This Entrepreneur went from flipping burgers to flipping multi-million Assets in London

I never imagined to be nominated for or winning any awards, I just wanted to have an impact on my community, says Sanmi Adegoke. His latest latest nomination comes from the Black British Business Award, a prestigious award in the UK.

Growing up in Nigeria, he learnt the importance of faith as being the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Fortunately, this conviction was reinforced in Sanmi by his parents at an early age. His parents instilled the culture of faith, hard work and discipline, values that have shaped him from the early days working on the grill at McDonalds to the recent success in property investing. His firm, Rehoboth Property International, has grown exponentially in deal size from its inception.

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Undoubtedly, the growth did not happen overnight. While studying, Sanmi worked the hot grills at McDonalds, a job that left a lasting impression on him. As a result, he started learning about how McDonalds was structured and how it made money. To his surprise, he realized that the company was a lot more than the burgers he was flipping and that the company was, oddly to him, a real estate company. Property, as a formidable investment vehicle, emerged again as Sanmi worked as a security guard watching over multi-million pounds worth of assets in Knightsbridge and with every chance he got to speak with the owners he will ask questions about how they started their journeys. One of the owners was kind enough to recommend that Sanmi go read “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. Now, the Property Investing seed has been planted!

After finishing his Business and Management degree, Sanmi worked with a variety of start-ups in the UK as well as in Africa. One of Sanmi’s memorable experiences was working with a UK car racing startup trying to penetrate the African market. During his time at the start-up, Sanmi learnt a lot about the importance of building business processes and systems, seeing around corners and carving a niche by either being first or doing what others cannot or don’t want to do.

With the words of Rich Dad Poor Dad still ruminating in Sanmi’s mind, armed with fundamental business principles and after months of research, Sanmi launched 2 September 18, 2020 into the property investing world. The main quote from the book that inspired this major move was:

“You are only poor if you give up. The most important thing is that you did something. Most people only talk and dream of getting rich. You’ve done something” – Robert Kiyosaki

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Woolwich Magistrate Court

Woolwich Magistrate Court and shortly thereafter Bow County Court were two of many court buildings acquired by Rehoboth Property International. The firm was founded on a premise of creating a bespoke service, providing our clients with solutions unique to them.

Purchasing a court building and repurposing it into a place of worship was revolutionary and quite frankly frowned upon at the time. However, our clients, mainly religious leaders, felt that they were running out of options. So, we got creative for our clients!

Starting a property investment company in a competitive property industry was no doubt challenging. However, our success stems from understanding the power of a niche market from the very beginning.

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Historically, black church leaders did not have much choice but to seek out predominantly white commercial real estate agents to find these leaders new buildings for their growing church. On the surface, this approach seems ordinary. Except, many of the brokers were unable to understand the needs of these churches and more importantly were struggling to relate to the cultural and spiritual aspects when dealing with pastors, a subtle yet important piece to the puzzle.

At Rehoboth, it was quickly realized that there is a niche in the market that can be filled not only by appreciating the perspective of these leaders but specifically catering to their unique needs while being able to relate to these leaders on a deeper level.

Sure, the approach did not work at first, but Sanmi persisted and over time the firm went from starting with no clients to growing their client base to over 3,000 clients in just 6 years.

Sanmi Adegoke in front of Dartford magistrates court

After solidifying the firm’s position in the marketplace, it was time to shift gears into development. Legacy that comes with ownership was at the forefront of Sanmi’s overall vision. Not long after, Sanmi acquired Dartford Police Station and Magistrate Court. The idea was to transform these structures into vibrant co-working and private office space that can accommodate over 120 businesses, first of its kind. Taking a place from its historical chapter where many people were sentenced and locked up, their hopes and dreams cut short to building an ecosystem of creativity where entrepreneurs, businesses and communities can thrive together

Now, Sanmi was under no illusion that this multimillion-pound deal was going to be a walk in the park. That said, this adaptive reuse project is on target to open before the end of 2020.

More recently, Sanmi, and his team at Rehoboth, just acquired 392 Camden, another major development project, right in the heart of London.

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Looking into the future, Sanmi plans to build a city with affordable homes in Africa for families who would not otherwise be able to own their homes. Here in the UK, Sanmi desires that every family understands the importance of owning a home. To pursue these lofty goals, Sanmi understands that his unwavering faith in 4 September 18, 2020 God has been the key in his success and he truly embodies the philosophy that ”All things are possible to him that believe” and “You Can Do It Too”!

On a personal note, Sanmi is acutely aware that success comes from family and relationships built over the years with people who love us unconditionally. So, coming home after a very interesting day and seeing the smiles on the faces of his kids brings him some much solace and joy in being a father, a loving husband, and a faithful servant to God.

The 2020 BBBAwards finalists will appeared in a digital campaign throughout UK Black History Month, from 6th of October with the winners revealed on the 30th October. The BBBAwards will also  give a tribute to Black frontline workers for their commitment and sacrifice during these difficult and uncertain times.

A spokeswoman for BBBA said the finalists have been picked as they “embody the Black British community’s ability to prevail, excel and lead through adversity”.

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From Environmental Scientist to Pottery business owner

Naked Clay Ceramics is a collection of tactile, minimal style tableware and is owned by Carla Sealey. Using a combination of handbuilding and slip casting, everything is made by hand in Carla Sealey’s studio in Bedfordshire.

I started this business because I wanted to make something that was special and intentional. I am all about being intentional “, explains Carla. Her passion for art can be seen in her exquisitely handmade home-ware, which she sells online.

