I set up Food Attraction in 2013 to capitalise on the growth of convenience and the street food trend, which was taking off at the time. My brother Naynesh soon came on board as operations director, and together we created the Jake & Nayns’ brand.
Living busy lifestyles and always being on the go, we could never find anything convenient that matched up to the sort of tasty Indian food we were brought up on. So, we came up with the Naanster.
The Naanster is essentially a meal wrapped in naan bread, which doesn’t go chewy, rubbery or hard when microwaved. Inside, there is a full Indian meal – Chicken Tikka, Balti Chicken, Beef Madras, and Chickpea Curry are our four varieties. They can all be eaten hot or cold.
I used to be an estate agent, but I did actually start a food business in the mid-1990s, selling finger food to high-end restaurants and retailers. My inspiration was my mother’s Indian cooking. I used to take leftovers into the office, and the rest of the staff would devour the lot.
My wife Neeyantee and I would do the cooking ourselves – sometimes working until the small hours of the morning – while retaining full-time jobs during the day.
Supplying hotels and restaurants
Eventually, we moved into a small factory unit, making items like miniature samosas, spring rolls and bhajis. We supplied many well-known west London hotels and restaurants. On the retail side, our first four customers were no less than Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges.
The business was great, but I eventually decided to sell it in order to change course. The trouble with party food is its seasonality. We would be incredibly busy in the run-up to Christmas and New Year and dead quiet at other times. You can’t run a business with those kinds of peaks and troughs; we needed to balance it out.
By 2013, we’d seen that the market had turned and street food-style products were becoming popular. Neeyantee, who had been working for the restaurant division of BHS, joined as finance manager shortly after – and the three of us are now the co-owners.
We funded the majority of the investment into the business ourselves. Our previous business had a pretty good trading history and accounts, so we were able to get favourable terms. We used asset finance companies to buy the machinery, which we’ve since managed to pay off.
The Naanster is now in more than 2,500 stores, and sales have grown 40% in the past year alone. We also continue to make finger food for a number of big restaurant chains, which currently makes up 50% of our business – the income from which we use to continually invest in establishing the Jake & Nayns’ brand.
The factory is going through continual improvement as well. Since opening, we’ve invested in new cookers, depositors, packaging lines, and refrigeration. We recently bought the factory next door, which will be dedicated to the production of Naansters when it opens next year.
Investment isn’t just an important way of showing our customers that we’re serious about what we do, it’s also about generating pride within your workforce. If you’re constantly updating facilities, staff start to see the work they put in is reaping rewards, and respond accordingly.
That culture of positivity has to start at the top. Naynesh, Neeyantee and I all have very different personalities, but we work extremely well together. We don’t lead by committee – I’m still the managing director – but we do listen to each other, and we make sure all three of us are happy before any big decisions are taken.
We all know that none of us are bigger than the company. With my and Neeyantee’s prior experience of running a food business, and Naynesh’s business background, I’d like to think that all three of us would get our jobs on merit if we applied for them.
It’s these strengths that I believe led to us being crowned Family-Owned Business of the Year at the Amazon Growing Business Awards last November.
Another attribute that helped us win was our scalability. It’s something that we’ve thought very carefully about. As well as the second site, which will double our floor space, we’ve got land that we can expand into.
All in all, I don’t believe there is anything holding us back from growing to where we want to be. Our aim is to be around five or six times bigger three years from now.
Fundamental to that journey is new product development. Next year, we’ll broaden the Naansters range to about 12 products. I can’t say too much at the moment, but Mexican and Italian recipes are likely to feature heavily.
Naynesh, meanwhile, has been tasked to look at how we can grow the business internationally. Exports now make up about 5% of our sales, and we’re in places like France, Switzerland and Norway.
My ultimate aim is to become the brand of street food, in the same way Innocent is synonymous with smoothies. We believe we’ve got the formula, passion and people to make it happen.
Location: 21 Langham Road, Leicester. LE4 9WF
Factory size: 1,860m2
Main products: Naansters (Chicken Tikka, Balti Chicken, Beef Madras, Chickpea Curry).
Main customers: Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Spar, Londis, Nisa.
Weekly output: 30-40,000 Naansters, and 30-40,000 finger food items.
Jake Karia: “I visit the gym up to five times a week.”