In this interview on The Logros Show – in association with The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce – Lee Dinsdale talks to entrepreneur Sushma Solanki of Sushma Snacks – who catering business create stunning canapes fusing eastern and western cuisine.
Interview with Sushma Solanki of Sushma Snacks – The Real Sound of the City.
Lee: Good afternoon everybody. My name is Lee and this is Unity Radio – The Real Sound of the City and we are broadcasting live from The Landing here in Media City UK on 92.8 FM DAB and on line at Unity Radio.fm. In the studio we have Sushma Solanki. Good afternoon Sushma can you tell us about your business?
Sushma: I run a catering business and I do all different canapes made out of fresh produce locally found. It’s to do with Indian street food that is made into canapes with a mixture of Eastern and Western combination. Most of the food is healthy and I am very imaginative and one of the canapés is an edible spoon!
Lee: Well just to put everyone in the picture we are going to be talking about how Sushma set up the business. She has a very interesting story of being in business for a long period of time and then breaking free and setting up on her own. You also have some recipes for us, what are they?
Sushma: I did a poll last night of fat free chicken curry with not a single drop of oil. A chickpea curry and Indian Street food and a chicken pizza on a base of chicken. The polls that were running came out with chicken curry and chickpea curry being the highest.
Setting Up A Catering Business
Lee: Can you tell us a little bit about the company, why you set it up and where you are from?
Sushma: My name is Sushma Solanki and I was born in Kenya. I have lived in the UK for twenty-six years; I am married and have two daughters. The reason why I set up my company was a passion that I had which I didn’t realise I had until I left my corporate job three and a half years ago. I used to work in corporate travel working in the marine industry and doing business travel for companies. Three and a half years ago things changed in the company where a new boss came and took over the company, something I wasn’t very happy with. He wasn’t happy with the way I was – I’m quite strong minded. I was manging a company with fourteen staff, twenty four hours service and when I argued back and said what I thought of what he was doing wrong he wasn’t happy, so he made my life hell. I started becoming ill and wasn’t happy and I thought what can I do? I was still unsure of whether I wanted to leave the job because you need to pay bills and your mortgage but I got to a stage in August 2016 where I had had enough. I was on the tram to Manchester one morning and thought what am I doing, I hate the guy. I can’t even face him; I don’t even like his name! I was in the office at half past six in the morning and I typed out my resignation. I gave him my resignation and said I’m leaving.
Lee: Did you have a business to go to?
Sushma: No I had nothing to go to.
Lee: That’s very brave because you can get conflicting views when you do something like that.
Sushma: Well I hadn’t told anyone, I hadn’t told my husband although he knew I was unhappy. I just thought, I can’t do this anymore, it’s affecting my health. So I gave my resignation, the boss said what’s that? I said it’s addressed to you have a look at it. I didn’t give four weeks’ notice; I just walked out, got on the tram and thought what the hell have I done?
Lee: So how did you get into the catering business?
Sushma: It took a while, I was going to be a lady of leisure and then realised there was nobody to go for coffees and lunches with because all my friends were at work. I thought I need to do something now and I love cooking so I decided to start a business doing cookery lessons, that’s all I was going to do. I had no idea how to start and where was I going to do it or where I was going to get the money from.
Lee: So what did you do? There may be a lot of people listening who want to start their own business but the fear of change or the familiarity stops them leaving. So the question is what was your first step? Where did you get the money from?
Sushma: Well I had savings but I didn’t want to dip into them just in case it didn’t work out, but I thought what can I do – I’m only going to lose five hundred pounds of my savings. It’s not enough to start a business, but I thought I’m going to try. I did my food hygiene course and thought I’ll do it from home. I rang the council to find out if I could work from home and they came and checked everything over. I got my insurance and on the eighteenth of September 2016, I thought right that’s my first cookery lesson. I set up my Facebook page and posted it and for the first few hours no one took me on. I’m a very impatient person and I got a bit disheartened but by about six thirty in the evening I had about thirty to forty people who were interested.
Lee: You’ve actually told a load of nuggets there as in resilience, you put your Facebook page up, you were impatient but you kept going. Now we’ve got some recipes haven’t we?
Sushma: Yes everyone thinks that Indian food is unhealthy and full of oil. I am going to give you a recipe for a chicken curry to make in fifteen minutes without a drop of oil. You need two pieces of boneless chicken breast or chicken thigh meat. One medium onion chopped finely, a can of chopped tomatoes, one inch of ginger, grated, and two bulbs of garlic, grated. Chilli’s to your taste , I have two green chillies in mine with seeds, half a teaspoon of red chilli powder , one teaspoon of turmeric, one and half teaspoons of cumin coriander powder and salt to your taste. Chop your chicken into little cubes, put all your ingredients in a pan, and mix them all up. Put your pan on the cooker for five minutes at high heat with the lid on. Cook for ten to twelve minutes on a low heat. Two minutes after that it’s going to be ready, just stir it and add fresh coriander.
Lee: I think I might be doing that later on. Okay so going back to your story you set up your first Facebook page and got your first customer, how has the business evolved?
Running A Catering Business
Sushma: Three years down the line I never thought I would be where I am today. My business changed from doing cookery lessons, which is the only thing I was going to do and I was going to work three days a week. Now I work seven days a week and I love what I do. My business changed when a friend of mine decided to have a McMillan coffee morning, which was a cocktail night and she wanted to take it into the early hours of the morning. So she wanted breakfast and she asked if I could do some canapes. Well I did canapes but the problem was doing canapes for breakfast. I still made mini pancakes with fruit and croissants with ham and cheese and then I decided to do English breakfast canapes. So I sat down and thought about it, it was a bit of a challenge but I took it on. I had a piece of toast the size of a ten pence, sausage, bacon, red or brown sauce and a mini quail’s egg. There were eighteen women at this event and they looked at the English breakfast canapes and that completely changed my business model.
