Samosa-slinging sisters persevere

NEWTON – A team behind production of gourmet samosas and hot sauces has won the B.C. New Canadian Entrepreneur Award.

The 22nd annual award, organized by the Ethno Business Council of B.C., was given to Newton-based Nana’s Kitchen and Hot Sauce at an event in Vancouver on Thursday evening (May 22).

The plant is operated by sisters Shelina Mawani and Nasim Dhanji, who launched their food-manufacturing business in the late-1990s.

“It’s truly an honour that we’ve been recognized like this, after so many years of hard work, especially as new immigrants to Canada,” Mawani said. “We are Canadians but not born in Canada. It’s been a long journey.”

Nana’s Kitchen cooks up 25,000 samosas a day, making it one of the largest producers of samosas in the province.

Mawani, whose job is to market and promote the business, said the award is shared with the company’s 37 employees.

Nana’s Kitchen and Hot Sauce company operators, sisters Shelina Mawani (left) and Nasim Dhanji, with their B.C. New Canadian Entrepreneur Award, given by the Ethno Business Council of B.C.

The awards gala was held Thursday at Vancouver’s Pan Pacific Hotel, with tickets going for $120 per person.

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

In 1998 Nana’s Kitchen started out as a small restaurant in Burnaby. The sisters, originally from Tanzania, 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,” said Mawani. “We had lost quite a bit of money.”

With nowhere else to turn, they gave it another shot and re-purposed 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 commercialsized kitchen, and by 2007 moved into their current facility in Surrey, which is 17,000 square feet in size.

-with file from Larissa Cahute, Vancouver Desi