Real Life

Mother and daughter duo Sobhna and Nimeesha Odedra ‘Our recipe for success’

The mother and daughter have cooked up a winning brand

As a young child growing up in Zanzibar, twice a week Subhadra Odedra would accompany her father to the local leprosy mission to donate milk and bread.

“The most important thing you can do is feed the people,” he counselled her on every trip.

Many decades on, it’s a philosophy the now Auckland-based 71-year-old still lives by every day.

Subhadra, who is known as Sobhna, is renowned among family and friends for her authentic Indian cooking. And her food also proved to be wildly popular at Kiwi markets.

So much so, Sobhna’s curry pastes caught the attention of supermarket chain Countdown, earning a coveted place in its Kete Accelerator Programme.

That’s given them $250,000 in support, including a $20,000 cash grant, marketing assistance and mentoring so they can upscale, which is life-changing for Sobhna and her daughter and business partner Nimeesha Odedra.

“It’s still very surprising to me,” smiles Sobhna. “Sometimes I think it’s a dream, but it’s our dream that has come true.”

The idea for the eponymous range of curry pastes and condiments first began when Sobhna found herself locked out of the job market at 55, after leaving her supermarket job to help raise Nimeesha’s newborn son Shiv. Bored with being at home so much during the week, she jumped at the chance to set up a weekend market stall.

“I love my customers and enjoy being with people,” Sobhna enthuses. “After all the time indoors in the week, being at the markets was freedom.”

Nimeesha, 49, treasures memories of Sobhna teaching her how to cook generations-old family recipes and was thrilled to see her extroverted mum sharing this knowledge with Kiwis at the markets.

“We grew up with really good food and she was always really passionate about healthy meals,” says Nimeesha.

Sobhna, who lived in India and the UK before settling in Aotearoa 21 years ago, adds, “Now everyone in our family cooks.”

But when the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020 hit, Sobhna found herself desperately missing the social interaction and joys of the markets.

Wanting to help her mum during such an isolating time, Nimeesha set up a Facebook page and offered to record her cooking meals so Sobhna could still share her skills. Neither could have predicted what happened next.

“Social media was very new to us,” says Nimeesha. “A lot of time during videos we would be arguing – just our normal behaviour when making food – like me saying, ‘That’s too much oil’ or, ‘Can you measure it out?’ But people loved the rapport between us.”

Nimeesha and her mum’s easy banter was a hit with their Facebook fans.

Following a customer suggestion, Nimeesha shared a post about her mum’s curry pastes and cooking on Chooice – a popular online Facebook community supporting Kiwi businesses.

“We just sat there, and the number of followers was going up and up, to like 6000 in a few hours!” remembers Nimeesha, who was also completing her PhD at the time. “Messages were pinging, asking, ‘Can you send it to Dunedin or Invercargill? We want to order.’ It went pretty crazy and I thought, ‘Maybe this could be a full-time business, not just a hobby.’

“But it was lockdown and we weren’t businesswomen. We didn’t know anything about couriers and packaging, so when we went to level three, I would leave home at 7am, delivering to all the people who had ordered in Auckland, and come home at 9pm. For a few weeks, that’s all we were doing. I had to take time off my research because it was so full-on.”

Since then, the mother-daughter duo’s business has continued to go from strength to strength. In 2021, they won silver at the NZ Artisan Food Awards and in July 2021, one day before the deadline, they applied for the Kete Accelerator Programme with Countdown.

“We couldn’t believe it when we found out we were one of the winners,” shares Nimeesha. “It’s been a lot of work, but such a positive experience.”

Now Sobhna’s brand is stocked in more than 100 Countdown stores and the pair are excitedly developing a range of simmer sauces.

While their small business has grown larger and faster than they ever imagined, they both agree their motivation and values remain the same.

“I love to feed people – there’s no better thing in the world I can do,” smiles Sobhna, who also delights in sharing her skills at regular cooking classes, workshops in schools and by cooking for charity Love Soup.

From stall holder to being stocked at Countdown, Sobhna still has time to make meals for Love Soup charity.

Nimeesha adds, “In our culture, we’re big believers in karma – what you give out to the world is what you get back. It’s never been about making money or being famous. The business has brought us closer together and it’s about sharing Mum’s love of food with the community.”

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