I am determined not to make inevitable comparisons with Jemal Peters founder and creator of new hot sauce sensation Big J’s Kitchen, and condiment stalwart Levi Roots; with his burgeoning brand of fiery sauces, strong social conscience (more about this later) and personable demeanour, Jemal has earned the right to be ‘comparison -free.’
Standing over 6ft 4, Jemal is what you would affectionately describe as a ‘big unit,’ therefore the moniker Big J is more than fitting; Jemal strikes me as possessing a big lust for life, unsurprisingly Jemal’s interest in food derived from hosting food parties for family and friends, a born foodie, Jemal enjoyed creating new recipes as well as reconstructing traditional recipes. It is not too hard to visualise Big J being at the centre of a fun -fuelled party, holding court, presiding over his guests and generously dishing out large portions.
Cooking was also therapeutic for Jemal, who is very candid about his street hustling past and “used cooking to get away from the stress and turmoil of street life.” Jemal’s transition to entrepreneurship was a foregone conclusion – there has and always will be a direct correlation between ‘street life’ and entrepreneurship after all the basic tenets of business are supply and demand, although in agreement Jermal doesn’t think that the street environment is conducive but given different circumstances ‘roadman’ could be a contender for The Apprentice:
“It’s not the best form of entrepreneurship as it’s not the right thing to do but the basic elements is technically the same but in a crazy environment.
“A lot of the skills are transferable and I firmly believe that if these young people were in a different environment and exposed to different things they would be successful business men and women.”
Ever the astute marketer Jemal has drawn heavily from his ‘urban’ background when marketing the Big J brand, impressively rather than going down the well -trodden route of selling his sauces to ‘ethnic’ grocers, Jemal had left his comfort zone and targeted high -end butchers and delis: Allens of Mayfair, Moen & Sons, Bayley and Sage, Parson’s Nose, to name but a salubrious few. Even though, Jemal expected challenges by setting his sights high, his strategy is paying off:
” I purposely went high end, I wanted to go somewhere that would tell me to get lost! There’s no tie from the streets, no ties to Big J, it ain’t my mate who owns a corner shop, I really wanted to go somewhere that would say: ‘Mate your products no good leave us alone.’ I wanted the harsh truth, otherwise you’re wasting your time in business.”
The overwhelming positive response is testimony to how good Big J’s sauces are:
“It doesn’t really matter where you’re from as long as your product is authentic and tastes good.
“Most things (trends) start from the street, we are bringing something new to that world and what everyone wants is good tasting food.”
What is also revealing is Jemal’s unconventional approach to securing one of his suppliers:
” With Allens of Mayfair, I was driving through Tooting and saw one of their delivery vans, I jumped out – I think the driver thought we were going to rob him! I handed over two jars of sauces and said: ‘Listen mate, your boss is expecting this.’ I then sent them a message on Twitter letting them know that I just sent samples and from then our relationship was built.”
In addition to cementing a solid business relationship, Jemal’s ‘ambush’ of the delivery driver led to Big J’s sauces being sold out before graduating to prime display space in the chilled section next to Allens of Mayfair’s ribs.
A golden rule of business is to form allegiances with those that are able to enhance your business, or to quote one of the most successful business women on the planet – Oprah Winfrey: “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” Jemal subscribed to this idea when he was looking for investors:
“I had many people approaching me with investment because they could see the potential, but they didn’t have any experience in food. If you just get money alone it will come and go, so I had to make sure to pick the right investors; I wanted people that knew the industry and could really support Big J’s and take it to the next level.”
The next logical level is to transition the brand from independent retailers to the multiples this has been made possible by the securement of a recent round of funding:
“The whole point of the investment was to get enough accredited stock. Even more important than the money is having the right expertise in my team which enables us to go forward into multiple retailers.”
With the imminent prospect of going into larger retailers, I was curious to know where Big J’s Kitchen products are produced; working from a domestic kitchen is obviously no longer a viable option:
“Our production is now out -sourced in an industrial kitchen in Cambridgeshire. We originally started off in my kitchen; I used to burn my hands on pots and I would then have to wash my pots in my garden with a jet spray!”
The decision to outsource the manufacturing was pragmatic:
“I’ve given them (manufacturer) my recipe to produce under Big J’s: I undergo strenuous testing to make sure that it comes out the same.
“I could spend all my time and money paying a factory; have crazy overheads which could shut my business down. My present arrangement works well for both parties.”
Along with out -sourcing, the Big J team comprises of up to five core members that comprise of family and friends, all have distinct roles, “my Mrs does the book keeping,” someone looks after sales, another is responsible for logistics and as the exuberant face of the brand, Jemal deals with promotions.
Being able to “give back,” forms the backbone of Big J’s Kitchen, prior to launching his business Jemal was a Youth Worker who worked extensively with young offenders and gang members, after a few short years Jemal worked his way up to management, believing he could do more working on the streets at ground level, he almost turned down this opportunity. However he soon realised that, “I could actually reach more young people sitting in an office as I was helping others reach them.”
The Or programme short for Or What? – is a social enterprise that Jemal self -funds through a portion of profits made from Big J’s Kitchen. As a former young offender, Jemal is well versed in the theory of reluctant young offenders, offend due to both circumstance and being prisoners of their own restricted environments who, “may not want to offend but see it as their only realistic option.” Having to support his family after his mother became seriously ill, was the main impetus behind Jemal’s misspent youth, yet this, alongside his connection with young offenders formed the bedrock of Or.
Jemal talks me through Or’s ethos:
“The Or programme supports young offenders getting into business through mentoring but also gives tailor made awards to get them started and allow them to make their dreams a reality. Our motto is: “A Dreams Worth Nothing If You Leave it On Your Pillow…Go Get It!”
The food industry would be devoid of flavour if Jemal had left his dream on his pillow, boy are we glad that he didn’t!
For further information please visit: www.bigjskitchen.com