Thursday, 1 December 2016

Illana Smith - South Coast spice from Hari Hari

Bournemouth might not be a place you'd associate with exotic South Asian spices, but these are the lapses where opportunities present themselves. Seizing the moment was half-Sri Lankan, half-British Bournemouth University graduate and entrepreneur Illana Smith. In a short period of time, Illana has grown Hari Hari into an instantly recognisable presence on the local food scene. 

Before she gets her own spot hosting Saturday Kitchen and becomes too famous, I seized my own moment to find out the story so far...

Illana Smith Hari Hari

How did Hari Hari came about?
Not wanting to go back to working for someone else was the first driver. I had many different business ideas but the idea of curry was the most appealing simply because everybody who ate my Sri Lankan curries said they were never able to recreate them at home. This led to the birth of Hari Hari. 

What were the challenges you had to overcome?
I basically had no idea how to start a business. A year of research set me up ready to launch.  I read a lot …. and I mean an awful lot!! I spoke to as many people as I could who ran their own business already to get advice and tips. I made Environmental Health my best friend ;) I knew I would have to work closely with them as I was in food, so made contact very early on. They were brilliant and offered me a wealth of further advice and information.
I knew what I wanted (how it looked, how it would work etc.) but wasn't up to date with the legalities of it and that took time to learn. I made some great friends along the way on this research journey and absolutely thrived on the learning. It is these friends that led me to new contacts, new connections…a little like a snowball effect until I was ready to set Hari Hari free.

Hari Hari

People probably know curry spices, but your business is based around Sri Lankan spices specifically. What is the key distinctive difference?
The flavour!! The flavours are very different to Indian spices. I have tried to cook curries using the spices readily available here but it just doesn't taste the same as a curry back home. The whole time I have been in the UK, I have always had my stash of Sri Lankan spices with me, which I either brought over myself after a holiday there or got family and friends to bring for me when they came over. They are the same plants, but a different strain and I am certain that the soil, climate and so on plays a part in why they taste different.  

Hari Hari
Spicing up Wimborne Food Festival

Your website is a good example that these days you can't just sell a product – you have to educate people and tell a story. Did you have to learn this aspect of the business and what proportion of your time would you say is spent on it?
I think I have been lucky in the sense that I have always approached Hari Hari as a journey.  I see my customers as being passengers on that journey with me, so it is only right that I tell them all that background and nitty gritty of what is going on. It wasn't a conscious decision, it was just the way I viewed Hari Hari from the outset. It’s my baby and I want everyone to feel the passion of Sri Lanka and its food, culture, heritage through what Hari Hari is about.  I was lucky in that I didn't have to learn it - it was just the way I worked! In relation to the journey and social media I probably spend too much time on it. I am now trying to become more time efficient and am beginning to schedule postings etc. - forward planning to help free me up to do other jobs.  

Who has inspired you along the way and why?
My mum inspired me. She brought me up to be independent, to be able to stand on my own two feet and the drive to succeed came from that. I still remember at a very young age (about 12 I think) my mum gave me the talk on why it was so important to do well at school, get good grades, get a good job so I could buy all the things I want, travel the world etc. I very flippantly replied with, “I’ll just marry a rich man” to which she replied, “What if he has an accident and can’t work and you are left to get a job?!” I got what she was trying to say and she has been my source of inspiration to achieve ever since! 

What would represent success for you? At what point would you be able to say, 'Mission accomplished’?
I don’t know is the honest answer. I would like Hari Hari to become a household name (I have seen my logo’ed lorries driving up and down the motorways delivering my stock across the land) but I think as long as I am learning I will always keep going. 

Imagine I'm a fairly conventional cook who tends to buy familiar herbs and spices from a supermarket I know well. How would you convince me of the benefits of trying one of your spice packs?
Hari Hari spices are set up in an easy-to-follow step-by-step process. It really is as simple as 1-2-3. The recipe instructions are very straightforward and you can make the dish as fiery or not as you like. I always show people the spice kit explaining what you do - fry your onions, garlic and ginger (if using) with spice pack 1, add your product and spice pack 2 along with your coconut milk and/or water (depending on your preference) and then at the end you add Spice Pack 3 - you control the chili so you can add as little or as lot as you like. 
The spices themselves are relatively mild. It’s the chili that gives the dishes the kick. As they are pure spices, the kits are also perfect in relation to food intolerances. They are suitable for people with dairy, gluten, wheat, nut, soya, salt and sugar intolerance. This makes them very versatile little kits and the fact that the finished curries freeze really well means that there really is absolutely no waste as any left overs can be frozen for another day - saving you on cooking time too!

I see that you used to work in HR and have lived in Sri Lanka and the UK. What do you miss most from both the corporate world and Sri Lanka, and what do you love most about what you're doing now?
I was born and grew up in Germany, which is still a key part of my childhood. I have many friends there and try to go as often as I can. With my Dad still living there, my ties are still pretty strong to Germany.
I think I miss the regularity (in a bizarre kind of way) of corporate work and the being able to close the office door and leave work at work. Though that was great, it is also the thing I love most about working for myself. No two days are the same, I am constantly learning, growing and work never stops for me. To the point where I have a notepad by my bed as I quite frequently wake up during the night with an idea. I have learnt to jot it down there and then, or else I forget it by the time the morning comes around.
Growing up in Sri Lanka was certainly an idyllic life. I was very fortunate in what I got to see, do and experience and life there is certainly special. With wonderful people, culture, food and climate you can’t really go wrong. I miss the heat! I definitely miss that! But being in the UK affords a certain freedom that is not quite so readily available in Sri Lanka.

My life has been a journey and it is sort of coming full circle, combining all the elements of what I love from my experiences in Hari Hari and if I can get you to enjoy that journey too and fall in love with Sri Lanka and its food then…..mission accomplished :)

Liked this profile? You can also read about...
Mark Botwright from South West Garlic Farm here
Tracey Collins from Ajar Of here
Hannah Green from Mrs. Green's Farm Kitchen here
Ross Tapley from Dorset Herbals here

As always, if you'd like to share your story or leave your thoughts, leave a comment below or get in touch through editor@dorsetgourmet.com. Enjoy!

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