By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
Roopa Rawal has a sweet secret to tell: working day in and day out with your sibling can be a great way to launch a successful business.
Sounds scary right? Well, Roopa, in her 30’s now is worth in excess of six-figures as the co-founder of a successful venture, called Devnaa, company that makes desserts combining sweets and spices in the UK. Not bad for the first job she has had since leaving university! Her and her brother Jay Rawal founded Devnaa, together and have been going strong ever since.
Despite her success, Roopa remains incredibly humble and grounded working from her family’s kitchen in West London.
Roopa’s got her knowledge of authentic Indian cooking has been learned from our her mom’s amazing recipes and also from her grandmother’s guidelines. Her grandmother was known in her local community in Nairobi for making the best Indian sweets. So when she and her brother launched Devnaa, she knew that if she was going to make our treats available to the rest of the world they would have to surpass all expectations people associated with Indian sweets.
After taking artisan chocolate making at the ‘Slattery School of Excellence’, she returned toLondon where she and her brother shared their experiences and ideas and began development of an all new collection of sweets and desserts by combining the authentic Indian recipes with artisan chocolate techniques.
Over 35 recipes later and with the 10 other family members of their household as chief tasters, they created their first signature barfi made with couverture Belgian chocolate, French milk powder and fresh cream. Today the same creativity and dedication go into developing all their innovative sweet treats.
I had a chance to talk to Roopa about her journey. Here’s that interview:
When did you start your business?
The idea first developed soon after I graduated in 2005 and returned home from University.
What response did you have?
The response was greater than we originally anticipated and during our first Diwali season we received corporate gift orders from several multinational organisations that allowed us to develop our unique tiffin style packaging and build a strong business brand.
How is Devnaa unique in its offerings?
In everything we do at Devnaa we try to be completely unique – we don’t want to put something out there that already exists. From our range of Indian inspired chocolates that are ever so carefully created to pair the chocolate with the spice blends and the fillings, to our recipe books which feature dishes old and new but each with a unique twist developed by us.
We have set the bar extremely high for ourselves and everything is put through vigorous testing to ensure that the taste and quality is of the highest standard. Of course we also feature chocolate a lot which is really different to traditional Indian sweets.
Who comes up with recipes? Whats the product that is most popular?
I do, I develop all the recipes for our Devnaa Signature Chocolate products and the recipes in our cookbooks. A lot of the time Jay or one of my other family members will ask me to try something completely wacky but then we end up refining it into something that works really well – for example the white chocolate bar with pistachio, cardamom and saffron which a lot of people say evokes the feeling of eating Rasmalai, Barfi, or Basundi – all that from one bite of chocolate!
The most popular products are definitely our signature caramels – I think the sweetness of the caramel balanced with the varying depths of chocolates and spice blends create just the right level of sweetness and flavour. They aren’t overpoweringly sweet or spicy, but the Indian flavour is there with the chocolate coming in as a complement – you get the best of both worlds of Indian mithai and chocolates.
Why is chocolate so integral to the brand?
From the outset our vision was never to be just another Indian sweet company. We wanted to offer something unique, something premium and something appealing to a younger generation. Combining Belgian chocolate with traditional Indian sweet making techniques and flavours is at the core of our product offering. Chocolate provides the perfect platform to present the flavours of the mithai we grew up with to a much wider audience.
What was your family kitchen like growing up and what did you learn about cooking and recipes?
Our family kitchen was and still is the hub of our home; it’s where we feel the biggest sense of community. At dinnertime everyone leaves work behind, forgets any issues they had during the day and sits down to eat with a smile on their face! My grandfather was very traditional and taught us to respect and value our food. From my grandmother I learned passion for cooking – to make everything with zest, love, and gusto.
Mum taught me to be more immaculate and precise in my recipes. My Father taught me to be daring with my flavour combinations and there were no rule books when it came to cooking. In the kitchen growing up I’d also have aunts, uncles and cousins from whom I learned so much more and with all these brilliant people around you can imagine how much of a buzz there was about the food and the atmosphere in the kitchen.
Have you seen a trend amongst South Asians moving away from traditional sweets?
Definitely, we’ve noticed this trend in all areas of our business from weddings, corporate gifts and festivals gifts. I think it comes down to the developing flavour palette of younger generation Asians. Also our products don’t contain any added clarified butter (ghee) and are presented in premium packaging all of which are important considerations for consumers these days.
How do you juggle family and work?
When you’re your own boss and especially when you love what you do every day, it can be difficult to balance work and family. I’m fortunate that my family are very supportive of what I do and are always ready to help when things get super busy.
Over the years I’ve become more disciplined about taking time away from work and making more time for my family, I also find it makes me more creative when I’m back in the office or in our development kitchen making a new product after some quality time with friends and family.
Was it difficult to leave a nine to five type of job to launch a business?
Not really – I started Devnaa almost as soon as I graduated from university so I never really got into a 9-5 before I started. I can say however, I think I would find it really hard to switch to a 9-5 now though! Devnaa allows me so much freedom to be creative and to see the results of my work in a short space of time and I’m not sure I would get that from working in a big organisation.
Watch Roopa make her famous Chai Cupcakes for an easy recipe for your next tea time!
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