Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Inspiration-How a Street Sweeper and His Wife Built Britain’s Largest Indian Food Empire.
Here is the fascinating story of how an Indian street sweeper and his wife went on to found one of Britain’s most successful Asian food empires.
Back in the 1940s, Laxmishanker Pathak and his family had been driven by grinding poverty from their village in Gujarat. Encouraged by the colonial authorities, they left India to set up home in Kenya. In 1945, he married Shanta Gaury Pandit and soon the couple were blessed with six children, four sons and two daughters.
In 1956, following the Mau Mau insurgency, the Pathaks set sail on the passenger ship Uganda from Kenya to Marseilles and eventually arrived in London with just £5 and a life insurance policy in their pockets. Laxmishanker looked for work but was only offered the job of sweeping the streets on London
The money Laxmishanker earned was barely enough to feed the family of eight. Soon, he realised that selling Indian food on the streets might be a better way of providing for his family, thanks to the burgeoning market for Asian food in London. In Kenya, too, they had run an Indian sweets and snacks business.When they started getting home delivery orders, they were unable to afford a delivery boy. Instead, their six-year-old son Kirit began work as an errand boy.By the late 1950s they had saved enough money to buy a small shop behind Euston Station in London. Later, they opened another in Bayswater in 1961. However, it wasn’t an easy journey and the Pathaks had to face their own share of hurdles and hardships.
In 1965, the business had to face another crisis when a huge over-ordering of vegetables by a factory manager almost resulted in bankruptcy. To try to rectify the situation, the Pathaks decided to process the vegetables. Disaster was turned to triumph when the resulting pickles and chutneys sold so well that they were added to the existing product range. Other lines followed, including a range of curry pastes, many of them based on Shanta’s family recipes.The business flourished and began taking orders not only from individual households and restaurants but also from shops, businesses and even the Indian high commission. In 1976, Laxmishanker handed over control of the business to Kirit, having passed to his son a unique knowledge of vegetables and spices.Meena, Kirit’s wife, had a degree in Food Technology and Hotel Management, and soon became the creative force behind the Patak’s brand.
Laxmishanker Pathak died in 1997 while Shanta Gaury passed away in 2010. However, their culinary legacy remains as popular as ever with the company controlling more than a quarter of Britain’s billion-pound Indian food industry.With Patak’s now supplying curry pastes, chutneys, pickles and pappadums for about 90% of Britain’s 10,000 Indian restaurants, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say Patak’s is responsible for the taste of Britain’s Saturday-night Indian dinner. The company also supplies curries, sauces, pickles and breads to more than 40 countries, including India.