We spoke to the woman behind Naked Clay Ceramics to hear about her background, starting Naked Clay Ceramics and her passion of ceramic.

1. What is your background?

I originally qualified as a geologist and chemist followed by 14 years of working in the environmental sector. In my earlier years I worked for a private water company based in the West Midlands, where I was the only black woman and 1 of only 3 women who were in a non-clerical role. I later moved to the Environment Agency, where again for most of my employment I was the only black woman until another black woman was employed as a PA a couple of years before I left. In my scientific and managerial position, I was responsible for the prevention of pollution of groundwater supplies for drinking water.

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2. How did you get into that profession and what was it like?

This was back in the 80s, so it was a very bold move by the guy who hired me at the water company in the West Midlands. I was an anomaly on so many levels because I had come from London, lived in a house share and I was not married, which was very weird for them back then.

It wasn’t a hostile environment but people were certainly ignorant and would say stupid things, which made it challenging at times. You just had to take it in your stride and deal with the ignorance as best as you could.

I enjoyed my time working at the National Rivers Authority. I loved getting out to the countryside. As field officers we spent our time driving around the country talking to farmers, landfill owners, scrap yard dealers and I loved it.  However, after merging with several organisations, we became part of the Environmental Agency. I realised that I was the lowest paid middle manager despite the fact that there were other people with less experience and qualifications than me.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

3. When and why did you start Naked Clay Ceramics?

I had what they call a perfect storm where all things fell apart, so I took that opportunity to rebuild and refocus. In 2003 I decided to go back to university to train as an applied artist. Following that I started a glass studio and also did ceramic sculptures. In 2015 having moved to a new studio, I realised that I needed to rethink the commercial side to my business. I had been buying handmade mugs for 20 years and so I thought ‘You spend money buying them, why don’t you make your own?’. That’s why I ended up developing a range of ceramic cups, plates and bowls in 2017.

We all have our little morning rituals around food and drink that ease us gently into the day, whether its tea, coffee, juice, a favourite breakfast. I wanted to make something so that first thing in the morning you have something that pleases your senses. Something that was tactile, so that it feeds into your senses. For example, it looks beautiful when you see it, feels beautiful when you hold it, you use it when you are eating something that tastes good or smells good. My homeware products provide this peaceful experience.

Carla Sealey

4. How did you start?

After graduation from my Art degree I started making glass and jewellery in my utility room but eventually found studio space where I could also do ceramics. A friend kindly lent me some money which I used to buy a kiln. The equipment you need can be expensive, so I had to adapt my way of working to what I could afford in order to get things done.

5. How did you market your products when you started? Is it different from what you do now?

I do most of my marketing through my Naked Clay Ceramics Instagram page. Before the pandemic, I was doing a number of regular selling events where I could catch up with my customers face to face. I keep my community updated on all my events and my online shop openings via my newsletter. I have also used paid advertising, in a magazine called 91 Magazine, an independent interiors and lifestyle print magazine that’s very supportive of small businesses. Thanks to the work of a photographer friend, I was also featured as maker of the month.

Recently, since that start of Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a sudden interest in black owned businesses and a lot of free advertising for my business. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s great that small black owned businesses are finally getting the attention they need. Especially given the difficulties in getting support from institutional lenders, and the lack of access to other traditional funding sources that black businesses have to overcome when they start out. On the other hand, it hurts my soul that it took the very public murder of yet another black man for people to wake up to the racial inequalities that are still very present in our society and institutions.

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6. What makes your ceramics different?

I don’t glaze the outside of my pieces and I am one of a few people who work with black clay for functional objects.

With glazed pieces there is a shiny coating that Is placed over the clay. With my pieces you are touching the actual clay that’s been fired in the Kiln. I do glaze the inside as it makes it more sanitary, especially as people use these products with hot food and drinks. Hence the glazing inside makes it easier to clean and makes it more functional.

7. Where do you get inspiration for your pieces?

I would say nature. My products are minimalist so as to create a soothing and meditative feel to them, just like being outside. I’m fortunate that my studio is on an old plant nursery in a slightly wild but lovely, peaceful, natural environment and so I use this to inspire me.

Naked Clay Ceramics

8. What is your most popular product?

There are two products which I find are popular among my customers. The mugs, (there’s always room in everyone’s kitchen for another mug!) and miniature vases, which are used for small wild flowers. They don’t take up much room and they can be collectables

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

9. How has your business been impacted by Covid 19?

Initially I thought it was a disaster. However, because I have my online shop, people continued to buy my products as they were at home, still getting paid and clearly wanted to treat themselves as a bit of a cheer up. Also, as a result of Black Lives Matter, I have seen an increase in orders especially from America. From product sales side, my business has fared well during the pandemic. However, I do pottery classes in my studio and due to the pandemic, they all had to be cancelled.

10. Where can people find your products?

I have an online shop and I am able to ship products internationally. My products are also stocked in Thrown Contemporary Gallery in London and the Kettles Yard Shop in Cambridge. As I mentioned I also provide pottery workshops. During the class we make functional products by rolling out the clay, forming it around shapes. The workshops last for half a day and at the end of it you have made a pair of mugs, a candleholder or a breakfast set which I then fire for you

11. What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and 2021?

My plans are to get a bigger kiln, move to a bigger studio and hopefully add to my product range. I would also like to get back into doing more sculptural work and installations.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Carla. See more from Carla on her website and Naked Clay Ceramics Instagram page.

