Old friends Maria Hellyer, 51, and Patricia Forbes, 57, decided to go into business together in 2002, after Hellyer was made redundant from her job in food manufacturing.
“I used to go round to Patricia’s house for dinner and she’d whip up amazing curries. There was a real gap in the market for high-end Indian food, so we decided to set up our own company. As mothers in our fifties, we had nothing to lose.”
Their venture, The British Curry Company, initially chugged along slowly, selling jars of pickle and sauces to county fairs and local events.
Then, in 2003, they landed a contract with food distributor Hider Foods, supplying 2,000 delicatessens and food halls across the country.
“We knew the products would appeal to other busy mums like us, who want something quick and easy to cook with a homemade feel,” says Hellyer.
The two entrepreneurs got involved with government consultancy Food From Britain, which helps British companies export their goods overseas.
“It was brilliant way of researching foreign markets and opened the gates to a flood of government grants, which were a godsend.
“Neither of us drew a salary for over two years and we both relied on our husbands for financial support. It was awful – we couldn’t even buy a pair of tights without feeling guilty.”
They found success in the US and then Dubai but wanted to develop their business closer to home, so they approached Waitrose. “We swapped our power suits for pinnies and cooked a curry for Waitrose buyer Damian Keep.”
He gave them the thumbs up straight away. The British Curry Company’s range of sauces is now stocked in all 187 Waitrose stores in the UK as part of a one-year exclusive deal worth £0.5m.
“We’re on track to make £2m in 2008 and plan to double turnover each year,” says Hellyer. “Next, we’ll approach Sainsbury’s. And after that” World domination!”