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Food & Drink -> Curry Queens of Britain
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By Lopa Patel (April 2008)

Top six "Curry Queens" in the UKWith the UK ethnic foods market (including rice) worth £1.38bn at retail selling prices in 2006 and "curry kings" taking a major chunk of this sector, is the British curry industry all about men, or have the "curry queens" dared to brave the heat of the mass-manufacturing kitchen? Here I take a look at the top six "curry queens" living in Britain today.

Perween Waris, is perhaps the best known female pioneer of Indian cuisine in the UK with her company S&A Foods. She is followed by food technology graduate and wife of Kirit Pathak of 'Patak's', Meena Pathak. Nighat Awan OBE is the wife and power-house behind the well-known Shere Khan Restaurants and Food brand founded by her husband Rafique Awan. Geeta Samtani, of Geeta's sauces and pickles has chosen to focus on a specific niche within the Indian food market, while sisters Namita and Camellia Panjabi have chosen to redefine the restaurant market with their high-end restaurants like Amaya and Chutney Mary and more approachable Masala Zone eateries.

Ready-meal pioneer, Founder of S&A Foods (T/O £65 Million in 2006)

Perween WarsiBorn in Muzzaffarpur, India in 1956, sheer hard work and grit have made Perween Warsi one of the richest Asian women in Britain. She founded S & A Foods in 1986 when she came over here and saw samosas that were filled with "mangy bits of potato and carrot," she says. The company - named after her two sons Sadiq and Abid - has a turnover of £65m and employs 750 staff in four factories in the north of England. The company produces in excess of two millions ready meals a week.

Just after setting up, Perween sold the business to Hughes Food in 1987 and then three years later had to fight to regain control after Hughes Food went into receivership. In 1991 she regained control and went on to build a new £8 million factory in 1996. After the successful management buyout, Mrs Warsi began diversifying into Thai, Malaysian, Chinese and American food. S&A Foods' clients now include Asda, Safeway, Waitrose and Sainsbury's

Perween married Dr Talib Warsi in 1973 and has two sons sons Sadiq and Abid. She was awarded an MBE in 1997, followed by a CBE in 2002

S & A Foods Limited, 37 Shaftesbury Street South, Derby, DE23 8YH
Tel: 01332 270670, Fax: 01332 270523

Director, Patak's (T/O £66 million in 2006)

Meena PathakBorn in 1956, Meena began life as the protected daughter of a Gujarati Brahmin family in Mumbai. Her mother, Hansa, was a dentist and her father, Naishad, a colonel in the Indian army. Meena Desai was a 20-year-old model from Bombay when she wed Kirit Pathak in an arranged marriage in 1976.

Having earned a qualification in hotel management and catering as a teenager, she became the face of the Pataks company in the 1980s as she penned two best-selling cookbooks and appeared in television adverts. Away from the cameras, she spent her time commuting between the family's home in Bolton, Lancashire, and the southern Indian city of Cochin in search of ingredients.

Patak's was founded by Kirit Pathak's father Laxmishanker Pathak in 1957. He arrived in Britain from Kenya with £5 and a life insurance policy and started selling samosas from his London kitchen. Today Patak's makes Indian foods, including curry pastes, pickles and pappadums. Employing 700 people, it produces 30million jars of sauces, 1.5 million ready meals, 1 million snacks and 2,700 tonnes of spice each year. Patak's also supplies three quarters of Britain's Indian restaurants. Much of the success of Patak's is attributed to Kirit Pathak's wife, Meena who turned it into the brand leader for Indian foods in the world with sales in over 45 countries.

Kirit Pathak and his wife Meena, took over the business and continued to run it, generating £66 million in 2006 until its sale to Associated British Foods (ABF) in 2007. ABF have retained their services: Kirit will be chairman of AB Foods' new world foods division and Meena Pathak will be a director. She approves every Patak's recipe and helps develop 20 new recipes every year.

Kirit and Meena Pathak have been hailed as "Britain's most successful Asian couple", both have OBEs and their pictures were hung in Britain's National Portrait Gallery. But their success has not been without controversy. ABF is estimated to have paid £120 million for the Patak's business, although the exact sum paid was kept "under wraps" following a bitter feud between Kirit and his sisters over the ownership of the 40-year old company. The sisters alleged they were cheated out of shares left to them by their father. The matter was eventually resolved with an out-of-court settlement of an estimated £8 million in October 2004.

Patak's Foods Ltd, Kiribati Way, Leigh, Lancashire, WN7 5RS
Tel: 01942 267 000, Fax: 01942 267 070,

Entrepreneur, Shere Khan Group (T/O between £7.3 - £30 million in 2006)

Nighat AwanBorn in 1955 in Manchester to a Pakistani family, Nighat Awan now lives in Hale, Cheshire. She married in 1975 and had two sons and a daughter, Kiran who launched a property management Company, installing her mother as one of the Directors.

Nighat entered the business world at the age of 18, printing Bay City Roller t-shirts in her father's factory. By the age of 20 she had opened a chain of fashion boutiques in the North West. With her husband Rafiq Awan she opened the first Shere Khan restaurant in Rusholme in 1987.

Together they have positioned the Shere Khan Group as a global brand in the restaurant and food manufacturing industry. Nighat joined the Board in 1997. The Shere Khan Indian restaurant chain employs more than 250 staff in six restaurants and three fast-food expresses across the North West. It is best known as one of the founders of Rusholme's curry mile 14 years ago. The Shere Khan group has a turnover of ranging from £7.3 m in 2006(* as quoted on the BITC website) to £30m are widely quoted in the Manchester Evening News. The company also produces a range of curry sauces and products for the UK retail and export markets.