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Have you met David Adjei?

The architecture profession tends to be viewed with a narrow scope. Most people aspire to be some version of Norman Foster, wanting to design their own version of the Gherkin. This is the perception of Architecture as an industry, with most companies focusing exclusively on design. “There are so many avenues we can pursue as an industry,” says David Adjei, innovative founder of London based architecture firm Cognition London.  “Construction is a very traditional industry and it’s plagued by a lot of problems because we are not innovating as well as other industries,” says David.

Construction is a very traditional industry and it’s plagued by a lot of problems because we are not innovating as well as other industries

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David believes there needs to be a rethink in the way architecture practices conduct their business and what they include in their businesses for that matter. He’s leading by example through his own architectural practice which he set up in 2014 whilst completing his masters degree. Before we get into where he is now, let’s look at his unconventional route into the industry.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

How did it all start?

He originally wanted to be a graphics designer but this quickly changed when a community organisation called Construction Youth Trust came into his school. The organisation was raising awareness of the construction industry and showcasing the different career paths within the industry. Better yet, they also offered 4 weeks of paid work experience, which got then 16 year old David’s attention. “I had no interest in construction, I just saw it as a way to make some money and get some work experience,” explains the ‘archipreneur’.

I had no interest in construction, I just saw it as a way to make some money and get some work experience

David successfully secured 1 of 20 work experience places with Balfour Beatty and Moucel where he gained an overall view of various roles in the construction industry. “This was my turning point,” says David. It was during this work experience that he fell in love with architecture, leading to his enrolment onto an architecture degree course at Nottingham Trent University in 2008. However, due to poor time management, he says, he ended up getting a displeasing 3rd in his degree. This made it impossible to get a job, especially at a time when the industry was still recovering from the 2007 financial crisis.

Realising his predicament, he decided to take a job at Barclays bank and two years into it, he had another epiphany brought about by the loss of his grandmother.

“It was a mixture of feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her and the reminder that life is very short that led to my decision,” says David. Following the loss of his grandmother, David decided to go back to University to study part-time masters in architecture. Maintaining a demanding architecture and work commitments became untenable, so he left his job at the bank.

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Launching Cognition London:

Leaving his part time job gave David time to focus on his demanding course but it presented another challenge, lack of income. He had no income and relied on his mum for financial support. Determined to generate an income and make his own way in the world, he launched Cognition London in 2014. In the beginning he leveraged his network from his previous employer to secure work which was mostly house extensions at the time.

This got me through my masters which I finished with a merit

Following the success of with his masters and knowledge acquired, he continued to build his company and had developed a network of recruiters who kept him informed when companies were in need of architectural consultants. At the same time, David completed his RIBA ((Royal Institute of British Architects) chartership in 2018, which put him in a new league as he was now able to bid for substantial pieces of work. Unusually David did not have the luxury of employment with an Architecture firm as many graduates usually do. However, he is well known within the industry through projects that he’s worked on with a number of well known organisations. For example he has partnered with architecture firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), tp bennett, Benoy and populous to name a few

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Cognition London:The next level

His big break came when the industry implemented BIM (Building Information Modelling), a framework for working and producing architectural designs, managing projects, delivering and maintaining projects. It’s a digitised way that integrates all the construction project works on a single set of 3D live model. This can then be accessed by all those involved on a construction project.

David learnt how to use BIM and revit, the software used to implement BIM during his degree. “At the time, we didn’t know that it was going to be such a in demand skill in the industry.”I got my first major business to business contract without having an interview with the company”. His appointment for the contract was solely based on his BIM knowledge and a small portfolio of designs he’d worked on previously.

So, what are the benefits of using BIM and why was it such a game changer for David you ask. Well with BIM clients and professionals have the benefit of seeing everything associated with a construction project in one place. For example, a project manager can see the cost of materials and project life cycle; electrical engineers can use the same drawing to view all electrical wiring for a project. At the point of implementation, David was one of a handful of people who knew how to use the framework and technology associated with it. Having this edge took his business to the next level.

“After the initial contract, there was no looking back, everybody wanted a piece of me. It got to a point where I was turning down work, that’s how in demand I was” explains David.

Yet David was still facing some challenges with the business of running an architecture firm. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. For example, I didn’t know how much time each piece f work would take,” reveals David. Perhaps due to inexperience and under appreciation of the value he was adding, which led to him under quoted contracts.“I didn’t fully appreciate that I was building a space and adding value to it, so I essentially undervalued myself, which I don’t do anymore,” says David.

I didn’t have the support and network of other architects who I could bounce ideas with so I was shooting in the dark a lot of time but it was a good way to learn.

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Business model

David has broken away from the conventional architecture firm business model which usually focuses solely on design. He has created a diversified business in Cognition group which  consitis of

  • Cognition Architecture – the RIBA chartered practice that offers services such as architectural design, construction and renovation
  • Cognition estates – A property development and rental company focusing on buy to let, build to sell and build to rent markets.
  • David and Alexis – The interior design arm which David runs with his wife Alexis

Clearly not one to comform to the statusquo, David also keeps business operations very lean, which means heavy use of third party vendors  and sub contractors. “I outsource the time consuming admin work, which frees me up for business development. I have found that my model creates a competitive culture between the vendors and subcontractors because they want to do the best job so that I employ them for future projects”. This is unlike most architectural companies which tend to have all business operations dealt with in house and only deal with a few sub-contractors.

