When Alia Shah was struck down with acute morning sickness, she measured out her special mix of spices, wrote down ‘man-proof’ instructions and left accountant husband Abbas to cook the family’s dinner.
Four years on, that curry mix has become a foolproof stand-by not just for the Shah family, but for hundreds of eager curry fans around the Sheffield area.
And this week the secret is being shared with supermarket customers for the first time, as Mrs Shah’s curry mixes go on sale in Asda.
“I had never cooked in my life – I managed to burn a pizza at university!” admits Abbas. “But that first curry was great and I was surprised at how simple it was.”
In 2010, Abbas gave colleague Mark Pennington a pot of spices, complete with instructions – with the same impressive results.
Mark came up with the idea of launching business and for the last two years the two have made and sold Mrs Shah’s Curry Mix via local shops and farmers’ markets.
Abbas, who lives in Burngreave with Alia and their four children, combines his accountancy with sales, promotion, product development and customers services.
Mark is an auditor with Sheffield City Council, but now devotes a day each week to building the spice business, dealing with production, quality and technical issues.
As the business grew, they took on commercial kitchen premises in Chesterfield, where the mixes are produced. And when social networking triggered a 20-fold increase in business last October, Mark’s wife agreed to join them as a full-time employee.
There are now five varieties of Mrs Shah’s curry mixes, ranging from extra mild to extra hot. Each contains 19 freshly ground herbs and spices, various minerals and no additives or preservatives.
The approach from Asda is a major landmark – the order for 2500 pots is their biggest to date – but a new machine should help to double output.
New mixes are now in development and exports are on the cards. Online orders are available from: www.mrsshah.co.uk