Nighat overcame near-fatal throat cancer and a serious motor neurone infection which left her paralysed in 2003. She was awarded an OBE in 2004. In 2006, she was appointed chair of the Government's Ethnic Minority Business Forum North-West, an advisory body set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to help 'develop sustainable black and minority ethnic business'.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate from The Business School at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall in July 2007. Nighat Awan works with a variety of organizations, including The Prince's Trust, Business in the Community, Bolton Business Ventures and Cancer BACUP.

Recent years have proved to a trial for Nighat. In 2006, two Shere Khan restaurants were fined for insect infestations: in December their Rusholme restaurant was fined £40,000 after a diner found a live cockroach nestling in the poppadoms. And last May the company was fined £30,000 for breaches of food safety laws at its Trafford Centre branch. Then in early 2007, immigration officers raided the entrepreneur's home and restaurants, embroiling her in an illegal immigrant employment racket. A total of 70 men were arrested in the raids, although Nighat Awan was not arrested nor accused of any wrongdoing.

Shere Khan Franchise Ltd, 2 Hollins House, 329 Hale Road, Hale Barns, Cheshire WA15 8TS.
Tel: 0161 903 9200

Restaurateur, Co-founder of Masala Zone (T/O £15 million in 2006)

Namita PanjabiBorn in India, the progeny of a middle-class Bombay family, Namita Panjabi studied economics at Cambridge University like her sister Camellia. On graduating Namita was hired as a merchant banker by Grindlays Bank, and then by Midland Bank, and was dispatched to grow the Indian market. Bored with banking, she became fashion merchandising manager in Bombay for the Associated Merchandising Corporation.

She moved to London in 1986 where she married merchant banker Ranjit Mathrani and set up a business designing Indian jewellery for department stores, which she still runs. The brainchild of Cambridge educated Namita, Chutney Mary opened in 1990 to become the first up-market Indian restaurant to promote Anglo-Indian cuisine. Ranjit Mathrani, Namita and sister Camellia Panjabi form the directorship of Masala World which also owns Veeraswamy, Amaya & Masala Zone outlets.

Namita presides over a growing empire of haute cuisine establishments, steering Masala World, the operating company, into a sleek outfit with a staff of 250 serving 550,000 customers generating sales of £15 million a year in 2006.

Masala World has won the Restaurateur of the Year Award 2005 in the high-profile Tatler Restaurant Awards. It uniquely spans both fine dining and casual dining restaurants serving real Indian cuisines. Her latest enterprise, Amaya in London's fashionable Belgravia, has a waiting list of nearly a month. Her first restaurant, Chutney Mary of Chelsea, was selected by the Curry Club of Britain as the best of the country's 8,000 Indian restaurants.

Restaurateur, Co-founder of Masala Zone (T/O £15 million in 2006)

Camellia Panjabi (left)Born in Mumbai, Namita's sister Camellia Panjabi studied economics at Newnham College, Cambridge between 1961-1963. She went on to become the marketing director of India's most prestigious hotel group, Taj Hotels, of which she remains a director. She launched 40 restaurants over a 30 year period and was the driving force behind the setting up of Bombay Brasserie in 1982.

Camellia Panjabi is now one of the directors - along with her sister Namita and brother-in-law, Ranjit Mathrani - of Masala World, which owns Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy, Amaya and three Masala Zone restaurants in London. Camellia has written two very successful cookbooks - "50 Great Curries of India" and "Great Vegetables of India".

Masala World, 1 Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7AL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7724 2525, Fax: +44 (0)20 7724 551,

Chutney Mary, 535 Kings Road, Chelsea, London SW10 OSZ
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7351 3113, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7351 7694

Veeraswamy, Mezzanine Floor, Victory House 99 Regent Street, London W1B 4RS
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7734 1401, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7439 8434

Amaya, Halkin Arcade, off Motcomb Street, London SW1
Tel: +44 (0) 7823 1166, Fax +44(0) 7259 6464

Founder, Geeta's Foods Ltd

Geeta SamtaniGeeta Samtani grew up in Bombay where she read Law at University before marrying and moving to Trinidad. She has lived in Britain since 1979. As creator and Director of Geeta's Foods Ltd, she first launched Geeta's Premium Mango Chutney to UK supermarket shelves in 1990. She went on to launch Geeta's 'Curry Creation' pastes, in a new convenient size in March 2002.

Geeta's Foods uses Indian recipes handed down through generations of Geeta's family. Geeta has personally developed all the spice blends used in her products, taking pride in capturing genuine Indian flavours. Geeta's sauces and pastes are manufactured in the UK to her specific kitchen recipes. She devotes painstaking time and attention to ensure these recipes are sealed up to her exceptionally high standards.

In 2003 - Geeta's captured 3 Gold Good Taste Awards for the following products Bengali Curry Creations Cooking Paste, Geeta's Garlic Pickle and Geeta's Papaya and Orange Chutney. The Guild of Fine Food Retailers Great Taste Awards is the one of the world's largest competitions of its type. It received close to 4,000 entries this year in approximately 160 classes. Judging is based on "taste" delivery within each product group.

Perhaps a minnow among the other "curry queens", Geeta Samtani's business should look appetising for a larger group seeking the hard-to-find family business in the food sector.

Geeta's Foods Ltd, PO Box 7645, London NW8 0ZS
Tel: 020 8450 2255, Fax: 020 8450 2282,


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