I wrote this post in January and I'm only posting it now in March, so much has happened, the pandemic almost seems like a distant memory as we watch the war in Ukraine. So many things are happening around the world, it almost seems silly writing about myself, but here it is all the same.... The story so far of Dosa Love, from the beginning, what we did during covid, and the positives that have come from it all.
It was November 2018 when I launched Dosa Love. The idea initially came to me the August of that year, I had previously run food businesses since 2012, but stopped when I moved to Manchester. I thought I wanted normality and a regular job rather than self-employment… sadly normality didn’t want me, and I couldn’t get permanent employment!
I decided I had better take matters in to my own hands and set up a new food business. This time selling Dosa.
I opted for Dosa after really enjoying them at a South Indian restaurant in Nottingham. There was no business plan, I just knew what I wanted to do. James came up with the name, I built a website, a friend designed the logo, and I worked on recipes. The aim was to provide fresh healthier street food options that pretty much anyone could eat regardless of their dietary requirements, for medical reasons (ie coeliac), ethical reasons (ie plant-based), religious reasons, and so on.
I didn’t even know how to cook Dosa when I decided to do this, and, I must confess I only got the recipe right one week before our first event, but I knew I would nail it, I had no choice! This was my new business.
How our Dosa used to look when we first started out.
Our first event was at Treacle Market in Macclesfield. I went to Treacle Market in the months before I asked to trade there and fell in love with it. Over 160 stalls of art, food and beautiful things. All carefully selected. A real community event that supported small businesses and brought the town to life. It’s really important to me to be involved in community events and to support other small businesses, so this ticked every box.
Not long after launching Dosa Love I moved back to Nottingham to live with James – my lovely man who is always by my side on the Dosa Love stall. I started trading on Station Street in Nottingham as part of the Wolf Down Pop Up. I spent the winter months freezing cold, the worst being -4 temperatures… There’s nothing to test your resilience like making no money whilst your freezing cold, day after day. The lunch time thing just wasn’t right for my business. At lunch time people want cheap food. Not what I was doing. I also had my tyres slashed multiple times on a street where I parked. No fun.
I gradually picked up more events in Nottingham and in Manchester. Including our first big success, Light Night in Sneinton Market Place. It had been a tough cold start to running the business so it was nice to see that people really wanted our food and really enjoyed it too. It’s not quite so bad being freezing cold if you know you can pay your bills at the end of it.
To start with I made my food in a local church hall but apparently one of the congregation didn’t like the smell of onions so I had to find another space.
I contacted my friend, Jill Carter, at Pulp Friction whom I had worked with previously. Pulp Friction supports people with learning disabilities and autism through work-based training in a kitchen. They worked from the canteen at Nottingham Fire & Rescue HQ. I asked if I could go there as a one-off but Jill offered me the space anytime I needed it. It worked brilliantly, I would take my equipment and food to cook there, and the Pulp Friction members would help me make food, providing them with an opportunity to learn new skills from me. It was a lot of fun.
Cooking in the Pulp Friction kitchen
We booked on to more and more events and I filled the calendar as much as we could, taking on anything and everything. We attended amazing events with great community vibes and lovely people, events we felt at home in.
We also attended quite a few dud events. Sadly, not everything event organisers tell you turns out to be the reality. You can attend an event where no-one turns up, or where they charge so much it’s not worth going.
We had good days and bad days, ups and downs, events where we made money, events where lost money.
We worked really hard, come rain or shine. James was working full time as well as helping me. I made the food in the week, booked us on events, did all the social media and all of the other things that need doing in a business. He worked his socks off and didn’t even take a wage the first year, just so I could build things up.
Dishing up a Dosa Love at Belper Arts Trail.
At the end of it all I took home a wage of £7000 for the year. Literally enough to scrape by on. Everything else went back in to the business, or was swallowed up in event fees from the events that hadn’t been what we had hoped for.
At the end of 2019 we looked back at everything we had done. We were tired but really proud of what we had achieved in year one. We decided on select events to do in 2020. We were welcomed back with open arms to events we had really enjoyed.
We had a stack of nice things ready in the pipeline. 2020 was going to be the year when I finally had a bit of cash in my pocket to show for all the hard work, and I could pay James too…
…And then Covid hit and the lockdowns began. I know everyone has their story, and some had it more difficult than others, and some had it easier… Our covid story was sort of OK really, we made it through relatively unscathed. Here’s what happened next….
