When Nimi Kular and her sisters left home to attend university, they had no idea how to cook like their mother. “I would try to make, like, aloo gobi and it wouldn’t be the same,” she says. As kids, Nimi, Roupi and Simi were urged to focus on their studies, while their mom, Jaswant, spent hours each day cooking traditional Indian dishes for the family.
Jaswant wanted to make Indian cooking easier for her now grown daughters—and ensure that Indian culture was passed on to the next generation. So, she began formulating spice blends in her own kitchen. What started as motherly love turned into a family business and an anti-retirement plan. And Nimi can now cook like her mom.
Back in 2010, Nimi and her sisters suggested that their mom’s spice mixes might actually have a market. After all, didn’t they know other people trying to pass down Indian cooking to their Canadian-raised kids? Jaswant’s Kitchen earned its start at a local food show—and the response was outstanding. Though all of the women still worked, and Jaswant was then 60, the show’s success validated the decision to make a real go of the business.
The women built Jaswant’s Kitchen online, layered on wholesale, and eventually grew out of a shared space and into a dedicated production facility. The transitions, however, didn’t always go smoothly. The glass bottles that worked for online sales didn’t pop visually on grocery shelves, nor did the label have room for enough information. Nimi says the family purchased 10,000 units of updated pouch packaging only to discover too late that the labels were peeling off on the shelves.
Despite the setback, the demand increased enough for Jaswant to stop working at her husband’s medical practice and dedicate herself to spices. Nimi, too, quit her day job. Nimi says she always thought she’d have her own business but didn’t identify with the word “entrepreneur.” Her professors in school would describe entrepreneurs as risk-takers, while she considered herself more calculated.
Yet, Nimi spent three years building Jaswant’s Kitchen with her family before returning to work full-time in 2017. Differences with family prompted her to step back. Working with them was sometimes challenging, she says, but she also valued starting a business with people she trusted, people with whom she could be vulnerable. “We all had different strengths and weaknesses, too,” she says. “We complemented each other.”
Older sister Simi and Jaswant now manage the business full-time. “I don’t think my mom really believes in the idea of retirement,” Nimi says of the 68-year-old. To Jaswant’s peers, who tell her that their time is up, she says, “I’m just getting started.” Eight years after its launch, the company’s namesake is still at the helm, still running daily production. The family hopes to move to a co-packer to take the matriarch off her feet and back to a creative product development role.
For Nimi, who spends her days as a product manager at Shopify, the family business isn’t her last attempt at being entrepreneurial. “You can’t shake it,” she says. She still consults in the business, taking tactics from her 9-to-5 to her family as they scale up. She’s learned a lot in the eight years since that idea in her mother’s kitchen. Jaswant’s Kitchen thrived, for example, when the family asked for help. “Your inclination is to say ‘I can do this on my own,’ but don’t do that,” Nimi says.
Her next venture? She’s still not sure. But to her future self, she says, “You can make an impact. If you think that something needs to be done, if you see a need, you can be the one to do it."
Photographs by Vuk Dragojevic