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Before becoming a fampreneur Surinder Hothi-Bellamy was an established entrepreneur. As well as being a parent of three she also ran Post Office, a shop, a health and wellness business and managed a small property portfolio.
Alongside the many third-party products her shop sold Surinder, who’d been schooled in the traditional art of Indian home cooking by her mother, also sold products of her own. Two of her products: Pure Punjabi Garam Masala and Pure Punjabi Tandoori Masala became staple sellers both in her shop and on her website. But with so much to manage Surinder just didn’t have the time to invest in developing and diversifying the brand.
Surinder’s grown-up children were carving careers of their own; Samir as a Cost Consultant, Arun, the youngest, was studying for GCSEs while middle child Safia was in the early stages of a promising career in events having graduated from The University of Southampton in 2010.
In her bid to climb the career ladder Safia was in the midst of moving companies, but the firm job offer she received came with a demanding condition; that she would have to relocate at her own expense in order to secure the job. Feeling this was too much to commit to Safia declined the position and resigned herself to beginning a new search for work.
But her mum had another, and ultimately better, idea. Keen to take advantage of her daughter’s unintended career break Surinder presented Safia with a challenge; to take the Pure Punjabi spices off the shelf to build the brand and create a stand-alone business.
With a £5,000 initial investment, the support of her mum and two brothers, and a 12-month timeframe Safia rose to the challenge in May 2013.
“I was already a passionate Pure Punjabi user having been taught from an early age by my mum how to cook North Indian food. I was confident that my knowledge and passion could take these spices from the shelf to establish a strong brand with many permutations and felt my training and experience in the events industry qualified me to bring the brand to life.” Safia says.
Safia with her mum and brothers began by organising pop-up restaurants in their local area Salisbury. Rather than just delivering flavoursome food the pop-ups offered atmosphere too with classically-trained Indian dancers and music to give the diners a real sense of tradition and occasion. They were an instant hit, always fully booked with a waiting list.
Safia and Surinder also organised the first Pure Punjabi cookery school workshop in July 2013 and started getting private dining bookings.
In these early stages, Arun and Samir earned their nickname ‘the back-up boys’ as they helped their mum and sister with every aspect of the pop-up restaurants from set up, to service, through to clearing up and dismantling everything.
The pop-up restaurants and cookery school were so successful that Safia was in the top three finalists of The Enterprising Wiltshire Award’s ‘Young Entrepreneur’ category and within a year the Tandoori Masala spice blend had secured a gold star in the Great Taste Awards.
“It was incredibly exciting and a real departure for me to bring events into my many other business disciplines. Thanks to Safia’s experience the project management was excellent and the promotional side of things really fantastic. The appetite for our food in these contexts simply didn’t seem to wain and we built on the momentum with more events, higher level marketing and more awards securing the first prize in the Food Hall at the prestigious New Forest Show.” Surinder told us.
Their recent success resulted in a half-page interview in The Telegraph in May 2015. The article’s image was also used to represent food and drink on the Telegraph’s homepage online. Surinder said “this was a real turning point for us as it positively impacted our credibility and sent huge hits to our website.”
Two years in Safia and Surinder were well established and able to release ‘the back-up boys’ from their duties as they had funds to comfortably pay event staff. In addition, the cookery school had now become the major focus of the business, due to strong demand and the positive feedback from each workshop, so the frequency of workshops started to grow.
“We wanted to share the experience of teaching traditional cooking that I’d had with my own mother and passed on to Safia to a wider audience,” Surinder explains.
The success of the pop-ups and the cookery school was partly due to the adaptability of the Punjabi diet to suit the needs of the vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and weight loss diet. During the launch phase, the pop-up restaurants continued to thrive, catering for intimate private dining events and even larger occasions like weddings.
Pure Punjabi’s online sales of small group cookery courses peaked at Christmas last year and they have only just finished teaching the many courses bought as gifts.
The ladies soon realised they were at capacity because the skills that they were sharing were unique to them, so they needed to develop a scalable business model, all the while preserving the family culinary traditions and teachings. So, earlier this year they began the process of taking their cookery school online. Filming finished in October and this month the editing begins.
“It’s a really exciting new phase of the business,” Safia explains “and we’re confident that come Christmas we’ll have plenty of online students as we’re launching it with the Small Business Saturday campaign in mind, nationwide.”
This year Pure Punjabi was chosen to be the first Small Business Saturday 100 business to be featured, kicking off the campaign in August.
Inspired by the current trend and concept of Treasure Trails and orienteering, Pure Punjabi has developed the ‘Punjabi Go!’ campaign. It launches on Small Business Saturday (3rd Dec) and rewards customers who spend £5 or more at participating small businesses with the opportunity to win one of 100 places on Pure Punjabi’s first online cookery course and up to 50% off a further 1000 courses.
Surinder explains, “It’s our way of promoting what we do whilst supporting those many small food businesses out there. Speaking as an independent retailer I know how hard it is to compete with the big chains and persuade people to shop with you. This is exactly the kind of initiative that’s needed as it will generate sales and build a customer database for every small business involved. And we’re also using it as an opportunity to give to small to medium sized local charities too.”
And judging by Pure Punjabi’s success rate so far, Surinder and Safia can expect to have a lot on their plate!