Millions of viewers of the TV programme Dragon’s Den were left perplexed when tears streamed down the face of Vini, one half of the entrepreneurial couple, Vini & Bal, when they were offered an investment of £50,000 for a 30% stake in their fresh food business by newest Dragon Piers Linney. Adding to tension amid that critical moment, viewers wondered whether they saw tears of joy, relief or disappointment. “They were definitely tears of joy, relief and exhaustion brought on by the culmination of three days intensive preparation for the show,” a more self-composed Vini recalls, looking every inch the successful business woman seated at their offices in Gravesend in Kent, almost one year after the crucial filming of the BBC2 show.
“Usually, the contestants have at least three weeks to prepare but because of a contestant dropping out unexpectedly, we were asked to fill the spot at short notice. We were having to prepare our presentation in the corridors of the BBC while passing celebrities gave us encouragement,” enthuses Bal.
Inspired family recipes
Meeting impossible deadlines is just one of the skills the dynamic duo take in their stride. No two people represent the business saying that ‘preparation plus hard work equals success’ more than these two. That was their guiding motto when three years ago in 2011 the pair finally threw in everything to launch their business ‘Vini & Bal’s Rustic Indian Curry Sauces’, a range of freshly made Indian cook in sauces, that recreate the flavour of home cooking. “After my Mum was diagnosed with coeliac disease (an intolerance to gluten) and I was faced with having to return to work and pay for a child minder after maternity leave, I wanted to find a business that would let me stay at home and work around my children. I had been talking about creating healthy, fresh Indian authentic sauces, inspired by my mother’s family recipes for too long,” explains Vini. “It was then that Bal urged me to seize the moment and prepare for the Fine Food Fare, the biggest food exhibition at the Olympia in London which was taking place in 5 weeks.”
“We wanted to establish if there was a market for our products, otherwise there would be no point.” adds Bal, showing his savvy marketing skills, sharpened from many years’ experience running a bakery and other commercial outlets. Vini too was able to use her foundation in science training and in-born creative flair to meet the health and safety requirements as well as recreate the recipes and design the original branding and packaging. The upshot is that within the limited timeframe, Vini & Bal had a new product ready for testing. “Will people like it, we kept asking ourselves but in the end we had cues of people lining up to taste our sauces at the fare. Word of mouth spread and even TV Masterchef Monica Galetti commented favourably.”
One thing led to another and it was not long before the couple received interest to supply 150 independent retailers. Come March 2013 during what they thought would be a quiet period, the couple received the famous call from the Dragon’s Den producers to do a test shoot which eventually led to the media frenzy that secured their £50,000 investment from Piers Linney.
Enter the Dragon
“Piers believes that if something can be done, then it can be done”, says Bal. “He has given us great advice and always is available at the end of a telephone line.” The investment has allowed the indomitable pair to rebrand, tie up loose ends and crystallise on plans, not to mention win orders to distribute nationally through Sainsbury’s, Ocado, and Booths.
“We are just happy that we can bring Mum’s recipes to life and offer everyone a home cooking experience when they eat Indian food,” beams Vini taking pride that her cherished family recipes, handed down over the generations will enrich the cooking experience of millions in the country. Bal captures his wife’s sentiments by recalling the famous quote by the late great Pavarotti, “One of the very best things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”