Lee: In terms of bookings?
Sushma: Yes I got lots of bookings through that. I wasn’t going to do catering, I wanted people to learn how to cook from scratch but the business model changed completely.
Lee: So that’s the innovation of coming up with something. There are some key themes there. We’ve got passion, innovation and then you being flexible. So now you do catering across which area?
Sushma: All of the North West. The furthest I’ve gone is down south going up to Abersoch in Wales and also Liverpool. I’ll travel anywhere.
Lee: Tell us your socials? Where can we see the picture of the English breakfast canapes?
Sushama: I can post it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook page as well.
Lee: Do you still run your cookery courses?
Sushma: Yes I run them from home, minimum two people maximum four. You have a choice of making one starter, two main courses and one is vegetarian and one non- vegetarian. You learn to make rice from scratch, a lot of people struggle with cooking rice. You also learn to make chapatis from scratch. It’s a meal for two.
Lee: You were telling me before because of the growth of the business, you may have some employment opportunities. For people interested in catering or they may already have the skills, who are you looking for?
Sushma: I’m looking for somebody that I can actually brainwash! I want them to work with the way that I work because the food I provide is something that is very close to my heart. It’s my name on the door so it has got to be perfectly done. The quality has got to be there, it’s not about quantity, it is about quality. I am looking for someone that I can train up and work with me. I am happy to teach someone from scratch.
Lee: So they don’t necessarily have had to be in catering before?
Sushma: No but they are willing and that they want to learn something different.
Lee: Okay any other key skills?
Sushma: Just being a nice person. What I don’t like is if I go to a restaurant or a shop and ask, have you got another one of these, and they just tell me what’s there is there. Nobody wants to go out of their way to help and I don’t want somebody like that working for me. I want somebody that would go out of their way.
Lee: So someone who goes above and beyond? So if anyone is listening how would they contact you?
Sushma: My email address is email@example.com. You can also get in touch at Sushma’snacks on Facebook.
Lee: Tell us more about the cookery lessons.
Sushma: I want people to cook from scratch, especially kids and that was my original passion that I had and I still have that. I do go into schools and teach kids and hopefully something else is in the pipeline which might come about soon. I can’t say much about it at the moment. I also run cookery lessons for companies where we do team building. Instead of going kayaking or rafting we run cookery lessons! So you call me in, I bring my equipment and I come to your office and we run a cookery session.
Lee: What impact are you aiming to achieve on the team building, how does it work?
Sushma: In the past is I’ve gone into a company and the manager may decide there are two people who are very different from each other and he picks the teams. I tell them what to do but I don’t do any cooking. We’ll have one person chopping the onions the other person doing the other bits. If there are three teams they work on their own and I do the tasting of the curries. I decide what’s missing, what’s not missing, what they have done wrong. Whatever they make they eat between them. The whole team sits together and it’s just fun.
Lee: So potentially if you have a couple of people who may not be getting on well then they have to work together in this creative experience to produce this product. They then eat together and share. In terms of the cooking it’s also very mindful as well isn’t it?
Sushma: Yes and I know some people find cooking quite difficult. Some people say they can’t cook and some say they won’t cook. I have people who come to me and they have changed. I had a lady who came that never eats curries. She will go to an Indian restaurant only if they have chips and egg! I’ve changed her way of thinking. She thought all curries are spicy but curries don’t always have to have chillies.
Lee: Yes people do get stuck in a perception of food. It’s the time as well; people that are time poor will eat unhealthy food because they think cooking healthy is a longer experience.
Lee: Okay now you have another recipe for us.
Sushma: Yes a vegetarian one and its chickpea curry. You need a can of chickpeas, a can of tinned tomatoes, one teaspoon of coriander cumin, half a teaspoon of chilli powder and you can go higher if you like it more spicy. One teaspoon turmeric, half an inch of grated ginger, one bulb of garlic, one green chilli, cumin seeds and a tablespoon of oil. Heat up the oil, throw in your cumin seeds add your tin of tomatoes, chickpeas and all your dry spices. Bring it to the boil then add a half a cup of water and let it simmer for about ten minutes and your curry will be ready. You can have that with rice, couscous, chapatis, naan bread or whatever you fancy.
Lee: You have won some awards haven’t you? Can you tell us about that?
Sushma: I’ve won a few awards, been nominated for a few and been finalist in a few. The first one I got was Inspirational Woman in February 2017. I was nominated in three categories for entrepreneur and start-up woman in hospitality Inter-Faith award. , I won the SBS award which is Theo Paphitis small business Sunday award. I also won Queen of Canapes award. I was nominated for influential business woman most successful food service in the north west of England.
Lee: Okay now we always finish off the show with the question about achieving excellence. With all those awards that you have won what would you say is your way of achieving excellence whether it’s in business, personal and why?
Sushma: Achieving excellence in my mind is relationship building and connections with my clients. I want new clients but I want to keep my old clients. I do a lot of network building. I’m known as the networking queen because I go to every event going. It’s all about knowing people and I am a people person.
Lee: Well thank you very much for coming in today and good luck with the business. You can certainly come back again with more delights. Finally if you just want to finish off where can people find you?
Sushma: Instagram – Sushma snacks, Facebook page – Sushma snacks, firstname.lastname@example.org. My website sushma snacks and I am on google as well.
Article Transcription by Terry Capostagno
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