If you ever think you are too old or unsavvy to set up a business in your golden years, hold that thought. You may want to check your self-doubt at the door after reading the inspiring startup story of Akila Chollalingham.
The name Akila means intelligent, brave, strong and wise — all qualities required for a budding entrepreneur. Qualities that Akila Chollalingham, a home cook turned entrepreneur from West Yorkshire, has in spades.
Here’s her story.
Chollalingham was determined to make the healthiest and tastiest Indian food in Britain. In 2018 she started testing and trialling gourmet curries out of her kitchen.
Three years later, the 76-year-old grandmother has a booming frozen pre-prepared meal business on her hands called Chef Akila. She has also ticked her ESG or social impact agenda, which is rare for a startup. She has done this by preparing and handing out more than 2,200 free vegan ready meals to frontline NHS workers, the elderly and those shielding at home from Covid-19 over lockdown.
What inspired her to set up a business in her 70s?
Chef Akila, who was born and raised in South India says she noticed a lack of nutritious but tasty curries for sale in UK’s supermarkets and takeaways.
“My father practiced ancient Ayurvedic medicine and believed that food is medicine. He taught us the benefits of spices, herbs and real, wholesome Indian food,” says Chollalingham.
Is there a doctor in the house?
For over 60 years, thousands of people from villagers to VIPs have enjoyed her hand-cooked food. Today, she lives in Yorkshire with her son, NHS consultant doctor Dr Senthil Kumaran, who equally believes healthy food leads to a happy family.
Combining her 60 years of culinary experience along with input from nutritionists, health experts and doctors, including her son, she created healthier versions of her traditional recipes.
In addition to a chicken and lamb range, the company also has a popular gluten-free and vegan selection, including vegan Tikka Masala and Spinach dal Kootu, which are registered with The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark.
Since its official launch last year, the business has already accumulated multiple accolades, including 24 Great Taste Awards.
If you do some snooping on the company website you will see something eye-opening: the comparatively lower calorie count.
Compare Meals (Average Calories/Meal)
|Restaurant||KFC||Mcdonald’s/ Subway/ Burger King||Chef Akila Meals for 1|
How has her business coped during the lockdown?
As the pandemic unfolded, Chollalingham decided to start delivering her curries to hospitals, and also offered discount codes for subsidised prices to keyworkers. Curries were also dropped off to elderly and vulnerable people in the local area.
On top of this, the company has donated more than 50,000 meals to children in India over the last 12 months as part of its “buy one – feed one” initiative.
Spending the majority of the pandemic in her kitchen, she says: “We are incredibly grateful to have experienced such a growth in 2020 and even happier that we were able to give something back during the pandemic.”
Since the nation went into lockdown a year ago, the business has witnessed an unprecedented 680% increase in sales and had to take on new members of staff to cope with the demand.
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To browse Chef Akila’s full frozen meal menu please see below.
Monthly Curry Boxes: Save 12.5%
Buy One, Feed One
For every meal you buy, Chef Akila will donate a meal to a hungry child in India.