Trishna Singh outside the new cafe at 122-4 Leith Walk [pictures Nick Gardner]
You can’t miss the Punjabi Women’s Kitchen. Sandwiched between fast food outlets in multicultural Leith Walk, the bright orange shop front promises home made traditional Punjab cuisine. Above the door a sign declares nothing less than empowerment for women.
“The day that sign went up was when I realised we had finally done it,”says Trishna Singh, the business development manager of the new community enterprise run by Sikh Sanjog, “It is a huge achievement for the women of our community”.
With sun beaming through the window there is an almost tangible buzz of excitement inside the café. It’s 11.30 am and the daily breakfast of stuffed bread, yoghurt and spiced tea is giving way to lunchtime curries, chutneys and chapattis. All freshly prepared.
Two days earlier John Swinney was in here trying out his hand at rolling chapattis and Trishna and Balwinder proudly present press cuttings showing Scotland’s finance minister in his shirt sleeves surrounded by smiling women. Just as proudly, they show feedback forms filled in by satisfied customers. “Lovely food,” says one, “One of the best vegetable curries I have tasted,” says another.
Punjab’n De Rasoi, to give the café its proper name, has opened with the help of £70,000 from the Scottish Government’s Third Sector Enterprise Fund (which is why John Swinney was pictured rolling out the dough). After years of feasibility studies and pilot projects – curry lunches at Dr Bells and catering for regulars at the Acorn Centre – Sikh Sanjog is ready to do business.
Each day volunteers work with trained staff. The aim is to provide skills and training in catering, customer service and food hygiene with extra tuition in literacy and numeracy when it is needed. This is the empowerment that can help volunteers gain employment.
Within less than a month the café has secured orders for two weddings – one Scottish, one Sikh – but as custom grows something else is happening. Already, Trishna says, she can see a difference in the women who work here.
“It might not look like that to the outside eye but there is definitely more confidence”, says Trishna, “These are women who have volunteered their lives away,” she adds, “now they are finding that skills they take for granted could actually be used to get a job.”
In the kitchen Jasbir is not keen to be photographed but between preparing orders she is happy to talk about today’s menu: “A choice of fish, chicken, or vegetable curry. And haggis pakora, that is a speciality. The carrot desert is really yummy.” Jasbir, who has worked as a voluntary bi-lingual support assistant in primary schools, is one of around 20 volunteers working flexible part-time shifts to fit in with family commitments.
It’s not just about women. Trishna lists the supporters who have helped turn a derelict property into a fresh and welcoming space with a gleaming modern kitchen. We are sitting on seats provided by Charan Gill (the Glasgow catering entrepreneur who featured in Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire). Brian Smith of Dynamic Design Catering gave technical advice, Steve Cochrane of Dr Bell’s provides ongoing guidance on customer care, David Court of McRae, Flett and Rennie gave legal advice and kept the fee low, and Jonathon Murray of Golley Slater PR ensures good press coverage. Like that picture of John Swinney.
“All men,” Trishna notes with a laugh. Perhaps one of the most touching comments from a customer was the elderly man who told them the fish curry reminded him of his mother. Food, family and community – it seems a good business combination.
Punjab’n De Rasoi is planning an official opening celebration on 30th April. The cafe is open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 3 pm.