Today we’d like to introduce you to Rimi Chakraborty.
Rimi, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
A few years back my then fiancé João suggested we check out his hometown in the Azores as a possible wedding destination. After a week in São Miguel with him hiking, eating, and getting to see the magical volcanic island through the eyes of a local (João grew up there), I was hooked. I had traveled to over 40 countries, but the Azores easily earned “my favorite destination”.
At the time I had an amazing job in terms of title, salary and all the things most people want. Hey, I even went to MIT Sloan. I honestly could have done anything as my whole life I’d been a go-getter, Type A, gave 150%, always. But the results of more money, more seniority, somehow weren’t a reflection of my greater purpose. I got to thinking about my greater purpose, what was it anyway?
I re-read my business school essays (the last time I did this kind of thinking), re-read my journals (when I wrote in them regularly), re-read my New Year’s Resolutions over the past 10 years or so (I highly recommend writing them, and remembering where you wrote them!). I did a lot of yoga.
I realized that for me, my work needed to intersect with my passion. And my passion was helping people connect to their wiser selves. In sharing this with João late night before trying to fall asleep he talked about wanting to cook creative Azorean cuisine and lead hikes. To move back to the Azores.
Well we obviously got married there, and in those trips planning the details we started looking for a property. My Aunt Minu had passed away and left me with a small inheritance. That turned into the exact amount we needed to buy an abandoned quinta (Azorean farmhouse) that became minuvida. “minuvida” is named after her, and vida is Portuguese for “life”. The name minuvida is about following your dreams and living to the fullest.
We put the plan into motion and moved here in 2015. Before that we told all our friends and family and even hosted “Food Labs” in our kitchen to try out recipes. That first year we invited friends to be our “Beta Testers” and learned A LOT. I started teaching yoga regularly. We led hikes, cooking classes and guided meditation outdoors. We started a brand. The following year we did some major renovations (which took twice as long and cost twice as much) transforming the farmhouse into what we call an Orchard Lodge and reopened in February of 2017.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One of the main reasons we chose to do what we did was there was significant government funds available to encourage sustainable tourism. Everyone including our business consultants assured us we would be getting a significant investment and although we planned for worst case of not getting any funding we never treated it like a real possibility.
Doing business in another country and for me, in another language, obviously things don’t go as I had hoped. Culturally people here tell you what you want to hear and promise the world. Long story short not a single penny of funding came through. It turned out that the year we applied, that fund went through some major changes and didn’t receive funding that year. When we tried to go to banks to get a loan, every single one of them wanted three years of operating history. They didn’t understand that we were just starting. No one cared that I went to MIT.
At this point we were a few months into construction, rushing to meet growing demand. We were literally turning away guests daily, as we couldn’t accept them or be sure of an open date. Meanwhile we were paying monthly construction bills in the order of 50,000 euros. In just four months my entire life savings was wiped clean. We ended up selling our condo in Somerville (previously we thought we would rent it), and convinced family to loan us some funds (which we are paying back!). We camped a few times while renting out our apartment to make ends meet. It was a rough time.
Looking back, there is a silver lining. Without a business to run I had time to make friends, learn Portuguese, live here. You can’t just be an entrepreneur. You need to be a complete person, with a strong foundation. And these months of struggle enabled me to build my own foundation by developing deeper friendships and connections and getting to hike, swim in hot springs and enjoy this magical place.
Please tell us about Minuvida Azores.
Early 2017 we officially opened what we can call an experience travel lodge. It’s a place where you can find not only thoughtful accommodation in a restored Azorean farmhouse set in an acre of fruit orchards, but also an array of experiences you can sign up for during your stay that enable you to foster a deeper connection with this place, and with yourself. Experiences such as guided hikes + hot springs visit, yoga and meditation and food experiences – all led by us. So, it’s very personal. We believe there’s no better way to travel than to see things through the eyes of a local. It’s a kind of immersive travel.
This kind of experiential travel is a first in the Azores. We are really trying to convince people to be travelers, meaning that we are asking people to embark on a journey of discovery, to discover the Azores and to even discover themselves. This is a step beyond the traditional concept of vacations as simply leisure time. We are inviting people to indeed dig a little deeper.
With that, we have become perhaps the first place on the island to organize international yoga retreats on a regular basis. We created a yoga studio in our orchard with the goal of putting the Azores on the yoga map and I think we achieved that. I also teach yoga regularly, which has been awesome. I now have a regular group of local students, as well as expats.
So, we are trying to get people to discover and feel the Azores by stepping into nature, learning how to cook the local food and even to learn more about themselves in the process through mindfulness and yoga.
- Per night stay for two on the minuvida experience (5 nights + inclusive of host-led experiences): 120 per night (April – May, Oct. – Nov)
- Website: www.minuvida.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/minuvida_azores/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/minuvidablog/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/minuvida
- Other: https://www.tripadvisor.pt/Hotel_Review-g1947933-d8519421-Reviews-Quinta_Minuvida_Orchard_Lodge-Rabo_de_Peixe_Sao_Miguel_Azores.html