“My Mother’s Cooking Held The Secret To My Curry Business”

Sameena Thompson, 54, launched her curry sauce range, The Art of Curry, in December 2014. Her business had humble beginnings, with Sameena working hard at her kitchen table to get it off the ground. But in just under two short years, Sameena’s business has grown, and is now making a staggering £70,000* turnover. Sameena’s curry sauces are also now stocked in farm shops and delis nationally, and her business also supplies customers internationally. Read all about how she turned an idea inspired by her mother’s culinary expertise into the booming business it is today…

Sameena is married and has one daughter, Zahra, aged 16, and they live in Godalming, Surrey.

The idea Growing up, our house was full of the smells of creamy curries and fragrant herbs and spices. My mum Seema was brought up in India, where her mother taught her how to cook. She came to England with my father from Pakistan and settled in Yorkshire, then moved to London. She used to hold dinner parties for the neighbours, and 20 people piled in for a beautiful spread. I was always by mum’s side, eager to learn how to work magic in the kitchen.

 

After leaving home at 24, I pursued a career in journalism and communications, working at Sky News and then in government as a press secretary. I valued my work, but approaching my fifties, I felt a growing dissatisfaction. The turning point was August 2014 when I was made redundant. After initially panicking, I realised I could finally pursue my love of food. I began brainstorming a business based around my mother’s cooking.

What happened next? In December 2014, I started developing six curry sauces based on my mother’s recipes. I started off in my kitchen at home, sourcing ingredients from local shops. I wanted to put the sauces into chilled pouches, so, using my redundancy pay-out, I went to a local brand design company to get the sleeves made. I also hired a web designer and joined the Surrey Farmer’s Market Co-Operative, an organisation for local food suppliers. I went to my first event in March 2015 and luckily, people loved the sauce. I later employed a local PR company, who were brilliant.

Breakthrough moment Showcasing the business at the annual Farm Shop & Deli Show in Birmingham in April 2016 was a real turning point. Representatives from a big supermarket, a bakery chain, and a pub chain all said that they wanted to talk about supplying my sauces in their stores. We’re still in talks but it has been a huge confidence boost.

Where I am now We made a deal with a mail-order company so that we could deliver the sauces nationally and internationally, and we’re now stocked in farm shops and delis around the UK. Two months ago I acquired a premises, an old restaurant on Godalming High Street with a huge kitchen. I also use it to hold a dining club, where I cook dinner for around 30 people for £40 each. I have an assistant working with me three days a week – it’s a huge help as I still run the business alone. I only take a tiny salary, something I’m hoping to work on! Luckily my husband is prepared to pick up our household bills.

Glitches On one manic day when I still worked in my kitchen, I had two sauces on the go – each providing around 30 packs. Misjudging which sauce contained which ingredient, I mistakenly put 15 cans of tomatoes into the korma, which already had tomatoes. I managed to save it by adding more spices, but it could have meant a real loss of trust from my stockists – so it taught me to be more careful.

Tip Be prepared to pay for quality services in the beginning.

Initial set-up costs:

Brand design and packaging: £10,000

Website: £2,000

Trademarks and insurance: £700

Lab testing of food: £2,000

Marketing/trade shows: £9,500

Business in Figures:

Launched: December 2014

Start-up costs: £25,200

*Turnover: £70,000 (correction: please note there is an error in the October 2016 issue of woman&home. The turnover should read as £70,000, NOT £7,000)

Pick up your delicious curry sauces at theartofcurry.co.uk .There is a new range of curry sauces out now, including a Raging Raja and a Queen Bhuna.

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