“I think in time, design focused architecture firms will be taken over by major construction companies, so for this reason there is a need for change there business models,” says David. This has always been a sensible and logical move for construction companies. A more recent example of this is Arups, a well known engineering company who recently added architecture to the list of services they provide.

David is now turning his attention to the wider architectural community. Through his recent election as a RIBA London Council member he hopes to bring his innovative mindset and energy to the council to help the profession forge a new road for the future.

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Meet UK’s only white maize farmer

“Don’t waste your time” – This is what the president of MGA (Maize Growers Association, an independent organisation that identifies information needs for its maize growers) told David Mwanaka, a black entrepreneur, in 1996. He had identified the MGA as his first port of call in helping him to understand how he could make his dream of becoming a white maize farmer in the UK a reality, but was advised not to grow it as it could not grow to maturity in the cold UK climate. “I felt so dejected after that phone conversation and decided that I was going to grow white maize to prove him wrong”

What is white maize you ask? – It’s simply corn with white kernels instead of the yellow ones that most of us are used to. White maize is a staple food in the Sub-Saharan Africa diet, with consumption of up to 450g/person/day. It’s also popular among South American countries and is commonly consumed as white maize flour, which is used to make e.g. Arepa (Venezuela and Colombia), Ugali (Kenya), Posho (Uganda), Sadza (Zimbabwe), Fufu (Ghana) and Nsima (Zambia) to name a few.

I felt so dejected after that phone conversation and decided that I was going to grow white maize to prove him wrong

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Today David is the UK’s only white maize farmer. Having ignored agronomists from MGA, David also became the first farmer in the country to grow white sweetcorn, which he supplies to Sainsburys and Harrods. Having succeeded in growing white Maize, David also owns 2 groceries stores based in Enfield and Walsall where he sells other Afro-Caribbean foods along size his white maize and maize flour.

So how did he get there and what exactly were his beginnings? I had the pleasure of speaking with David Mwanaka to understand just that.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

Humble beginnings:

David was born and grew up in a rural part of Eastern Zimbabwe called Nyanga. Being the youngest of 10 siblings, the 20year age gap between David and his brothers and sisters meant he was the only child at home as his siblings had flown the nest by the time he was 12 years old.

“When I think about my older brothers and sisters, our relationship is more akin to a parent-child one” explains David.

Most African families in rural areas rely on subsistence farming, growing some of their own food for consumption with the excess sold to provide an income for the family. This is the type of farming that David grew up with. As a young boy, he was responsible for planting trees around the family home and it’s here that his passion for farming grew.

“This is probably the reason I became a farmer” says David.

Farming is like art. You start with a blank canvas in the form of bare soil and seeds then after 3-4 months you have art, that is a tree, bearing fruits. For me, seeing the transition of seeds to a grown tree is really therapeutic

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Moving to UK:

David arrived in UK in 1991. Frustrated by the lack of free press in Zimbabwe, he hoped to continue his journalism career. However, it proved much tougher than he thought and despite gaining further qualifications in journalism in the UK, he was still unable to find the job that he wanted.

Realising that he had to put his dreams on hold, he took a range of jobs to support his wife and young children, including working as a traffic warden a.k.a public enemy No.1. “I didn’t enjoy the jobs that I did. I basically did them to survive,” and so achieving his dream of growing white maize became an outlet for his frustrations.

I didn’t enjoy the jobs that I did. I basically did them to survive

Another disappointing aspect of life in the UK was not being able to enjoy the foods that he had grown up with in Zimbabwe, including his favourite – white maize. He tried to find it in shops and markets that sold African and Caribbean food, but nobody stocked it. So, in 1996, he decided to start growing it himself, persuading the landlord of his flat in Tottenham, North London, to use a small plot of the back garden.

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Becoming a white maize farmer in UK:

David Mwanaka with wife Brenda Mwanaka

My wife didn’t take me serious and felt it would be impossible to become a farmer in the UK,” he recalls.

His first efforts were unsuccessful. In fact, it took another five years and many late nights of research and experimenting before he finally grew a successful crop in 2002. However, this success was short lived as he now faced the struggle of finding farm land to grow maize.

He began by knocking on the doors of farmhouses on the outskirts of London and asking farmers whether they had any acres to let. “They all thought no, he’s up to something. I mean, if someone comes round to your door asking if you have any land to grow white maize, which you’ve never even heard of . . . it’s very suspicious.”

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David’s luck finally changed when he put an advert for farm land in Loot magazine and was contacted by a journalist wanting to write a story. “At the time I wasn’t aware of any farmers publications and it was free to advertise in Loot magazine,” he explains. The ad didn’t bring any interest either, however it did attract a call from a journalist from The Observer who decided he wanted to support this black business man, and wrote an article about David’s efforts to become the UK’s first maize farmer. After the article appeared, two people approached David with land, one in Wales, which was too far, and another in Enfield. He went for Enfield as it was closest to where the family lived in Essex.

Who wants to buy white maize?

Things seemed to be looking up after David acquired the 10 acres of farm land in Enfield, the family planted and successfully harvested the first lot of white maize. However, as David solved the problem of growing the cob, he was presented with another problem of where to sell it. “We weren’t even sure if there were customers out there that were willing to buy our maize, “says David. He initially attempted to sell the crop from the boot of his car to a congregation leaving church but only managed to sell a dozen cobs.

