Leicester’s Food Attraction sprang from one family’s graft, determination and passion. Now it’s blossoming and growing fast…
Up and down Britain, food-to-go counters groan under the weight of millions of cheese-and-tomato sandwiches (soggy bread included). Each lunchtime, billions of office workers’ taste buds recoil in horror at the prospect of yet another supermarket chicken salad. Every Monday on British trains, thousands of commuters’ eyes glaze over as they bear witness to their 76th BLT of 2019.
Who can save us from this lunchtime purgatory? Who will deliver us from this food evil? Fear not, we have the answer. He’s called Jake and he comes from Leicester.
Putting some love back into lunchtimes
Jake Karia is the founder of Food Attraction – a rapidly growing food manufacturer employing 105 people. One of Jake’s most exciting projects is Jake & Nayns’, a brand inspired by street food. Their creations include ‘Naansters’ – fluffy naan breads filled with authentic curries such as chicken tikka, beef madras, balti chicken and chickpea curry as well as burritos and samosas.
These street-food-inspired delights are shaking up dull sandwich counters right across the UK. Jake & Nayns’ disruptive and creative approach makes it ideally placed to revolutionise lunches on the go. The figures back this up. In 2019, Food Attraction recorded 40% year-on-year growth and sealed major deals with WH Smith, Co-op and Sainsbury’s. Jake & Nayns’ products are sold in 4,500 UK stores. Over 40,000 units are sold each week and there’s room for expansion.
So, how did Food Attraction come about? And how did it become such a success story – so much so that Amazon UK named it Family Business of the Year 2018? Let’s delve back in time to find out.
It started with home comforts
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Jake’s mother, Savitri, would cook dinner from scratch each evening: samosas, freshly baked naans, bhajis, delicately spiced vegetarian curries and much, much more. The five members of the Karia family – Jake, his mum, father, sister Nisha and brother Naynesh – would relish each mouthful, while sitting at the table in their two-bedroom Leicester terrace. As they ate, the adults would sometimes talk about the time they had spent in Uganda before migrating to the East Midlands in 1970, baby Jake in tow, exiled by the anti-Asian government of Idi Amin.
Fast forward five decades and delicious home-cooked food is still the beating heart of this close-knit family, and the flavours of mum’s cooking burn brightly. All three Karia children now work at Food Attraction, as does Jake’s wife, Neeyantee, and the business is still inspired by the aroma and taste of those fantastic family meals.
Jake sowed the seeds of Food Attraction in the late 1980s while working as an estate agent. He says: “In 1988 my job took me from Leicester to Bedfordshire. It was a massive culture shock because, unlike Leicester, there was little Indian culture in that region at the time. Mum would cook when I visited at weekends and I’d take the leftovers back home with me. When my colleagues saw what I was bringing to work for lunch, they were amazed!”
Then, Jake spotted the gap in the market
Jake soon sensed a demand for excellent-quality Indian food and decided to launch a business to meet it. In 1994, while still working full time, he made his move. He built up a stock of homemade samosas and bhajis, bought a new computer from Dixons (“it had a 250MB hard disc – top of the range!”), chest freezers from Iceland, and grabbed a copy of the Yellow Pages. Next, he built up a database of potential East Midlands customers and sent out introductory letters. Finally, he diverted his home phone to a call centre, instructing them to answer with the name ‘Samosa Company’. Boom! He was up and running.
During the 1990s, slowly but surely, through graft and hustle, Jake built up a loyal customer base who loved his carefully prepared products. It was a lean and challenging time for the fledgling company, but a huge work ethic – learned from Jake’s parents – kept it going. Jake says: “We hired a small unit in Leicester and made thousands of samosas and bhajis. But because I was still working full time, my wife and I were often cooking till the early hours.”
Selling samosas at Harvey Nichols
Next, a pivotal moment. In 1998, Jake’s brother Naynesh graduated and took a weekend job with Harvey Nichols in London. Working on the cheese counter, he mentioned his elder brother’s samosas to his boss, who replied that Harvey Nicks was looking for a samosa supplier. “When Naynesh told me, I couldn’t believe it,” says Jake. “I called the buyer, met him, pitched, and sold six product lines to Harvey Nichols’ deli counter. That gave me the confidence to set my sights on Harrods, Fortnums and Selfridges, and we ended up supplying all of them for a time. And from that, we sealed deals with big hotels including The Ritz, Claridge’s, Marriott and Sheraton. Our name was spreading, and this success allowed us to build our current production unit in Leicester in 2001.”
Jake believes this success came not just from his excellent products, but from two lessons he picked up over the years. “A couple of things – apart from mum’s cooking and our family work ethic – shaped me as an entrepreneur,” he says. “First, my boss at the estate agency showed me how to negotiate. Second, working as a waiter at Pizza Hut in the 1980s taught me how to engage with customers. Striking up conversations with people, breaking down barriers, being gregarious – doing those things led to more tips. It was a crucial lesson – it made me understand that people buy from people, and I came to realise that you build relationships by listening. It’s not about having the gift of the gab; it’s about understanding people’s needs and offering the right solutions.”
Following that period of success, Food Attraction was severely tested by the 2008 recession, but they dug in and came through. And now, with its Jake & Nayns’ brand and its determination to shake up the food-to-go retail market with its street-food inspired creations, the future looks bright for this Leicester company.
We’ll leave the final word to Jake
He explains why he believes Food Attraction won Amazon’s Best Family Business Award, and why he’s so excited about the years ahead: “We won the Amazon award because of our scalability. We’re deliberately building growth potential into the company structure and we’re clear that we want to expand. That mindset doesn’t come naturally or easily for many family businesses. Most hit a certain level and don’t go any further. Why? Because they don’t seek the right advice; they keep operating in their own bubble; and they’re not open to the idea of evolving. At Food Attraction, we’ve partnered with Cooper Parry to tap into their expertise and their experience of working with corporates. By mixing our entrepreneurial mindset and immigrant work ethic with the expertise of our advisors, we know that we will get to the next level and beyond.”
Food Attraction has already scaled great heights. They’re now reaching for something even greater…
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