Manjit Kaur is a truly inspirational lady. She’s set up her second restaurant on Kirkstall Road – but, like many independent restaurants, this week had to temporarily close and look at delivery options.
Earlier this month she spoke to community reporter JOSIE ARMITAGE about her passion for cooking and her journey so far…
MANJIT Kaur has built upon her passion for cooking and food and opened up her second restaurant on Kirkstall Road, extending her growing Indian street food business.
Manjit opened Manjit’s Kitchen & Bar on Kirkstall Road in October, which she runs with her husband Michael Jameson. The restaurant has been busy since the first day.
Manjit has always had a passion for cooking and food and used to help her granny cook. She said:
“In our religion, we go to the Temple quite often and sit around and eat together. This is a social gathering, family time and eating together is very important.”
Manjit was made redundant in 2009 and wanted to do something that she really enjoyed. She had no money and didn’t know what to do.
She started off cooking and preparing home deliveries of Indian vegetarian food from her home kitchen, on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There was nothing like this at that time and vegetarian options were limited.
It was important for Manjit to show she could run her own business. Manjit said:
“I have proven to myself that I can do this as an Indian lady. I have a fantastic team of ladies. I wanted to give them the opportunity to work in a place where they felt secure.
“Some of them had never worked before. I have shown them that they can have a life outside home life. They have developed their English and communication skills talking to customers.”
Word got out and in 2010, Manjit was asked to have a pitch at Oakwood Farmers’ Market.
This was successful and the business grew through going to festivals and farmers’ markets selling food from a street food cart made out of recycled materials. They continued this and their home deliveries for a few years.
In 2013, Manjit was approached by Richard Johnson with the opportunity of a seven-week set up in the new Trinity Centre in Leeds.
Manjit said yes but questioned how they could do this for seven days a week from 12 midday to 9pm. Would people be interested and buy their food? This was successful. Every day was full on and busy.
“We smashed it. If I can do this, I can do anything. It proved to me that I could do this,” she says with a smile.
They used the money made from this to invest in a van to use for festivals and events to protect them from the weather. Unfortunately, the van was vandalised in the first week they had it.
From the start, Manjit has used the internet and social media to advertise her food and business. She’s become a respected member of the Leeds Twitterati.
“Social media is a big thing for me and part of who I am. This was a free way to advertise my business and a strong presence and following is important for me.”
She has always shared their story on social media and as a result has a strong and supportive following.
At this time, their followers suggested that they run a Crowdfunder campaign to raise the money to buy what is now known as the “Yellow Horsebox” and kit this out with a fully working kitchen. Supporters were rewarded with food vouchers.
They took the Yellow Horsebox everywhere in the UK and Europe, selling food at festivals and markets. People followed their journey on social media and wanted to know where they were.
As their followers wanted to know where they were so they could come and buy their food, Manjit wanted to have a base unit. She is born and bred in Leeds and has always loved the market, having fond childhood memories of going there.
In 2015, the Food Hall opened in the market. Manjit approached them as she wanted to set something up to bring people to the market and make it bigger and better. She opened her first permanent site, a base unit serving street food on a lunch time up to 5pm.
The market kitchen remains open from Monday to Friday 11am-5pm and Saturday 9am-5pm, catering for people to pop in for a quick lunchtime bite to eat.
In October 2019, Manjit’s Kitchen opened on Kirkstall Road. Manjit launched a Kickstarter campaign which raised £40k. People who donated were rewarded with food vouchers, t-shirts, reduced fees for Horsebox hire and a collaboration with the Ox Club as a reward evening for those who donated. She said:
“I have always dreamt of having my own place, open in the evenings. Our market venue is grab and go so people can have tasty, good quality food on a lunchtime. I wanted somewhere where people could come on an evening and spend time casually enjoying good food.”
The Kitchen has 32-34 seats and is open from 5-8 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 12 midday – 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 pm until late on Sundays. Sundays are a lazy day and more casual.
Manjit chose Kirkstall Road as it is quite central. They realised later that it is easy to get to.
“The location is spot on,” Manjit explains. “People come in before and after going to the Vue Cinema and the Brudenell Club. We have been supported by local businesses in the area. It’s a community. People can book a table and go for a drink in the Cardigan Arms. We will ring them when their table is ready.”
Balancing the market with Kirkstall Road is no mean feat. But Manjit is no ordinary lady. What does her typical day look like?
“I go to the market in the mornings and then come over to Kirkstall. I have a fantastic team of people at the market who I’ve trained and trusted to manage things there.
“The restaurants aren’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays. Monday is an admin day and on Tuesdays we are doing everything else.
“I love pressure and work under pressure very well. The support of customers and through social media has always been important to me.
“We couldn’t have achieved where we are without our customers and followers. I always involve them in any changes I am planning for the business such as seeking their input into how we, as a small independent business, can offer a sustainable, ethical, quality takeaway/delivery option.”
This resulted in the recent introduction of tiffin boxes for takeaways. Customers pay a deposit which is refunded when they bring the boxes back.Running your own business isn’t without its challenges.
“It was tough setting up and starting the business. Managing, doing the training, doing everything. We do everything ourselves. It’s getting easier now as we have staff we can trust to get on and run the day to day business. It’s tough balancing everything and saying no to things.”
Manjit also understands the importance of giving back. She also works with Café Leep, which provides opportunities for adults with learning disabilities. One young man, Michael has been working every Thursday for two years at the market.
“It’s fantastic to give Michael this opportunity. We’re trying to get him up to Kirkstall as it’s a different set up and he wants to work with us here. It’s been brilliant working with Café Leep.”
What’s next for this husband and wife teeam? Well, Manjit and Michael will continue to run all parts of their business, supported by their trusted teams: Manjit’s Kitchen Café & Bar at Kirkgate market, Manjit’s Kitchen & Bar on Kirkstall Road and the Yellow Horsebox catering for events, weddings, festivals and corporate functions.
The sky’s the limit for Manjit!