It was so discouraging and I wondered if I was going to fail after investing so much time into nurturing these crops to grow

Not one to give up, once again David turned to free newspaper ads, a tried and tested method that had previously worked for him. It was through this as well as word of mouth from diaspora communities from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Bostwana that the orders grew as people came to know what he was doing. Today David has established his own distribution network which continues to enable him to sell his produce.

Now in 2020 David also sells other products such as pumpkin leaves, tsunga (mustard leaves), sweet potatoes, maize meal (dried maize that is grounded into flour) and much more from his farm shop in Enfield (North London) and Walsall (West midlands) as well as owning more land around UK , which is also used for farming. If these locations are not in your vicinity, that’s not a problem because Mwanaka Fresh Farm foods also deliver across the UK and Europe. Customers can buy products through Mwanaka Fresh Foods website.

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Theresa Roberts: From working in a bookshop to owning a successful restaurant business

Based in the heart of the entertainment and retail district in Covent Garden, Jamaica Patty Co. is the brainchild of black business woman Theresa Roberts. Born in Jamaica, Theresa moved to the UK in the 1960s to join her parents who had made the same journey earlier as part of the wind rush generation. 

The Windrush generation refers to people who, between 1948 to 1971, were invited by successive governments to relocate to Britain from their homes in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to address labour shortages following World War 2. The name ‘Windrush’ comes from the HMT Empire Windrush – the ship that completed 8000 miles crossing from the Caribbean and finally docking at Tilbury in Essex. This was commonly how most people from the Caribbean came to the UK, including Theresa.

The patties at JPC are freshly baked to a recipe developed by Theresa and Collin Brown, a high-profile Jamaican chef in the UK. The restaurant caters to the ‘grab and go market’ and showcases high-quality Jamaican produce. For example, as well as serving delicious patties, JPC’s menu also includes Tortuga rum cake which you can enjoy with blue mountain coffee, both are well known imports from Jamaica.

Theresa shares more on growing up in Jamaica and how she went from working in a book shop to owning a property business, building a villa in Jamaica and becoming a successful restaurant business owner.

Fun facts about Theresa Roberts

Home Town: Black River, St Elizabeth , Jamaica

First job: Working in a book company

Favourite place: The place where I am most at peace is Jamaica but home is London, where my children and grad children are.

Favorite pass time activity: I have always been a social person so I like to party

Interesting fact that people don’t know about you: I do all the cleaning in my business

Don’t know what a patty is? Checkout my earlier blog on UK’s Patty King for the definition.

What was it like to grow up in Jamaica?

Growing up in Jamaica was a great foundation for me. My mum left me and my sister in the care of our grandparents when I was 6 months old. She (my mother) was part of the wind rush generation who came to England in the 50s. I respect the sacrifices that she made and endeavour to make her proud in everything I do. This is a key principle for me and is the reason why I do a lot for Jamaica, Britain and my charities.

My grandparents were absolutely wonderful and loving and the only reason we moved to London was because my grandmother got ill, so she couldn’t look after us as well as she wanted to. We moved to London in the 60s and though it was difficult, it was the best thing that happened to us because we came to meet an already made family waiting for us.

How did you find the transition from living in Jamaica when you moved to London?

It was very difficult for me and it was the first time that my parents ever lied to me.

I got so homesick that I cried all the time and kept asking my parents “when can I go back home to Jamaica?”. My parents kept telling me they’ll send me back next month but next month never came! Theresa laughs out loud as she remembers this childhood memory.

The truth was that they couldn’t send me back anyway. My grandmother was too sick to look after me. She died shortly after we moved to London.

Did you get a chance to go back to Jamaica to put her to rest?

No. We were a family of 10 and travelling to Jamaica in those days was so difficult plus my parents couldn’t afford it. Mum worked was a cleaner on British railway trains and dad had suffered a back injury while working in a factory, which meant he was at home without a job.

Theresa Roberts enjoying a patty and blue mountain coffee in her restaurant
Theresa Roberts enjoying a patty and blue mountain coffee in her restaurant

What were you doing when you decided to start Jamaica Patty Company?

In between managing my property portfolio, I took a trip to Jamaica with my granddaughter. She was so amazed by the beauty of Jamaica that she insisted I do something there. So, I thought to myself ‘you know what, I am going to build a house in Jamaica’. I went to Jamaica on holiday and ended up buying 4 acres of land. When I came back from holiday, I spoke to my husband and family and we all agreed to build this house in Jamaica. I don’t know why I took that on but I did.

The idea of Jamaica Patty Co. was born while I was building, Hanover Grange in Jamaica. Everything I do I do with all my heart so I wanted to be on site all the time and as such ended up living on Jamaican patties. I never grew sick of them, in fact when I returned to London, I found myself pining for decent patties, freshly baked with Jamaican ingredients. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and as the weeks grew my cravings grew into a delightful culinary scheme that is now Jamaica Patty Company.

When I finished building Hanover Grange in 2007 during the financial crisis, I got such a boost, especially when everyone called me crazy for doing it at the time. Getting a stamp of approval from the Jamaican government also gave me so much pride and motivation to go ahead with starting Jamaica Patty Co.

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How did you get from working in a book shop to owning a property portfolio?

Working in the book shop was my first job but I did a lot of odd jobs after that and managed to save £5000. I used these savings to buy my first house at the age of 19 but that wasn’t my initial plan for the money.

Like most teenagers with a bit of money, I was planning to spend my savings on a sports car and mentioned it to a friend while at a social gathering. Another friend overheard the conversation and suggested that I use the money to buy a house. I thought it was a crazy suggestion because I only had £5000 and I couldn’t get a mortgage.

