Shelina Mawani is a resilient and successful businesswoman. Affectionally known as the “Samosa Queen,” she is
the visionary behind Nana’s Kitchen, 
a multi-million dollar company 
producing gourmet handmade samosas 
in Surrey, BC

portfolioyvr, Shelina Mawani, helen siwak, Nana's Kitchen, Samosa's, Samosa Queen, Vancouver, bc, yvr

Success did not always come easy for Shelina. Born in the small town of Mwanza, Tanzania, she grew up without 
a formal education or long-term goals for the future. 

Shelina moved to Canada in 1983 and faced several setbacks, including a failed restaurant business. Undeterred, she kept her entrepreneurial spirit alive despite financial difficulties and numerous hurdles. 

Through a combination of embracing struggles, celebrating successes, and collaborating with others, Shelina had the strength and enthusiasm to succeed. 

Following in her parent’s footsteps, she dedicates her time to helping others and is now able to employ and mentor more than 50 new immigrants

Shelina’s success has not gone unnoticed. Over the years, she has earned numerous awards and recognition. In 2019, the Bank of Montreal celebrated her for her community and charity giving. 

Business in Vancouver listed her as one of the Top 11 ‘Women-Owned Businesses in BC.’ In 2021, the Surrey Board of Trade awarded her the Business Resilience award for the ’41 Plus’ category. 

Shelina attributes her success to the lessons she learned along her journey and the unwavering support of her family. 

portfolioyvr, Shelina Mawani, helen siwak, Nana's Kitchen, Samosa's, Samosa Queen, Vancouver, bc, yvr

CORPORATE BIO

Nana’s Kitchen produces convenient comfort foods inspired by the culture, caring and kitchen memories of grandmothers all over the globe. 

The company offers a wide range of ready-to-eat savoury foods inspired by the food from “your Nana’s Kitchen,” including handmade samosas available in flavours such as Vegetable, Butter Chicken, Chicken Tandoori, Chicken, Beef, Cajun, Pakoras, and Savory Sauces that include a Tamarind Sauce. The Mexi food line includes Chicken Chimichangas, and Burritos. Coming soon are a Mac & Cheese Toasty, South of the Border Toasty, and traditional vegetable samosa. 

Nana’s Kitchen was established in 2000 in Surrey by founders Nasim and Shelina, to keep up with the ever-growing takeout orders for their pastry items. 

Nasim retired in 2018. Shelina took over full ownership of Nana’s Kitchen and led the company with passion and strength. 

The company’s mission is to create “Convenient Comfort Foods with a Global Taste.”

Fueled by a strong vision to produce to the highest standards, Nana’s Kitchen made a passionate commitment to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification and opened its state-of the art, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspected facility which received British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Global Standard for Food Safety

Nana’s Kitchen also keeps sustainability in mind by preferring to source from local suppliers. 

portfolioyvr, Shelina Mawani, helen siwak, Nana's Kitchen, Samosa's, Samosa Queen, Vancouver, bc, yvr

IN HER WORDS

“Looking at me today, you would think my journey to success was a straight path, clear of demanding challenges and obstructions. However, to say that was the case would not be genuine. My pilgrimage toward prosperity and happiness in the business world has been long, and it has been met with several hardships along the way. 

“I was born in Mwanza – a city in northern Tanzania, East Africa – where I grew up without computers, cell phones, TV, large shopping malls, and many of the conveniences we have today. 

“I was a carefree small-town girl just living day by day, unsure of my long-term goals or vision, especially after failing my senior year of high school. 

“One fine evening, after I came home from evening prayers, my brother asked me about my plans for the future, and I replied that I wanted to take a secretarial course. I made this decision not because I was interested in this course but because 
all of my peers were going to the city of Dar es Salam for their studies, and I did not want to be left alone. With that, I went off and completed my secretarial course, then returned to Mwanza and worked for a few years. 

“Then, when I was twenty, I had my “AHA” moment. My parents have always had a lot of compassion for the less fortunate, and that has had a huge impact on me. One day, my mother forced me to drive the nuns back to the church with their groceries.

