Q&A: Doctor dishes on her new company

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi
pediatrician, Ahimsa founder (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi, a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children and mother of three, never stops thinking about children’s safety.

That constant concern led the 38-year-old Terre Haute native and Indiana University graduate to launch a dishware company last year.

Ahimsa makes a line of stainless steel children’s dishes that have been hyped by chef and television star Rachael Ray and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. The colorful design has set the Ahimsa dishes—which sell for $48 to $65 for a five-piece set—apart from typical stainless steel products.

During the pandemic, Ahimsa’s sales have doubled month-over-month.

What’s the origin of Ahimsa?

It started out as a text message chain with my fellow pediatrician moms. American Academy of Pediatrics highlighted the harmful effects of plastic. Everybody was thinking, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do with all this plastic?” I had always used stainless steel because it is the material of choice in India. My mom was always fearful of chemicals leaching in from plastic and, lo and behold, the AAP agreed. I started looking into it and noticed there weren’t many companies offering stainless steel dishware for children.

Why stainless steel?

Because the American Academy of Pediatrics had specifically advised parents to avoid plastic. Glass is great, but children love to test the laws of gravity and glass shatters. Stainless steel is safe and durable. It’s nonporous, so it’s better for anti-bacterial growth.

Tell me more about the color pattern.

The color is not an additional layer of paint. It’s made by changing the internal properties of the metal itself. So it’s completely safe.

What’s the origin of the firm’s name?

Ahimsa is Sanskrit and means avoiding harm. Gandhi made it famous when he spoke of moving away from violence. We use it in the broader meaning of avoiding harm. There is also a connection with the Hippocratic oath that physicians take … where it says, “do no harm.”

How did you find a manufacturer?

I honestly just started cold calling until somebody agreed to take a leap of faith with me. So I ended up finding a manufacturer in Delhi. I wasn’t going to just do this over the internet or phone, so I went to India to visit the manufacturer before we got started.

How is the product sold?

It was 100% e-commerce, direct-to-consumer. Now we’re venturing out to sell our product at retail outlets.

What’s your long-term vision?

I want to completely change the American dining table. My long-term vision is to continue to grow a children’s dishware line, but to expand to teens and adults and dishes children can take to school. Our bigger mission is a public health mission by encouraging healthy eating and portion control.

Will you continue your work as a physician?

I enjoy my job as a pediatrician. And continuing to practice—and helping sick children—keeps me so well grounded and gives me perspective on the bigger picture. I think I will always want that.•

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