It turned out that my friend’s brother was dieing of cancer and had lots of houses he wanted to sell. The house that he sold to me had two self-contained flats with an elderly sitting tenant in one the flats. I couldn’t see myself ever having this opportunity again, so I bought the house for £5000 (equivalent to £15,000 in 2020) and moved into the empty flat.

A sitting tenant is a tenant already in occupation of premises, especially when there is a change of ownership. This type of tenancy dates back to 1970s, a time when housing regulations gave the tenant more protection, which came in the form of capped private rents and protecting tenants from eviction. Furthermore, it allowed for ‘succession’ of protected tenancies after the death of a sitting tenant. This was later superseded by the Assured Shorthold Tenancy that we know today

When the sit in tenant passed away, I got the whole house back but curiosity got the best of me. I decided to get the house valued and when the agent told me that it was worth £20,000 (roughly equivalent to £60,000) it was a no brainer for me. I sold the house and moved on to invest in more properties.

Fast forward to today. Setting up a restaurant is capital intensive, especially in a central location like Convent Garden. How did you find the location and was it difficult to source funding?

I was ready to start business in 2013 but didn’t open the shop until 2014. I knew I wanted to be in Convent Garden because I wanted to sell parties to an international audience but securing premises was a straggle.

Until then I hadn’t taken the time to notice that there aren’t many independent family owned businesses around Convent Garden and there is a reason for that. The landlords prefer to lease their spaces to well-known brands. As a new small black owned business, selling a product they weren’t familiar with, it was very difficult to persuade them to lease to us. This made me more determined not to give up until eventually our current landlord Shaftsberry took a chance on us. They actually like our business because it is different from all others in the area and is a good fit for their property on 26 New Row. We’ve been here for 6 years now.

From a funding perspective I had a good financial track record given my property business, so financing was relatively easy to obtain. It was a mixture of bank loans and personal savings.

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I understand that when you launched the restaurant in Convent Garden, this was part of a roll-out plan with a target to open 50 stores across the UK. How is that going?

We’ve only been operating for 6 years and it takes 10 years to build a brand. We did contemplate opening another shop last year but didn’t. To be honest I glad we didn’t, given current business environment with Covid 19.

How are you or have you adapted your business as a result of Covid 19 and lock down?

It’s been difficult for us. We started providing a delivery service during lockdown and this has helped somewhat. However, at the moment me and my grandson are running the shop because it is not financially viable to have staff. It’s not easy but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s my baby.

I have had so much good will from the diaspora since lock down ended. They travel from all over to come and support us, so that’s been great to see. On the other hand, many of the neighboring shops have had to close down and it’s been horrible see that. We depend on tourists, theater goers but there aren’t any of those at the moment

What has been your biggest challenge in your business journey?

Staff. My vision was always to sell patties to an international market and employed staff that reflected this vision. They were very hardworking and good for the business but I got feedback from customers which suggested that they should not be working in the shop because they are not of Caribbean heritage.

For example, there were scenarios where if me or my son were not in the restaurant people would walk in and walk out saying its not a black owned business. I think this was customer misconception about the quality and taste of food served, which was based on the people serving it.

I took this feedback on board and tried to recruit people who would represent the business, however, I couldn’t find people who I could rely on so we’ve kept it as a family run restaurant.

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Thank you so much for that insightful story Theresa. For me this story is about surrounding yourself with the right people, seeing opportunities and taking them when they arise. When was the last time you took a leap of faith to seize an opportunity? – Share your story by leaving a comment in the comment box located at the end of article below or at top of the page.

If you don’t have a story to share, then why not use this week to seize an opportunity, which you can then share with us. It doesn’t can be anything from business related to simply using some free time to get a patty from Jamaica Patty Company at their restaurant on 26 New Row, Covent Garden.

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Interview with Joanna Trotman

Taking Care of Big Hair

Do you or your kids have big hair? Are you frustrated and tired of chlorine filled pool water getting into your hair even after your best efforts e.g. using two swimming caps at a time?  Well look no further because JoRae has got you covered.

Founded by long term London based friends Joanna and Rachel, this swimming cap company caters to people with big hair.  

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Joanna shares more:

What inspired you to start this business and where are you in your business journey?

We started the business because we found a gap in the market primarily for our children who love swimming but there were no suitable swimming caps on the market for us. We wanted them to enjoy the sport whilst keeping their hair protected. This had us thinking of all the other mothers and families that are prevented from taking part in water activities. Therefore, myself and Rachel developed this product to solve this problem.

Our small family run business is still in its infancy. We endeavor to make water activities accessible to many more families alike.

JoRae swimming cap models

Did either of you have prior experience that made you feel suitable for this type of business?

Not at all. I work in IT and Rachel works in Youth services. We just saw a gap in the market for people like us with big hair.

So how do you split the workload between both of you?

I handle all the technology and online presence and Rachel deals with the administration side of things.

Tell us an interesting thing about you that not many people know about

I competed in the long jump for team GB and was a Wimbledon ball girl during the 1996-1997 championships

Where can people find your products?

All products are available on our website

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Interview with Mark Simpson

Black History Studies

Black History Studies is a family run social enterprise that was set up to teach black history from an African perspective. Due to a lack of outlets that offered a range of learning opportunities, husband and wife team Mark and Charmaine Simpson (pictured above) decided to set the business up to educate people and fill the gaps on topics that are not taught at school.

