in October 2022 with a waiting list running to just shy of 10,000 people – no small feat.
Through it all, Helly has created the identity she craved. “I get lots of messages on Instagram from people from different backgrounds in the Indian community,” she shares delightedly. “Like, ‘Hey, I’m so glad you are making Kashmiri now’, or ‘Yay – I’m so happy you are making Bengali’. And whenever I get Indians in the restaurant, they are very picky. Because their Mum’s cooking is always the best. But somehow, when our eyes meet, I feel like I’m back home and there’s this warm hug kind of feeling happening – like an internal communication.”
Her own parents have been living with her family this last year, helping out in the traditional Indian way, whilst Helly sets up the new restaurant with Vishal’s support. When we speak, Helly has just returned from two weeks in Goa researching her newest menu, forming the inspiration behind the dishes shared here with Selector readers. A mountain of books on her bedside table informs her travel, but Helly’s greatest resource, she says, is her connection to community.
“I’m going to a Goan person’s place to have dinner here in Melbourne, that I’ve just met on Instagram,” she laughs. “She texted me to say ‘Don’t fuck it up. Can you please make sure it’s authentic?’ It progressed to ‘Why don’t you come over and I’ll cook for you?’ I said ‘Please! Tell me what you eat!’”
As such, she declares that “Everyone is involved in this success. Even the kids have to sacrifice a lot – even me just not putting them to bed every night and telling them a bedtime story because I’m in the restaurant.
“It’s not traditional. I don’t like it. My son asked me why I was going back to Goa and I said, ‘So I can write a book,’ but then he’s like, ‘Can I take that book to school for show and tell?’ And then I think, maybe I am doing something that he will use in the future and say to himself, ‘Go for the things in which you really believe.’”
Helly still has the IKEA glasses she set the table with for her first paying guests in her Box Hill South home with Enter Via Laundry 1.0. “Now I have Zaltos,” she smiles. “But I still have my IKEA ones.” And the depression? Helly reflects, “Well, in a way, I’m thankful to it. My start was small, it was a lot of hard work, but I felt like that was the right thing to do. I just knew I had to start.”