"This is an autoimmune disease that can be very debilitating"
Birmingham-based Afia Akram is creative mind behind Afia’s Samosa Shop.
It is the UK’s first true wheat and gluten-free samosa producer that caters to all samosa lovers including those in the coeliac community and those allergic to the 14 major allergens.
She and her mother Rukhsana started in August 2009 with their first Farmers Market in Brindley Place, Birmingham.
It has since grown in strength, producing high-quality food while catering to dietary requirements.
However, like many other businesses, the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has had a negative impact.
The West Midlands has suffered tremendously from the outbreak but more than 600 healthcare professionals returned to work and 36% of workers in Birmingham continued to work on the front line.
With lockdown restrictions easing, Afia wants to ensure that recognition is shown towards those who have done an act of kindness.
With her samosa business, she came up with the Lockdown Hero initiative which is her way of saying thank you to people in the community.
Nominations are made and their inspirational stories are shared.
Afia’s Samosa Shop then give away free boxes, worth £26, of their multi-award winning artisan samosas and pakoras to the Lockdown Heroes.
Afia spoke to DESIblitz about the initiative as well as the origins of her samosa business and what they have to offer to their customers.
Why did you start your samosa business?
I started my business back in 2009 during a time where I was between jobs. I was sparked by an idea to develop tasty alternatives to traditional Indian food where gluten is unavoidable.
My biggest inspiration for starting the business has got to be my mum who suffers from coeliac disease.
This is an autoimmune disease that can be very debilitating if not treated. Unfortunately, it has no cure and the only hope suffers have is to adopt a gluten-free diet.
Are allergies a major issues for the British Asian community?
Yes, it’s a huge issue but a lot of Asian people tend to ignore them.
It is mainly those with serious allergies that actively make an effort to work around them.
They are supported by their immediate family whilst extended family members dismiss these issues as a “fad”.
Over the years I have also noticed there is a large generation divide between older and younger sufferers.
It is the older sufferers that do not take their condition seriously and are prepared to gamble with their health. A big change in attitudes is needed so those with life-altering conditions can get the help they need.
Do your samosas taste as good as normal samosas?
We sell both wheat and gluten-free (WGF) samosas as well as traditional samosas.
Our wheat and gluten-free samosa taste exactly like normal samosas.
Both are made with maximum taste so that they are truly mouthwatering and are enjoyed by customers.
Our WGF samosas are preferred by customers over our non-gluten-free ones as they are extra crunchy. Some will actually eat the pastry before the filling.
How long did it take you to produce the recipe for your samosas?
It has taken many years to improve and create the very concepts we have right now since their original conception.
This has been a process which has taken several years since establishment in 2009.
We thank our customers as this has all been thanks to them helping us to collect feedback.
What fillings are available?
We have a range of 14 fillings and as many as 48 products.
We have juicy meat and chicken fillings as well as vegan and vegetarian alternatives.
Despite our name, it’s not only the art of making delicious wheat and gluten-free samosas that we have mastered. We sell treats ranging from parathas to pakoras.
Tell us about the Lockdown Heroes initiative
With lockdown now ending, we wanted to say thank you to all those that have made reaching this point possible.
We wanted to say a big thank you to the members of the community by giving away FREE gift packages.
The packages will contain our yummy artisan samosas and pakoras worth over £26 each.
As a small business, we cannot afford to give away freebies to everyone. Therefore, making this initiative available to our customers.
For every order we receive, we will be giving away parcels of samosas, onion pakoras and vegetable pakoras on us.
All that customers need to do is pay for delivery, provide the reason for nominating and their details.
What kind of people can be nominated and how?
Anyone can be a hero. Each and every one of us has someone in our community that we recognise as a Lockdown Hero.
Maybe it’s a kind neighbour who offered to collect your shopping? Perhaps it’s your kid’s teacher who has gone above and beyond to help assist you with homeschooling? Or is it your local hairdresser who has sent you tutorials on how to trim your fringe?
Whoever it may be, each and every one of us has our own Lockdown Hero that deserves to be celebrated.
Afia revealed that the first Lockdown Hero was 71-year-old army veteran David who volunteered at a local hospital during the lockdown, helping vulnerable people by doing various jobs for them, whether it be taking them shopping or to medical appointments.
Afia said: “This is a story which deserves some special recognition which we need your help to share.
“Thank you David for your immense bravery and solidarity throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Thank you for being our Lockdown Hero.”
“Let’s give David the recognition he deserves. If you agree too, why not share the amazing work David has done over on our social media.”
How will (or has) your business change(d) due to Covid-19?
Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the business from the beginning.
Since establishment in 2009, we planned to relaunch the business early this year as we moved into our new fully equipped kitchen which has all been possible through the support of our customers.
The pandemic had delayed this and consequently, we had to launch in March as we couldn’t wait any longer. This meant that we couldn’t have a proper launch as we wanted.
We have experienced many issues with contractors and suppliers with availability issues and surges in the cost of goods.
Coronavirus also forced us to operate completely online which was not a part of our plan. We were a business that has solely relied on traditional marketing at events.
From humble beginnings, Afia’s niche samosa business has become the UK’s first wheat and gluten-free producer, creating delicious Indian snacks.
Afia’s Samosa Shop is based in Phillips Street Industrial Estate but due to the pandemic, they have had to operate online.
While they are lucky to operate remotely, adjusting to this new way of life has been a challenge for others.
That is why Afia has decided to create the Lockdown Hero initiative, sharing and recognising the stories of those who have helped others during such a difficult time.
Through her food company, she has highlighted the positives within such a tough period in society.