My family comes from South India but nearly all the Indian food served in Indian restaurants in the UK is North Indian cuisine. I live in the Peak District, where there is an abundance of wonderful local ingredients, so my idea was to introduce new South Indian flavours to the Hope Valley in the Peak District, using local ingredients to create really high quality, delicious, affordable, homemade South Indian curries.
Previous to this, I had worked as an academic in Russian and South Asian Theatre. However, unexpected, huge life changes and a young family meant that I was suddenly unable to work away from home and I was forced to rethink my employment and my future. At this time, I kept getting catering requests for my South Indian curries. I decided to follow the advice of my friends and my instincts and to start the Hilltop Curry House. I took advantage of many local free training courses and worked with my local Derbyshire Dales Business Advisor, who was a great help. After nearly a year of research, I launched The Hilltop Curry House. Serendipitously, my launch coincided with the opening of a new community shop in my village. The shop agreed to stock my curries and I haven’t looked back. With one retailer under my belt, I was able to approach other local retailers and farm shops. My curries are currently stocked in three local retailers and one in Sheffield. In February 2016 I attended the weekend Food Business Start-Up course at the School of Artisan Food. It soon became clear that I needed to sell directly to customers to improve my margins and to make this business work. Through increased local networking, I was able to start selling my curries and cook a hot lunch at the newly relaunched Buxton Market. This has been a wonderful place to learn my trade and prepared me for the bigger monthly Bakewell Farmers Market and more recently bigger catering jobs. I’ve a long way to go and lots of ideas of how to take the business forward, but feel that I’m now firmly on the right track.
So what makes my food unique in the Hope Valley? First of all, my food is generally from South India, so this is a different palette from most Indian cuisine; secondly, my food/ready meals are cooked, not processed – I grind all my own spices and make all my own pastes from scratch, which means that I can guarantee maximum flavour and hygienic standards of the cooking process; finally, all my meat is local and supplied by my local butcher and my fish comes fresh daily from the East coast and delivered to my door.
Another aspect of my curries, which has proved particularly popular is the fact that they are all gluten free and at least half of the menu is vegan.
My advice to all women out there, who are thinking about setting up a business, is to make sure you have a good support network of people whose opinions you can really trust and who can encourage you. Also, just try it! I’ve learned so much in these first 18 months by listening to others, seeking advice, following my instincts and just getting on and trying it and not being afraid to make mistakes. I would recommend other women with business ideas to do the same!