“A storm had rolled in, so it was raining heavily as we arrived, thunder rumbling and lightning flashing across the sky. I saw children with leprosy walking towards the gate to get the groceries we had brought, and I froze in shock, tears rolling down my cheeks. This was when I first became aware of this deadly disease, the poverty experienced by those afflicted with it, and their living conditions. At that moment, I became passionate about being part of the solution. 

“I decided to become an ambassador for leprosy. In my first project, I landed myself the role of youngest chairperson for the Lioness Club of Mwanza, an internationally affiliated organization dedicated to helping communities through charitable causes. For one of my projects, I set up diagnostic camps for locals to create much-needed awareness about leprosy. The other project I assisted in was sending eight children to England to receive treatment for their heart murmurs, which was unavailable to them in East Africa. 

“Due to the unrest in Africa, my brother sponsored us to move to Canada in 1982 to enjoy a stable and safe life. Here, we were embraced and accepted as citizens. I married in 1985 and had two sons, the firstborn in 1987 and the second in 1992. Then, when they were very young, I lost my job and embarked on a journey into entrepreneurship. My sister Nasim had recently moved to our area and needed work, so together, we opened a 700-square-foot restaurant in Burnaby

“Without my children and husband’s support, I would never have been able to start this business. It was a difficult time in many ways. 

“Nawaz worked fourteen-hour days to support our family and also helped me financially in my day-to-day business. 

“My children grew up independently, with the older brother looking after the younger one. I drove a 1968 Pontiac Parisienne, which I had paid $250 for, with doors that did not lock and wipers that did not work. My eldest had to become an expert in guiding me to see through the rain-streaked windshield. 

“After nine months in operation, my sister Nasim and I had to close the doors of our restaurant as it was losing too much money. Instead, we decided to transition to the wholesale samosa market. There was an increasing demand for ethnic foods, and samosas were being sold in mom-and-pop stores all over the area – this was a food that we had grown up with and loved, so we thought we could impact the market. With that, Nana’s Kitchen was born. Our first factory space was only 1,700-square-feet, allowing us to produce between 400-1,000 samosas daily. We started selling them as grab-and-go items to small coffee shops, gas stations, universities, and pizza shops. 

“When we first looked at creating our product, we considered what we could do to stand out. Initially, I thought it would be about taste. We looked outside the box and created a unique gourmet product that stood out from the traditional Punjabi samosa that was commonly available. 

“We used a completely different pastry and taste profile, and our samosas were almost three times the size of our competitors. However, we soon realized our current market was not a good target for our product. 

“I had to face the fact that price was a barrier in the ethnic community, so the bigger picture of selling to the mainstream community through grocery retail was born. We established our brand as a gourmet product, and in  2001, we acquired our first major grocery retailer. One would think that this was the happy ending to my story and the key to my success. However, 
I am reminded of the expression, 
“Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” 

“Getting the business of a large grocery chain was a joy, but it came with its own burden. This meant we had to move from our small facility with seven staff to a custom-built HACCP-approved plant that required more than doubling our team. This also meant getting federal inspectors onsite daily to check that we followed good manufacturing practices and confirm all our export declarations. We spent almost three years upgrading our facility. Our staff had to be FOODSAFE and WHMIS-certified and undergo vigorous training before they could even step into the production area. 

portfolioyvr, Shelina Mawani, helen siwak, Nana's Kitchen, Samosa's, Samosa Queen, Vancouver, bc, yvr

“Today, I am proud to say that we are the only HACCP/BRC-certified plant producing handmade samosas in BC. However, when I look back at the huge investment it took to reach this goal and the failures I experienced, I count myself lucky to have made it. We had a much higher chance of failing than succeeding; I should have done my research about the finances that were required before we jumped into this new direction. 

“The costs of building this new facility and training all the staff were high. We almost instantly had a 1424% increase in operational expenses and a 690% increase in rent just to maintain our current sales volume. 