Today Black History Studies offers a range of courses (beginner, advanced and short courses), they organise and deliver events such as, museum tours, their flagship event ‘The Black Market and Film Festival’ and other independent film screenings, which included the UK premiers of Tariq Nasheed’s Hidden colours series. Under sister company Black History Study Tours, Mark and Charmaine organise trips across Europe and Africa, where they highlight the black experience. The trips also give students the opportunity to see and immerse themselves in the environments where some of that history originates. For example, some of the trips have included Andalusia in Spain, Moorish Portugal, Black Netherlands, Black Paris and Egypt.

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Mark Simpson is multi-tasking when my zoom call gets through to him. He asks me to excuse him for a few minutes while he sets up another computer for his daughter to do her school work. This juggling act has become the norm for most parents, something that would have never been thought of until the global pandemic forced us all to spend more time at home. I say to him that his daughter can join us in the interview, to which he replies “No, because she’ll take over”.

Mark wears a red short-sleeved T-shirt with the ‘Black History Studies’ logo printed on the left pocket. He looks like a normal dad. Relaxed with a lock-sock on his head to cover his dreadlocks. There is a lot of African art and sculptures hanging on the wall behind him. It’s clear to me that this is a family that is really involved in the study and understanding of Black History and arts.

“I am ready to start when you are sista” says Mark, once all audio issues are fixed and daughter is happily getting on with her work in the background.

Thanks so much for taking the time to have this interview, especially during home schooling hours.

Mark Simpson: That’s fine sista. My daughter will be fine now that she is busy getting on with her own work.

When did you start Black History Studies and what was your motivation to start it?

We started BHS in 2006 because we felt there was a lack of readily available information on the subject matter. Therefore, we felt that rather than complain, we’d set something up ourselves and be the change that we wanted to see.

“We’d set something up ourselves and be the change that we wanted to see”

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I love that mentality and totally agree with it. Which is why I am doing this interview with you today. So, what were you doing before starting Black History Studies?

I was a civil servant for 20 years and worked in various government departments before being made redundant. When that happened, me and my wife deliberated whether to invest the redundancy pay in bricks and mortar or to pursue our passion of educating people. We chose the latter 😊

Interesting, so had you or your wife worked in education or done some work outside of your day job that prepared you for this business?

We actually used to organise small events, but had also attended a number of educational events. To be honest my wife and I just felt that people deserved better. The people needed a service that was professionally set up. For example, there were times when we’d attend an event but when we got to the venue, there was no one or the venue had not been set up yet or they’d be last minute venue changes.

We got frustrated by the disorganised manner in which these events were being delivered. We felt that a professional set up would encourage more people to attend these courses, which would help to instil confidence in the service they were getting.

Where can people find your courses, tours and books?

Everything can be found on our website. All of our courses are now online although I do miss running our face to face classes. We sell our products through our online shop.  

If people like what we do and what to support us, they can donate via the website as well.

I know people are not interested in travelling at this time, but we do organise tours and details for those can also be found on the website. All tours have been pushed back until 2021 given the situation surrounding Covid-19.

What are your thoughts about black history especially the type that you cover on your courses being included on the school curriculum?

Everything that we teach can be taught on the current school curriculum. It comes down to what the schools want to teach. For example, if schools taught about Egyptian history, they would likely only cover ‘New Kingdom (mid – 17th Century BC)’ and not ‘Old Kingdom (5717 – 4430 BC)’ and ‘Middle Kingdom (3440 – 1674)’.

It is our opinion that the reason for this is that the New Kingdom part of this history is a lot more cosmopolitan and teachers can point to themselves in history and take some of that legacy for themselves.

“The scope is there to teach all these things in the current school curriculum, its what the schools choose to teach”

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The way we look at it at BHS is that rather than petition or lobby and make noise about teaching these things in our schools, there is nothing stopping us from teaching it ourselves. It’s a better use of our time and efforts.

So how long did it take you to build the customer base to make it a viable business for both you and your wife?

To be honest we are still building as there is always room for improvement. It took us 2 years to get established. Luckily for us, we had support from Lorna Campbell and Sonia Scully from PCS – Public & Commercial Services Union. The Public & Commercial Services Union allowed us to use their office space as part of their contribution to Black History Studies. This helped us to establish ourselves because we had a place where people could find us.

Do you have a certain age group that you target for your courses or are they age agnostic?

We focus on adult education therefore our core customers, on average are adults aged 22 – 45. We do deliver programs for children as well but this is not as frequent. Interestingly, we have also found that our classes are usually made up of 80% women. This seems to be the trend in everything we do. 

“Our classes are usually made up of 80% women”

Tell us about some of the challenges you faced while running your business

Surprisingly, one of the challenges we found was generating interest for the classes from the Black community. I think this is potentially due to false stigmatization of Black businesses in the past.

Everyone is welcome to our events and we do not target a specific demographic because we believe that everyone should know this information. However, it was difficult at first to get support and trust from the Black community. For example, people would ask if our courses were approved and accredited by authorities before signing up.

What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?

The only advice I would give anyone wanting to set up their own business is to:

  1. Make sure that you research the market
  2. Do it for the right reason
  3. Put 100% into what you are doing, otherwise it will fail

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UK’s Patty King

Wade Lyn started Island Delight in the depths of the 1988 recession. Ever since then the company has been feeding the nation with its range of patties, frozen foods and ready meals. Patties are a Jamaican delicacy made from short crust flaky pastry with a variety of fillings such as chilli beef, jerk beef, chicken, jerk chicken, vegetable and salt fish.  These products have helped to bring the vibrant Caribbean tastes and flavours to the British market.

