Founder Focus: Grace Regan of SpiceBox
In 2015 Grace Regan was named one of the UK’s best young entrepreneurs, she won a place on a top Silicon Valley accelerator and moved to California, where she became vegan. Disillusioned by the tech world and keen to make her dream of opening a curry house a reality, Grace moved back to London and started SpiceBox – the UK’s first plant-based curry house – from her home kitchen.
She quickly fell into the world of street food, trading with Kerb at markets and festivals across the UK and was named a Young British Foodie Street Food Finalist. The first SpiceBox curry house was opened in Walthamstow in Jan 2019 and recently completed a round of investment to scale the concept in commuter towns around London. Grace is passionate about sustainable business and her mission is to breathe life and soul back into the British high street with her fresh, modern spin on the Great British Curry House. We sat down with the entrepreneur to find out how she turned her dream into a reality.
What was your eureka moment?
I had two eureka moments. The first one was about 6 years ago whilst lying on a beach in India. I have travelled to India pretty much every year since I was a teenager (my great Aunt is Indian and the country has always played a big role in my life). I was thinking about returning to London and how much I’d miss all the delicious food I’d been eating. I wondered why, even though there were loads of Indian takeaways and curry houses near me in East London, I couldn’t find the sort of fresh vibrant food I had been eating on my travels. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a curry house that paid homage to both British-Indian curry house classics and also the fresh flavours you find in Indian home-cooking…
The second eureka moment came while I was living in California. I had recently turned vegan and was thinking about starting a vegan food business. The idea I’d had on that beach kept coming back to me. I also realised that Indian food was the perfect way to introduce people to plant-based food, as spice really brings out the natural flavour of veg and even the most ardent meat-eaters can enjoy a veggie curry from time to time. And so, SpiceBox was born!
What is your elevator pitch?
SpiceBox is a local curry house. We serve fresh, modern spins on British-Indian classics, which happen to be vegan.
How did you test your idea?
I flew back from Silicon Valley and immediately started cooking curries in my home kitchen. After testing them on a few friends, I got a table built that fitted perfectly in my front door and turned my home into an Indian takeaway. Word quickly spread, and I soon had a loyal following of locals who’d come and pick up Indian takeaways from me each night! From there, I fell into street food and joined Kerb. Street food is the perfect way to test your product and brand positioning and there’s a direct feedback loop and it’s really easy to make changes.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a business on their own?
Just get going! Nothing beats that blind optimism you have in the early stages of an idea. You need that raw energy to get you through the tough early months. Don’t listen to the naysayers – everyone will tell you that you can’t do it. Fail fast and learn quickly. Be flexible and adapt your concept as you go, but never lose sight of the original kernel of your idea. It’s so easy to stray from this as you start to get feedback from the marketplace but it’s that kernel that sets you apart and is the reason you started in the first place.
Do you have a mentor or are you one?
I have a few mentors. I think it’s dangerous to take advice from a single person. My mentors are made up of people who have lots of experience in my industry but also friends who have started businesses. Even though our industries may be very different, the challenges of starting a business are pretty universal!
I’d love to be a mentor one day. Despite the fact that I am a staunch feminist, the majority of my mentors are male. It is really shocking how male-dominated ‘c-suite level’ hospitality still is. I’d love to mentor other female entrepreneurs as I’m aware of all the struggles that come with being a woman navigating the alpha-male world of business.
What’s your plan B?
There’s no plan B! I think having a plan B would be the downfall of any entrepreneur. How can you march forward and ride out the tough times if you know you have the safety net of a backup plan?!
What is the most worthwhile investment you have made?
It sounds horribly corny, but I spend most of my (modest entrepreneur’s) salary investing my general wellbeing. I learnt to meditate a few years ago and it’s been the single best investment I’ve made.
Anxiety and entrepreneurship are closely linked for understandable reasons but, since I started meditating, I’ve really managed to conquer the fear and anxiety that comes with starting and running a business. I believe that meditation is also a great tool for people management. A lot of business comes down to relationships and meditation helps you gain perspective on things, remove your ego from situations and empathise with other people – all really useful tools!
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
I am grateful for every failure I’ve experienced. From the big ones to the daily ones. I try to live my life with a growth-mindset and in order to do so, it’s essential I treat every mistake or failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.
What is coming up for SpiceBox?
We are currently on the hunt for curry house #2. We are also working on some exciting content for our YouTube channel, SpiceBox TV, so make sure you’re subscribed!
What book would you recommend that everyone reads and why?
‘How to Change Your Mind, the New Science of Psychedelics’ by Michael Pollen. Psychedelics are a controversial topic, but I believe we’re at the dawn of psychedelic-fuelled mental health revolution. This book rationally breaks down all of the new research, gives case-studies and also poses some profound philosophical questions about the human mind and our perception of reality.
How do you find balance in your daily life?
Meditation and starting every morning with exercise. When I’m not at the curry house, I also switch my phone off around 7.30pm and sleep with it outside of my bedroom.
To try out SpiceBox, check out their website.