Pure Punjabi how and why we started our business
It all started in 2010, with my search for artisan spice producers for our small speciality and fine food shop. I was looking for a producer of non-westernised non-generic premium blends of spices, made the way Indian mothers make it at home. What I found were plenty of non-heritage brands and products inspired from travels to India, created from recipes online or modern day fusion versions. It wasn’t what I was looking for…
Unable to find anyone that produced in the authentic old-school manner, appropriate to their own region and cultural heritage, and not generic ‘Indian’, I chose not to stock anyone, rather than have something I wouldn’t give to my own family.
Then the penny dropped… I had the solution to my own problem…
Having been taught from a young age how to make our original traditional family garam masala from our region of Punjab, North India, and also how to cook all our Punjabi dishes in the traditional way, (a typical training for marriage in that generation), I contacted Environmental Health, and created our first product.
A product which was pure to Punjab… Pure Punjabi Garam Masala….and the business was born…
This was followed by our second product – Pure Punjabi Tandoori Masala, with a modification of using powdered garlic and ginger because I just didn’t have the time for the lab testing required for making it with fresh ingredients.
At that time I was a private personal trainer & life coach, as well as owning and running the shop & post office, looking after my rental property and a single parent supporting 2 children finishing university and one at school. The two jars were sold in the shop at at a few local markets and I built a little website for it, and it remained like this for the next three years as I focused on my private training clients, running the shop and looking after my growing family.
In 2013, things changed and I was joined by my daughter Safia….the Tandoori Masala was soon returned to the original product with the arrival of Safia who returned it to the fresh ingredients (and arranged lab testing). The business grew…
Our first two products - hand-made the traditional way and on sale in our shop as they were (above), in 2010, and as they are now...
Our first years as a mother-daughter team
From being in a bad place, to being in a good one – why Safia joined me to grow Pure Punjabi?
Having graduated a year early from The University of Southampton with a degree in French and Management Sciences, Safia went to work in London for an events company working on international conferences in the field of Investment Management and H.R.
Let’s just say the daily commute and the harsh non-pc work culture at this firm and her time there was not good, and just under a year later she accepted a job with another events company. In between leaving the London job, and before starting the other position, she had a letter from the new employer with terms and conditions which were not acceptable, including a surprise conditon of relocating and leaving home!!
“what are you going to do?” I asked, as she announced she was not accepting the job under these terms. “No child of mine can be unemployed” 🙂
Then a thought occured to me…Safia had always loved cooking, and following the early death of my mother and my sadly belated appreciation of what she had given me in culinary and household skills, I had made sure that I taught my children to cook, as she had taught me.
“Why not take these two products and grow the business. I don’t have time, but I’ll fund it and let’s see what happens over the next year? If it doesn’t work out you can go and get another job!
At the end of that Year Safia was a top 3 finalist in the ‘Young Entrepreneur’ category, of the Enterprising Wiltshire Awards. She had entered our original Tandoori Masala into the Great Taste Awards and won us a Gold star award and together we had put on our first hugely succesful hot food stall and launched a series of sold-out pop-up restaurants.
Testimony to the saying… ‘together we are stronger than we are alone!”
Overjoyed at the double graduation of Safia and her brother!
The inspiration, the teacher, the heart & soul. The greatness sadness is that she never lived to see the results of the persistent, kind and patient teaching she gave to a semi-reluctant and begrudging pupil in the young Surinder 🙂 Appreciating what someone gave you is a hard lesson to learn after they have gone.
Looking tired from the long hours, but very very happy to see Safia recognised after a difficult time!
The force behind what we do and why we do it - the future and benefit of the family
Probably the hardest job, but there isn’t a finer achievement than producing three good human beings.
There is no doubt that this business would not have made it past the first couple of years without these two – aptly named the ‘back-up boys’.
Every small business, and especially every family business needs a reason to keep going – we have three.
Our first Pure Punjabi food event - 2013
Each year the village where we lived had a huge annual event called Cuckoo Fair. While we had the shop we had always taken a stall to sell the local produce that we stocked.
Things changed once Safia joined, and we decided that this would be the first year where we would cook our own food and that our stall would be a Pure Punjabi stall, and not the shop stall! That year was the first year we broke a 4 figure turnover with queues non-stop all day for our hot food.
The main reason we could fund the set up, and running costs were due to the help and support of our two backup boys, and two local friends, who pitched up like troopers mannning the barbecue and food prep station throughout a long hot day. (There had been a serious disaster the night before, with a no-show from the person who was supposed to be bringing the barbecue and helping with the cooking! With no barbecue and a very last minute panic purchase at B&Q, collected and set up by Alistair, with Suzanne wo-manning late night prep of food alongside us until very late that night!).
We went on to book the Cuckoo Fair every single year, always producing our best ever turnover and requiring the most amount of helpers, which eventually turned into as many of our freelance event staff as we could get for the day.
Our first pop-up restaurant - 2013
Following the success of the first hot food event, we all met up for a happy post-event gathering and to offer a relaxation spa day gift to the hard-working couple.
