Want to Spice Up Retirement? Start Your Own Artisan Food Business

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When retirement beckoned for his food-loving parents, Sanjay Aggarwal had a brainwave for what they could do next. Over Christmas dinner with his mum they dreamed up the idea for an artisanal spice company. Now their Spice Kitchen products are sold all over the UK. Sanjay reveals what makes this family business such a big success and what it's like having mum as your boss.

"Mum, Shashi, has always been an incredible cook. I love so many of her rich, spicy dishes that I couldn't possibly pick a favourite, but the one my wife always asks for is Masala Dosa. A thin, crispy, rice pancake, it's filled with curried potatoes and peas and served with dahl and coconut or tamarind chutney on the side. It's delicious and has become a bit of a family favourite.

"As a child growing up in Walsall, mum's passion for cooking was infectious. I'd help her taste dishes and she'd teach me about the seasoning and methods she used. My older brother and sister and I inherited her love for cooking, and we're still learning from her all the time.

"Mum was born in Kenya and grew up in Northern India, before moving to the UK around 40 years ago. While her heritage influences her cooking, she's always loved experimenting with new spices and ingredients too. She cooks a lot of international dishes including Thai, Chinese and Mexican, as well as food from all the different regions of India.

Buy Now: Spice Kitchen Spice Tins on eBay
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Spicing Things Up

"The idea for Spice Kitchen – an artisanal spice company selling freshly ground spices and blends – was inspired by my mum's love for cooking. I got the idea after she and my dad, Ashok, retired from working in retail. They'd run an Aladdin's cave of a hardware store in Birmingham but it was hard, physical work. As they got older, lifting trees and gas bottles got a bit much so they decided to retire, travel a bit and spend more time with the grandchildren.

"Neither of my parents are very good at standing still, though. My dad started developing property and my mum was always sewing curtains and bedding, baking cakes and asking me and my brother and sister if there was anything she could help with around our homes. She was always looking for something to keep her occupied, and it was while we were sitting round the table after Christmas dinner in 2012 – a delicious home-cooked Indian feast – that it came to me.

"I said, 'You know what Mum, you're such a good cook. You've got your own Garam Masala blends, and the quality of spices we've got at home is completely different to those in the shops. Why don't you think about selling them?'

“She wasn't sure it would work at first, but I'd dabbled in eBay when I was at university, so I took a picture of mum's Masala Dabba – a traditional stainless steel spice tin found in most Indian houses – and uploaded it to the site. 

“The Masala Dabba has seven compartments for keynote spices, making it easy to decant them to the pan when you're cooking Indian food. Our first sale came just two days after I'd listed it. We hadn't expected it to take off so quickly, so we were running round manically looking for a new tin and grinding the spices, but it was fun! And as people realised just how good our spices are, sales started to grow."
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What Made the Spice Kitchen So Popular?

“The key to our success has always been the quality of product and the methods we use. People wonder how there can be such a difference in the strength and smell of our spices compared to those you buy from the supermarket, but the raw ingredients we buy are extremely high quality. 

“We import the best star anise, cumin, coriander seeds, cardamon and other spices we can get. When you walk in the house and mum's roasting a big batch of spice for her Garam Masala blend, it's such an amazing smell that people will knock on the door to find out what it is.

“While big companies use cheaper ingredients and put it through industrial machines, we do everything by hand. Mum has an antique spice grinder that's been in her family for more than 100 years, and a giant stone pestle and mortar from Kenya that weighs around 15kg, where all our fresh spices are blended in the traditional way."

Buy Now: Spice Kitchen accessories on eBay
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"It's Great To Do Something You Enjoy Every Day"

"Dad does the packing and distributing, and I deal with the online side of things and marketing – alongside running my own recruitment company – so it's a real family business.

"As sales have grown we've expanded our range, mum came up with the idea of making covers for the spice tins from old sari materials so they'd make great gifts. We've added teas and mulled wine spices, spice refills, wedding favours and traditional cookware to our products.

"We've won a Great Taste award for mum's family Garam Masala blend, been nominated for a Guardian Home Business Innovation award, and we're cooking for 30 people including the CEO at Food at 52 cookery school soon.

"Despite the awards and the exciting opportunities, though, the most important thing about Spice Kitchen is that it's our passion. It's great to do something you enjoy every day. And it's even better to do it with your family."

Spice Up Your Life: Visit the Spice Kitchen on eBay
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