2020 and COVID
I started 2020 with an awful flu of some sort, I was in bed for the whole of January, and though still shaky and not right I managed a couple of events in February. March was a quiet month for us, it’s still quite cold, events can be a bit hit and miss so we didn’t have much on – luckily, because that was, as we all know, when the lockdowns began….
The first couple of weeks of the first lockdown we sat and watched a lot of news. We stayed inside a lot and did a nightmare of a jigsaw…
I saw my Dosa Love business go down the pan, every event we had booked was cancelled. On top of this being self-employed meant I didn’t qualify for Furlough. I didn’t have any profit to show from the previous years’ work because I had ploughed it back in to the business so I wasn’t entitled to the other help. I was entitled to ZERO from the government… Thanks Rishi, Thanks Boris.
James had to continue working throughout the lockdowns, on the plus side, at least he still had a job.
I decided I had better set up another business instead of sitting around doing nothing. I built a website for a new business called Woodhouse Kitchen. I offered delivery of food locally and sold through a website called Neighbourfood. I also started making food for people in hardship. I did this with the help of Jill from Pulp Friction. I utilised their kitchen space at Nottingham Fire & Rescue HQ, and I also used their Fareshare food delivery alongside my own food to make food for folks that needed it. I filled my time with cooking for my new very small business, and helping others.
Then, in May, Jill needed someone to run a new kitchen for her at the Police HQ. I realised I had better take the opportunity to have a regular income and jumped at it. I worked out of a small cabin making breakfasts and lunches every day, serving the staff on site. It was super interesting to meet people working in all the different departments and understanding how far their work reached and what the different departments do. It was an eye-opener for sure.
Whilst I was there Jill told me she had been offered a new space on Pelham Road in Carrington, close to Nottingham city centre. It was owned by an organisation called Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA). They wanted Pulp Friction to use the space, so that people with learning disabilities could work on site, providing the breakfast and lunch menu to their office staff.
Obviously, things were very up in the air in the summer of 2020, most people were working from home, but lockdowns ended and there was some hope that things were improving. Jill asked if I would like to come on board and work together on the project. I would run the business and she would bring in the Pulp Friction members. I said yes and instantly set about writing a business proposal and coming up with ideas. I dreamt of creating a community hub, selling local food and art. Making it a safe space for anyone to go to. Making it something really special. With Pulp Friction members at the heart of it, and ultimately running it as a co-operative. I called it Deli Llama.
Deli-Llama from the outside
SETTING UP DELI-LLAMA
Jill submitted the proposal to NCHA in late July, for a food shop and café, selling local food and art, and making fresh food. They said yes to it and advised we would have the keys in early October. I saved all my money from the Police HQ job to go towards the new business.
At the end of August I stopped working at the Police HQ so I could focus fully on getting ready for the new space on Pelham Road. I designed the logo and flyers, built a website, researched and ordered stock from local artists and food producers for the shop, designed and priced up menus and budgeted for the coming year. I also started writing the outline of a plan for it to be a co-operative for Pulp Friction members, staff and local people.…
I got as much ready as I could. Excited about the launch. But sadly, we didn’t get the keys until late November, it felt like a long wait and I continued to work on the website and other areas in the background of the business. We eventually opened Deli Llama on 3 December 2020. We bought in local food for the shelves, and had a small amount of art and gifts. We had a limited menu in the café.
From the very start of Deli Llama I had James there whenever I needed him, he has always supported my crazy ideas. He came and worked in the shop to begin with whilst I found my feet.
I also had Tara by my side. Tara came to Deli Llama via Pulp Friction. She started as a volunteer, but was offered a Kickstarter job. She grew in skills and confidence and ended on a high by getting a proper permanent job at a restaurant in the city centre.
Tara showing off her baking skills
Unfortunately, when we opened, we had missed the pre-Christmas rush, and we also missed being able to take advantage of the gap in-between lockdowns to get people in. But far worse than any of this. Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer over Christmas. Luckily, she had the cancer removed and has been ok in that respect. But a barrage of Chemo has left her pretty knackered.
Jill carried on working as much as she could, with a fantastic team running Pulp Friction, ensuring the members could still go to the Fire Brigade HQ for training. The priority for Pulp Friction is to always ensure that the members are safe, especially as so many of them were sheilding.
Our joint project had to change a lot. All the plans we had were put on hold. More lockdowns ensued. The office staff weren’t there in numbers and it was hard to get people in to the shop. However, we did have the support of some amazing people who became regular customers or provided support in other ways. All the small businesses that sold their food and art through the shop. I can’t thank those people enough!
We did street food take-aways on Friday evenings for a while which went down a treat. But having to stay open in the day time for office staff meant we were pretty tired when it came to the evenings. As much as there were some opportunities, other parts were difficult. There were lots of Swings and Roundabouts.