Enthused by the success of the event we were keen to start planning the next one-off event…but what to do?
Alistair told us about some people he knew who had started running pop-ups in the North of Wiltshire, offering a bespoke evening of hand-prepared food for a one-off special evening. This was a great idea and he got in touch with the people who very kindly offered to come down and see us to give us some advice on running a pop-up…and so we lauched our first sell-out event in June 2013.
It was a great night and a steep learning curve…but after the guests had all left, we ended finishing clearing up and vacating the hall where the pop up was held at something like 3a.m. Again the boys were there, with the help of Suzanne and Alistair who stuck it out with us to the end, and we worked through the night. We were all exhausted and on our knees. It was so bad we almost called it quits, but we didn’t…
The following years - a bit of work
We went on quite a journey over the next few years from 2014 to the present day.
A long road of shows, events , markets, weddings, private catering and corporate events up and down the country, with a mix of local, regional and national.
Early starts, long days, miles on the road, lots of laughs, a few tears, cold, tired and fed up, happy, excited and meeting new people, but we always kept going…
Here’s a pictorial timeline of those years, up to lockdown -which is a whole story in itself! Who knew that all the customers we met over the preceeding years would stick with us through these long Covid months…
How it looks on the outside
In 2015, we were interviewed by the Telegraph, who were interested in the story of Safia returning home and working with her mother 🙂
2016 and selected as one of the SmallBiz100 businesses to represent U.K. small business. Read about the work of Small Business Saturday campaign HERE.
2016 – Safia’s pleased as punch to get a double gold Great Taste Award for our Tandoori Masala – this time on salmon – following the first gold star in 2013.
Safia was appointed as an international Gourmet Guru by the Love Pulses/United Nations initiative declaring 2017 “The Year of the pulse”. You can get her delicious pumpkin & Chickpea cheesecake on the pulses.org website.
On our way to the national FreeFrom Food Awards in London, where our Masoor di dhal won the Bronze Award in the “no top 14 allergens’ category, (up against Tesco who won the Gold for their freefrom cardboard garlic bread 🙂
2017 – This was a real highlight on our pure culinary punjabi journey. “The Indian Experience’ delivers exactly the same formaative cookery teachings we both had from a young age.
This Morning Live TV Show filmed live at the NEC Birmingham, where we launched our first range of Indian Meal Kit Boxes!
2018 – Launching our Athlete’s Box at the huge BodyPower show at the NEC Birmingham.
Cookery school reviews over 2019 gave us a certificate from TripAdvisor
2019 and a Great Taste Award for our Tikka Paste
In 2019 we were contacted by a Los Angeles marketing company to head up the culinary experience on a 10 city European roadshow.
Theo Paphitis rus a competition every Sunday online on Twitter, where he picks his favourite small businesses to join his SBS club. Then once a year he has an annual event to invite that year’s winners.
This is where we spoke with NatWest and that night successfully applied for their Entrepreneur Accelerator programme. The workd then went into lockdown, and the accelerator programme was delivered digitally.
From going through as one of 6 finalists for the south West Family Business of the year, to winning the regional finals in 2020.
Surinder of Pure Punjabi has been named as one of the UK’s most inspirational and dynamic female entrepreneurs by the f:Entrepreneur ‘#ialso100’ campaign for 2022.
March 2020 -April 2021
Missing our customers, seeing the sadness and loneliness caused by the social isolation of lockdown, over the course of 13 months over 2021/21, we delivered 34 free cook-alongs to stay in touch with our loyal customers and to bring us all the joy of cooking in a socially interactive way!
The Lockdown years
The lockdown years have been a particularly difficult and involved story, as it has been for all of us!
Two years of empty seats for the hospitality and events sector.
Our story has been a long road…
difficulties, 24/7 working days, frustrations, disagreements & agreements, scraping for revenue, a very few sadly jealous people, a teeny sprinkle of racism, pivoting, producing, picking, packing, posting, zoom, laptops and above all determination to make it and our family!
Let’s see where we go from here…but we’re ready for a very new chapter in 2022…
Keep in a warm place, feed and water, watch out for any toxins or harmful pests, check regularly, nurture and talk to them, check for nits, stay in close proximity and check regularly. Use high quality products and only the best foodstuffs. Plenty of sunlight and fresh air. Watch them through the leggy stage and apply pruning as necessary. A particular risk is rogue shoots growing willy-nilly in random directions, so you will need to apply some boundaries and shaping to ensure growth in the right direction. Stroke and soothe them regularly and occasional crooning and soft singing has a good effect. Keep a close eye on reaching maturity as infestation of pests is still a risk, but they should be flowering nicely now.
We’ve got big plans…
Join us for the future as we are shaping up our very ambitious plans to move forward into a very different space and place.
This involves the search for a new dedicated location offering peace, tranquility, artisan production, cookery & cultural experiences, weekend get-aways and short stay breaks. In short, a holistic centre for all things to do with food, wellness, culture, where our customers and fellow producers and chefs can join us.
Sign up to say in touch as we make progress with the plans. The first stage will be acquiring the land and rasing funds for in-house production!