By Patricia Lombard - The Larchmont Buzz
I first met Robin Gupta at a celebration for The Center in Hollywood, a non-profit working to end isolation and homelessness . Gupta donated his signature zero-waste food containers for serving all the food. We are both there supporting the work of Hang Out Do Good (H.O.D.G.) a local grassroots action group that started making sandwiches for unhoused neighbors during the pandemic. Gupta’s son Manan organized his Boy Scout troop, and soon they were delivering 150-200 sandwiches every week from Brookside residents to the Hollywood Food Coalition.
Gupta immigrated to the U. S. from India in 2003 after traveling here for years while he was working in finance. He and his wife Puneet initially settled in Park La Brea, like so many new residents to LA, then later moved to Brookside, where they and their two sons have been for more than ten years.
In 2018, Gupta decided to make a change in his professional life. He told the Buzz he wanted to work with something real and tangible that could make a difference in the world. He was also searching for a way to live a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle with a lighter footprint on the earth like the way he’d grown up in India.
“Zero waste was the way we lived,” said Gupta. “That was life before plastic and throw-away culture. The idea behind the company is to revisit that time and not have people in a panic about climate change and resources.”
In doing research, Gupta learned about the ill effects of plastics on our bodies and the environment, which got him involved in the anti-plastic movement.
“A lot of things came together and I started looking at how we did things in India that were simple and how we could translate this practice to the American context,” said Gupta. “I decided to explore how we could interact with the environment and focused on trying to find better items for daily needs like cups and plates. I found there is not a single cup on the market that is sustainable. All of them are lined with plastic.”
His company, which he founded with his wife Puneet, is Pondicherry Dry Goods, named for the Indian region of Pondicherry, a small trading town located near the southern tip of country; the company now offers a cup, plate and fork make from palm leaves.
“We found the palm leaf is the perfect solution because it’s versatile, it lasts, so it’s reusable for several times, and it’s native to South Asia where it’s manufactured,” said Gupta. “It’s a completely green solution because we are reusing what is essentially agriculture waste, nothing is harvested.”
The company also doesn’t add any chemicals or glues in the manufacturing process, it simply designs around the limitation of the leaf. Gupta has developed two dozen designs using the palm leaf. And it was just hitting its stride when the pandemic hit…but Gupta is hopeful that they can ramp up after having to scale back during the pandemic shutdowns.
Gupta is currently self-funded. Though it’s challenging, he said he likes the idea that the company is woman-owned, as well the flexibility he and Puneet have to pursue other lines of business like their artisanal teas, which are all sourced from small, local farms in India. They take great pride in finding these small small farmers who practice traditional agriculture. All the tea is hand picked and hand grown.
“Our expertise is knowing how to find the items,” explained Gupta. “We know what is real and which farms are following ancient practices. I love talking to store owners and chefs about our palm leaf plates and our teas.”
Gupta has donated some tea to the Windsor Square Hancock Park Historical Society’s annual Members Tea even this weekend. Some lucky guest will even get to take home a special basket of his teas. You can also find them at the 3rd Street, Silver Lake, and Santa Monica locations of OK the Store, as well as Sqirl Away, Gjusta Grocer in Venice, Ron Herman on Melrose, and Huckleberry in Santa Monica…as well as the Pondicherry Dry Goods website.
“Our philosophy is embodied in these few words – “Maximum good, Minimum footprint” – because we believe that we can have a positive impact with every interaction for all our communities along the journey from farm to you, and beyond,” said Gupta.