“I maxed out my line of credit and was forced to take out a second mortgage on my family home and borrow from my relatives. Then, in 2008, the recession hit, and the economic toll of my debt grew heavy. 

“One morning, my bank called and told me, “You are a risk to our business. Your line of credit is used too much, and we consider your business an unworthy partner.” Then, the man made me an offer – or as I saw it, took us hostage: “Pay us $25,000, and then we will send a risk assessment advisor to look at your plant operations and administration. If you do that, we can remain your bank.” I was shattered; it felt like this would end my business. I could not afford to close as I had too much at stake, but there were too many hurdles to continue. 

“Fortunately, I found another bank, Envision Financial, willing to take on my business and the outstanding loan without the risk assessment. This allowed us to keep operating, but nothing changed about my everyday struggle to come out of my financial stress. My accounts were always overdrawn, and 
I would sit on the stairs every night and cry as I tried to figure out what I would tell the bank the following day. Needless to say, times were tough. 

“There were five long, hard years where our sales did not meet our overhead. During this time, I got good at juggling our income and expenses. Sometimes, this required a call to the bank, pleading with them not to bounce our rent cheque. “Just give us two more days” became my slogan. Sometimes, I could not afford to pay my employees and had to ask them to push their paycheque back one or two weeks. I couldn’t pay the bills, and our vendors were ready to put our account on hold.

“For those who have never experienced financial difficulty, it is hard to explain the deterioration of your mind and emotions. It’s like your consciousness is stuck in one place, and the negativity surrounding you buries any instincts and judgements you have left. You cannot think about what will happen tomorrow because you are too busy worrying about how to get out of your current situation. 

“I could not have gotten through this time or seen the success I have today without my employees – it is because of them that I am now a successful entrepreneur. As an immigrant and a woman of ethnicity, I understand firsthand the struggles of immigrating to a new country. This fuelled my passion to create opportunities for people from different ethnicities and backgrounds

“I hired people with little to no English and gave them an opportunity to thrive and gain confidence. These same employees are still with us and are now in management positions. With teamwork, we can achieve the extraordinary. 

“At the end of those five years, we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The lease on our factory was paid out, and Nawaz, who had joined the business in 2002, had developed our Canadian market and started to penetrate the US market. This was a huge turning point for us, and Nawaz was the one who made it happen, travelling for weeks at a time to establish brokers and distributors, and yet all I could see was that I was still stuck in a room that was on fire. Then, I ignited the spark within me and took the leap to change my thinking. I felt a new beginning coming towards me and welcomed it with open arms. 

“However, I had to change my mindset and re-evaluate the situation to meet this new beginning. I had to take on a positive outlook and convince myself that despite drowning in debt, I could do what it took to come out of it. At this time, I had learned a vital lesson: I had to drown before I could swim, and that, indeed, became my asset. 

“To succeed, I decided we needed to improve our execution and marketing. We hired a consultant on a contract basis to help us brand our product and identify and overcome our weaknesses. 

“We also hired right-minded professionals in marketing, social media, trade shows, and brokering to take our business to the next level. Finally, we brought on a volunteer board of advisors made up of people who had owned large corporations, and they were able to help guide us through some of our business decisions. 

“Throughout my professional career, I have developed a personal philosophy that offers solutions to the problems that surface while creating a business. I call them my “Three C’s.”

“The first C is ‘CONVERSATION,’ which holds significant value in the business world. Conversation is your biggest asset when you encounter a problem, no matter how far-reaching it may be. One of the ways I raised awareness about our products is by starting to network on social media and advertise at community events. I did product demonstrations at local stores, spoke at local colleges and universities, and attended events where I could have a table to display my flyers and share what makes my product different from any other in the market. These allowed me to communicate directly with our customers and ensure that our product met their expectations. 

“The following C is ‘COLLABORATION.’ Regardless of your strengths, you will fail to achieve your goals in business without collaboration. While you must first believe in yourself and your product, you must ask for advice from those with experience in the field and be willing to use their help to take your business to the next level. I joined women’s organizations that would meet every month so I could network with like-minded women and get some solutions to my problems. 

