Founder of Surrey-based samosa plant is among 11 nominees for New Canadian Entrepreneur Awards

SURREY entrepeneur

BC Ethno Council entrepreneur award winners (back row, left to right) Enrique Quesada, Kenneth Co, Simon Pennell, Jag Khangura, Ankit Sharma, (front row left to right) Paola Murrillo, Christina Chang, Shelina Mawani and Eric Gaunder, in Vancouver, BC Friday, May 16, 2014. Jason Payne/ PNG

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

It took a gruelling 14 years to get B.C. entrepreneur Shelina Mawani’s business to where it is today.

Her Surrey-based food manufacturing plant, Nana’s Kitchen & Hot Sauce, specializing in gourmet samosas and hot sauces, is currently the only federally certified and inspected B.C. plant in its category and one of the largest producers of handmade samosas in the province – cooking up 25,000 a day.

As an immigrant from Tanzania, her achievements have earned her one of 11 nominations at the 22nd annual B.C. New Canadian Entrepreneur Awards, organized by the Ethno Business Council of B.C. But her success certainly didn’t come overnight.

In 1998 Nana’s Kitchen started out as a small restaurant in Burnaby. Partnered with her sister Nasim Dhanji, the pair worked up to 18 hours a day. But the overtime and dedication couldn’t keep the business afloat, so within a year they were forced to shut down.

“It was the most difficult endeavour,” Mawani told Vancouver Desi. “We had lost quite a bit of money.”

With nowhere else to turn, they gave it another shot and repurposed the business, turning it into a small manufacturing plant. One woman came in to cook the samosas, Dhanji made the filling and Mawani baked.

From there, they went “door-to-door to all the cafeterias, all the small coffee shops” to sell their unique gourmet product.

By 2003, they picked up momentum and moved into their first commercial-sized kitchen, and by 2007 moved into their current facility in Surrey, which is 17,000 square feet with more than 30 employees.

“It’s a 14-year-old journey,” Mawani said. “We have invested our life … (and) seen really tough days.

“We’re truly humbled that we are being recognized for our efforts.”

The annual New Canadian Entrepreneur Awards recognizes the achievements of those like Mawani.

“A lot of people start small and they succeed and they reach this stage,” said John Halani with the Etho Business Council of B.C. and a successful immigrant entrepreneur himself, owning two hotels on Robson Street.

But, of course, the role doesn’t come without challenges. Many arrive in Canada with little to no money, face language barriers, and are unaware of the country’s rules, regulations and business ethics.

“The way we do business here is different than what they do in their countries,” Halani said.

The idea behind the awards is to identify successful business owners to inspire other newcomers.

“Some people will look at their success and try to emulate (that),” Halani said.

Like Richmond’s Eric Gaunder, whose Hayden Diamond Bit Industries is receiving an award for outstanding leadership.

Gaunder immigrated from Fiji more than 20 years ago and founded his company – which specializes in manufacturing diamond coring bits for the mining industry – in 2001. Today, Gaunder’s company boasts more than 110 employees, but was also born from a humble beginning, starting out in his Richmond garage where he often worked 22-hour days with his only other coworker, his wife.

“Don’t give up and be brave,” Gaunder advised his peers. “Have a strong willpower and hope for the best.”

He further attributes his success to the rapport he keeps with his employees. He provides a good benefits package and refuses to ever submit to layoffs.

“Once you take care of your employees then the employees will take care of the company,” he said.

The New Canadian Entrepreneur Awards will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at Vancouver’s Pan Pacific Hotel. Tickets cost $120 and are available by contacting 604-687-6631 or jhalani@telus.net.

lcahute@theprovince.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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