More than 30 years later, with over 24 business lines, Island Delight, which is operated by Cleone Foods Ltd, commands more than 50% market share of the UK’s patty industry. They produce 150,000 patties a week, supplying the UK’s supermarkets such as Sainsburys, ASDA, Morrisons, NISA, COOP as well as smaller distributors such as Heron foods and Farm foods.

Keen to understand the story behind one of the few remaining black family owned businesses, I caught up with Wade’s daughter Cleo. She’s looking after the business in the interim while her father recovers from an illness. We talked about Wade’s upbringing within an entrepreneurial household, starting a business during a recession and her future plans for Island Delight.

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Island Delight Patties

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I am impressed that the business has been going for 30 years, especially as it was started during a recession. What was the light bulb moment that led to your dad starting Island Delight?

Dad was born and raised in Jamaica and moved to the UK with my grandparents to attend University. My Grandmother had had a gas business back in Jamaica, so when the family moved to UK, they got a petrol station in Smethwick where dad worked as a pump attendant.

When he finished University, he worked for a food processing company that made a similar product but he felt he could do it better and manufacture a superior product. This was his main driver and it still is today.

Dad is a tireless innovator who is always looking for new and faster ways of doing things to improve processes and the core product. Originally, we were producing 30,000 patties a week and now we produce 150,000 patties a week. We are also the UK producer and distributor for Juici Patties. These are predominately sold in Morrison’s and Sainsbury across the UK.

Dad is a tireless innovator who is always looking for new and faster ways of doing things to improve processes and the core product

Did you ever ask your dad what it was like running a business in UK in 1980s as a black man?

In short, it was very tough for him. When he started Island Delight, he was the MD as well as the sales person. As a young child I remember him being away a lot because he was on the road visiting the head offices of various supermarkets. Eventually dad persevered with Somerfield and Safeway making the first order for Island Delight patties. As a matter of fact, he framed his first cheques from these supermarkets and never cashed them because it meant so much to him.

Starting a business is hard enough late alone doing it during a recession, a period usually marked by high unemployment and limited potential for bank borrowing. Recessions can also be synonymous with social instability, as was the case when Wade started Island Delight.

Wade’s first factory location came with ‘regeneration’ grant funding from the Government and Birmingham Council because it was in Birmingham’s deprived Newtown, which had been hit by riots.

Through his careful planning and understanding of the business environment he was about to enter into, Wade registered the business a year before he had any intention of trading. This meant that when he was finally ready to open, suppliers and potential funders would see a year-old company instead of a brand-new start-up. He leveraged his network to secure trade references, which showed a business with a track record. In my conversation with Cleo, I wondered what advice, if any Wade would give to entrepreneurs of today.

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What kind of advice would Wade give to today’s aspiring entrepreneurs?

Dad is super competitive and determined. He comes from a sporting background as he was middle-distance runner in high school and I guess this is where he gets it from. We are both similar in that sense, because I play field hockey and so we are both competitive. Therefore, if dad were here, he would say:

  1. Be persistent and determined to make sure your business is successful.
  2. You have to put in the time and energy in order to make it work and you have to realise that a lot of people are going to say no but you can’t stop at the first huddle.
  3. Make sure that you have a plan A, B and a plan C before you go ahead
  4. Always look ahead and try to be an innovator where possible

Be persistent and determined to make sure your business is successful

Do you have /run /engaged in any community outreach programs?

Yes, we are long standing partners with BITC (Business in the Community Foundation). It’s a national organisation created by HRH The Prince of Wales to champion responsible business. On a regional level, members in this organisation support communities in whatever they need.

For example, during lock down we helped 3 different communities. We worked with a school in Bristol where we donated 3000 patties to be delivered as part a school lunch scheme for kids. We provided boxes to an organisation in Birmingham which was delivering food packages to the vulnerable and donated 1500 patties to another organisation in Gloucester which was delivering school lunches to kids.

That’s just what we have done during lockdown but we have always been giving back to communities and to those that need it.

Island Delights Flaky Pastry range

I am always so happy when businesses are positively involved in communities. Going back to the business, I noticed that you mostly produce Patties, frozen foods and ready meals. Have you got any plans to develop other products? Maybe sauces?

Looking at the business with fresh eyes I realise that we have over 24 different business lines. That is a lot, especially when it comes to decision making because when your brain has too many decisions to make, you end up not making any. Therefore, I will be looking for ways to stream line what we currently have.

If we did consider a new line, it wouldn’t be until next year as we would want to see what the world looks like after COVID-19 and if there is a gap in the market for that product. The food industry is ever changing with different trends, so we would need to invest time into understanding and researching any opportunities that we see.

Ok, so what does the future look like for Island Delight?

As owners we are very focused on the future direction of the business. For example, we have started thinking about how people’s habits may change when things go back to ‘normal’. For example, will going out food shopping become a thing of the past?  Patties are associated with lunch time and if people have to continue working from home, will they prefer making their lunch meals? It’s important to understand what the future looks like for our sector.

Carnival is one of our busy periods as we distribute to different stalls however, with the pandemic, it’s unlikely that Notting Hill Carnival will take place this year. We have been thinking about different ways to navigate that. All I can say is watch this space!

Thank you so much Cleo for a great conversation and insight. I look forward to seeing what you guys decide to do for Notting Hill Carnival this year.

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