In the Spring of 2021 we were allowed to open as a café. Wow! That was a shock to the system. After months of nothing we had some very busy days, it was weird having people milling in the garden after seeing so few people, the anxiety of being surrounded by people and having to make sure everyone stayed safe was pretty overwhelming. But we had to deal with it. Customers really enjoyed the food, they also appreciated having a space that was covid safe too. And, they liked the art and gifts, I was proud to be able to support lots of other local small businesses during a difficult time. There are so many talented people in Nottingham and a wealth of small businesses.
Some of the Pulp Friction Team helping to get the garden ready for customers.
As much as I loved creating a beautiful space, making good food and meeting such nice people, running the shop and café was pretty relentless. We cooked the food from scratch ourselves, so there was always cooking that needed to happen before doors opened. Pots to be washed, coffees to make, stock to order and buy, customers to serve…. The cleaning had to be done every day, tables and chairs, floors and handles, the kitchen, the toilet, the outdoor seating... The only way I can explain it is: if you imagine when you had a party and all the jobs you had to do, now imagine you have to have a party every-day at home – that’s pretty much it.
Inside Deli-Llama -stocking local art and food
Tara worked a couple of days with me and a couple of days at Pulp Friction HQ. And I had both Erica and George working with me for a brief period. All of whom saved my sanity and did their share of the jobs when they were working.
However, even when there was help it was tiring. I became quite disillusioned. All the dreams of creating a community space fell by the way side. I didn’t have time to put in to making it a co-operative, to organise events once restrictions loosened, or all the other things I had hoped for. Once you’ve spent 8 to 10 hours on your feet, the idea of cracking on with other stuff isn’t very appealing.
Worst of all, I felt miserable and I wasn’t present in my relationship with James. It wasn’t fair on him, and as I wasn’t taking a wage it wasn’t fair on the household finances either.
Luckily in the Summer events started happening again and people could have gatherings in their gardens.
Dosa Love started getting calls asking for us to cater at their events, so we were lucky to get work at parties, weddings and corporate events. Added to which, a couple of the larger public events we traded at were opening up again. We traded at The Garage in Chilwell, Keyworth, and Belper.
There were weeks over the summer where it was pretty usual for me to work 60-70 hours. Running Deli Llama and then running the Dosa Stall at the weekend.
In the end the time came to throw in the towel with Deli Llama. It clearly wasn’t going to work and I had reached the end of the money I was prepared to lose for it. So, I closed it down in August 2021.
It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but it was the right thing to do. I was fortunate that I was able to step away from it. The space is still being utilised by Pulp Friction and also by another organisation. It hasn’t gone to waste. But it isn’t open to the public anymore.
It was only a very brief stint running Deli Llama. But I am glad I did it. I did meet some amazing people. But more than anything, it taught me to appreciate my own time, and to really appreciate my relationship with James.
Since we closed it down I’ve started utilising ALL of my free time.
I started swimming again after 20+ years, plus running, cycling and going to the gym. I am learning four languages and I have started making my own clothes again. I actually studied fashion at college and uni so it’s nice to go back to something I love, the cogs in my brain are slowly whirring back in to action.
Another perk is I have time to make food for me and James again so we get to eat delicious food all the time. This didn't happen at the deli, I lived off cakes and snacks.
And most importantly, I get to spend time with James, and relax.
James and I went on an extended holiday in November. Our first in two years. We went to Malta and Sicily (both had super low covid rates) which was fun but tiring, and then spent a week in London - which was way more chilled than our holiday! December consisted of a lot of relaxing and sleeping, and obviously Christmas things.
(on Mount Etna)
It feels like so much good has come from a difficult situation and it has really put life in to perspective.
I started Dosa Love because I wanted to share the love with the food I make. But from running the shop and café I have realised I also need to be more loving towards myself, put more focus on me and what I enjoy doing. So covid did some good for me in a round-about way…
Now it’s 2022 and we are ready with our cylinders fired up for the year to come.
It’s been a funny old time, and I have certainly learnt a lot in the process.
We are both glad that we can go back to what we enjoy the most, making and serving up a Dosa Love.
We can’t wait to see you at an event this year!
...And more good news, Jill is still OK but tired, and still running Pulp Friction. They recently launched their new kitchen at the Joint Police and Fire HQ in Nottingham. Pulp Friction members are now working in the new canteen, and there are lots of other positive events happening for the team too :)
You can find out more about Pulp Friction here: https://pulpfrictioncic.org.uk