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Home > Life Stories > The Ethnic Food Entrepreneur - UK - 1

The Ethnic Food Entrepreneur - UK - 1

Mrs E is now in her late forties and owns a wholesale and retail business selling food and related items related to Turkish/Middle East cuisine with an attached café/takeaway in a large city in the North of England. Her company supplies goods across a large part of northern England (as far south as Birmingham) and into Scotland, as well as delivering into North Wales. She has lived in the UK for almost 25 years now but plans to retire to Turkey as soon as her older sons can take over the business.

Mrs E never planned or even wanted to become an entrepreneur in the food and catering industry. She was born into a middle-class family and was privately educated, learning English from a young age and attending university in Turkey. She was ambitious to have a professional career and she wanted to study a law degree but due to complications with the admittance system for higher education ended up taking her second choice subject and completed a degree and teaching qualification in geography. After university she married and had her first son. Her husband’s brother was living in London and had established a wholesale business importing food from Turkey. Her husband was keen to establish a partnership with his brother and so the family moved to London, with capital from both her family and her husband’s family to invest in their new business. Her second son was born there and after six months her husband decided to leave London and set up his own company in the large city, in partnership with his nephew who spoke good English; this was essential as at the time Mr E spoke almost no English. Mrs E was delighted at the chance to move to the large city; she saw it as an opportunity to develop her education and to become a lawyer; she applied for and was accepted onto a law degree at local university. However, after the family had purchased a warehouse their nephew needed to go back to Turkey, leaving Mr and Mrs E with a business to run, a baby and a toddler and Mr E with no functional English skill. Mrs E. told the university she could not take up their offer of a place and begun to run the business.

In the first five years her husband undertook many of the deliveries, and would leave home at four in the morning, returning late at night. Mrs E. found that although she had not desired this type of entrepreneurship she had a number of essential skills for the work and that she could spot opportunities and exploit them. She spoke good English and had a good understanding of English culture through reading and she considers this was essential in developing relationships with suppliers and understanding the regulations that needed to be complied with in order to run a successful business in England. She had an excellent general education and was able to manage paperwork and staff effectively and felt that this was important as it meant the business was efficient. Mrs E worked extremely long hours in the business, leaving the children at nursery for the day while she worked, taking them home in the evening and then once they were asleep doing the accounts, invoices and etc. The business grew, expanding to new premises, taking on additional drivers, warehouse staff, shop and café staff. Mrs E still leads the business on a daily basis but is increasingly able to delegate. Her husband now has good spoken English and they have time for holidays. Their youngest son is now 12 and Mrs E hopes that he will be able to study for a profession, her older sons have studied business, which she feels very strongly is not necessary when you already have a successful business.  

Mrs E can see that there are many further opportunities to expand the business, but she is not prepared to develop things any further. She said that she has built up a solid business on old-fashioned principles, and that if her sons wish to perhaps develop online shopping or other related services then that is for them. She now feels that after so many years hard work it is time for her to be able to step back. It is too late for her to study she thinks but she likes to have time to read and do things for herself.

Mrs E feels that there are many more opportunities in England than in other European countries, she knows many Turkish people who have emigrated to Germany and she says they often live in poverty and cannot start businesses easily even if they have capital However, there is a lot of red-tape within the food and catering industry and she feels that this is an area where immigrants who have poor English are disadvantaged. There is a need for easy access to business-related English classes, which would be a great help. Mrs E. has taught English and translated as a volunteer for a local college when they have new immigrants who are struggling with bureaucracy. There are no translation services publicised to immigrant communities that Mrs E knows of and this can be an issue. Mrs E said that many immigrants who speak reasonable English struggle to read and comprehend English and this can make it difficult to follow regulations. In her husband’s case being out on the road meant he pretty soon learned to speak English but he never had time for lessons and without Mrs E to manage the business there would have been many problems that would have been difficult to resolve. 

Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme
© 2011 ELIE Project
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