“The final C is ‘CELEBRATION,’ which remains a pivotal component of my journey to success. You must never forget to celebrate every win, no matter how small. Initially, I would forget to celebrate because I was so focused on my struggles and failures. Still, now I celebrate every milestone because they demonstrate that everything has entwined together to create a business built on love and respect. And thankfully, we have lots of reasons to celebrate! 

portfolioyvr, Shelina Mawani, helen siwak, Nana's Kitchen, Samosa's, Samosa Queen, Vancouver, bc, yvr

“Today, Nana’s Kitchen occupies an over 30,000-square-foot facility in the heart of Surrey, BC. It produces more than 30,000 handmade samosas daily, which are sold in grocery stores throughout North America

“As a businesswoman, I have won many prestigious awards, including ‘Business Woman of the Year’ by the Times of Canada and ‘Best Export Business’ by the Surrey Board of Trade in 2016

“In 2017, I won ‘Woman of the Decade’ through the Women Economic Forum, and in 2018, I was the only Canadian woman awarded the ‘Bharat Saman’ award by the House of Lords in London, England. In 2019, I was recognized by the Bank of Montreal for community and charitable giving. 

“That said, my mindset is always about giving more and expecting less. Throughout my life, I have continued to impact the people around me wherever I can positively. 

“I was on the organizing committee for the Salama Gala, which raised funds for Camp Good Time for kids who have cancer and also supported the Watoto wa Africa orphanage in my homeland of Tanzania. Most recently, my business has become a community champion for the Surrey Memorial Foundation, local food banks, and local community programs. 

“To me, courage is not about changing or grasping for something better—it is about being in the present. I was able to overcome the constraints of living in a third-world country and the struggles of immigrating to a faraway, unknown place. 

“I then pushed through the challenges of starting and expanding a business to become the ‘Samosa Queen,’ as customers and friends have dubbed me. And now, my newest passion is speaking about my journey of embracing failures to achieve success

“There are many lessons that you will take from my story. One is that even the most successful entrepreneurs have made mistakes along the way, allowing them to discover valuable lessons that enable their growth. 

“So, regardless of the market you enter, do your homeworkRefrain from fooling yourself into thinking that things will fall into place, and ensure you have the funds to support your business ventures in the long term. 

“Also, remember to question whether your product or service is in demand and ensure that you’re considering both passion and practicality

“Another crucial lesson has been the importance of family. My husband, Nawaz Mawani, and my children, Samir and Sarfaraz, are my biggest inspirations and have supported me throughout this journey. Without them, I would not be where I am today. 

“Finally, make sure you dream big but also have realistic goals. Take a few minutes daily to reflect on your goals and achievements and ensure you are on track for where you want to be. 

“You have to possess the right mindset to make the leap in your mind. And when you orientate your goals to embrace conversation, collaboration, and celebration, there is no telling what you can achieve. 

“There were some tough years during my journey to success; living through them was no easy feat. However, I have learned so much from my failures that today, I salute them. My happiness was always within me; to find it, I just had to seize the moment. 

“My mission in life is not to survive but to thrive with passion and style, and that is a right for every human being—including you.”

Author Profile

Helen Siwak, Luxury Lifestyle Observer
Helen Siwak, Luxury Lifestyle Observer
Helen Siwak is the founder of EcoLuxLuv Marketing & Communications Inc and publisher of Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, PORTFOLIOY.YVR Business & Entrepreneurs Magazine, and digital women's lifestyle magazine EcoLuxLifestyle.co. She is a prolific content creator, consultant, and marketing and media strategist within the ecoluxury lifestyle niche. Post-pandemic, she has worked with many small to mid-sized plant-based/vegan brands to build their digital foundations and strategize content creation and business development. Helen is the west coast correspondent to Canada’s top-read industry magazine Retail-Insider, holds a vast freelance portfolio, and consults with many of the world’s luxury heritage brands. Always seeking new opportunities and challenges, you can email her at helen@ecoluxluv.com.
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