A family business that started in a small Indian deli on Soho Road has become one of the UK’s top catering and events companies
Harvir Sahota is the perfect example of working your way through a business from the bottom to the top. As a youngster growing up he grabbed the chance to earn a bit of extra money at weekends by working in the small Indian deli opened by his family in Soho Road, Birmingham. “That’s how I got the taste for this business, it was a great background and great way to get experience,” he says. The shop which opened in the 70s is no longer there, mind. Its freshly-made Indian sweets and savouries proved so popular that Harvir’s father Mahir and his brother Ajmer were soon being inundated with requests to offer their treats as a catering service for outdoor events. As word spread about the quality of their food, the ‘events’ business became bigger and bigger – to the point where they launched Mahirs Experience.
Today, Harvir is the MD of a Birmingham success story that has won a clutch of awards including being named Outstanding Asian Business by the Institute of Asian Businesses. Mahirs provides authentic Indian cuisine for events of all shapes and sizes, private and corporate, as one of the UK’s leading catering and events companies. They don’t just supply food these days, but the full works, décor, lighting, entertainment, and so on. The firm works with some of the biggest, high profile venues across the country as well as locally at centres including the likes of the ICC, Town Hall, Villa Park, University of Birmingham, the Hawthorns, Edgbaston Cricket Ground and Hagley Hall to name but a few. Despite the expansion, Mahirs retains the important elements that have made it unique. All its food is still handmade and freshly prepared using a combination of traditional and contemporary methods. And while it remains very much a family business – Harvir’s sister Harjit is the finance guru, while his mother Parmjit and father Mahir are also still involved – recruiting some of the finest chefs from around the world has allowed the offering to grow to accommodate Gujarati, South Indian, Kashmiri, Indo Fusion, Oriental and European cuisine.
Harvir said: “Mahirs now does a huge range of events covering every possible venue from hotels, country homes, sports stadia, marquees and more. One of the areas that I want the business to become more involved in is pop-up restaurants. Since Wasps rugby moved to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry we’ve been doing pop-up food for the fans. Our sub-brand Love Chicken Tikka offers an alternative to the traditional match-day hotdogs and has proved to be very popular.” As we spoke, Mahirs had also opened a pop-up restaurant as part of the Amusement 13 street food festival in Digbeth. “This is the kind of thing we very much want to diversify into, the likes of large festivals too. As a caterer with a traditionally outdoor background, this type of venture lends itself very well to our profile.” Mahirs doubled the size of its premises by moving from Smethwick to a new base in West Bromwich a couple of years ago and part of the plan was to develop a training and apprenticeship programme on-site to encourage more youngsters into the hospitality business.
“A personal ambition of mine is to train more people moving forwards,” said Harvir. “As an industry, unless we do something about it, we are going to face a skills shortage as young people don’t see hospitality as a career for them. The ongoing tightening of immigration policies also makes it harder to bring in people with the background in Indian food, so it is very important that we teach and pass our knowledge on. “We are just finishing our training rooms here which will allow us to take regular numbers, I would say into double figures, on an annual basis. I’m not saying we will be able to offer them all a job at the end of the courses, but they will be equipped to make their way into the industry. We are actively talking to local colleges about setting up training schemes.” If all goes well, Harvir will be offering local youngsters the chance to learn about the business from the ground up – just as he did himself all those years ago.