Start-ups

From feeding students to soccer stars: How two brothers' food business helped their mom give up her grocery store job

Jhai and Simmy Dhillon.
Rice N Spice

Juggling a growing business venture with a day job is something brothers Simmy and Jhai Dhillon have become used to since launching a meal prep company a few years ago. 

Simmy has just finished a degree in economics at the U.K.'s Bristol University and is due to start Google's graduate scheme as an associate account strategist in October. 

While Jhai, who had played soccer for the youth team of English Premier League club Chelsea and was a professional player for Stevenage, currently works as an assistant tax advisor for audit firm EY, as well as playing semi-professionally for Hitchin Town. 

But this isn't due to lack of success in their meal preparation business, called Rice n Spice, based in the south of England, which now counts soccer stars as clients. They include Leicester City player Demarai Gray and Wycombe Wanderers' Adebayo Akinfenwa — the world's strongest soccer player according to the stats on videogame "FIFA 20." 

The business's growth even enabled the brothers' mom, Kal, to quit her job in a grocery store in December to start work with her sons.

It has come some way from what started out as a student venture in a college campus kitchen in 2017, when Simmy noticed something familiar to most who have been to university — "no one was really cooking very well, everyone was ordering Domino's" pizza. 

So seeing a business opportunity he used his student overdraft to buy ingredients and started making fresh meals to sell out of his own kitchen, putting any money made back into the healthier takeout venture. 

"I wasn't making much money at all because I was doing everything … I guess it wasn't very scalable," Simmy told CNBC. 

'We had no experience' 

He then got Jhai involved who had been trialing for other professional soccer clubs but had stopped enjoying the game because of the pressure and politics. 

"I had been engrossed in football for two decades so I'd never even considered quitting," he said. "But when Simmy posed the question to me (about if I enjoyed it anymore) it felt like a simple decision to take time away from it."  

So Jhai set up operations back in their family home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, with help from Kal, working on the business in the evenings and playing soccer in the day. 

As it evolved into a health-goal orientated meal preparation business, Rice n Spice started to become popular locally to the point that Simmy decided to defer his final year at Bristol and focus on it full-time, but not before completing a summer internship at Rothschild & Co investment bank. 

"At the same time, we'd just kind of signed a lease on a commercial premises, so I was working in an investment bank and Jhai was still playing football and we were fitting out this premises," he said. "We had no experience, we had no idea what we were doing dealing with all these contractors." 

Returning to Bristol for his final year, Simmy has continued to focus on the business but wanted to finish his degree as he would be the first in his family to graduate from college — "I was so close to finishing and I just got through it." 

Simmy's upcoming job at Google has inspired him to integrate automation into Rice n Spice's business model, by enabling customers to pick meals according to their health goal of "fat loss, maintenance or muscle." 

'Lean' business model 

Rice n Spice now has 17 employees and is funded by the brothers pooling their savings earned from their jobs and internships. Simmy and Jhai still don't take a salary and are determined to keep the business debt free by reinvesting profits. 

"We both live at home with our parents and they both help out with the business so they both get paid a small amount from the business and we kind of feed them in return, so we don't pay rent," said Simmy, adding that they are both pretty "frugal" with money generally. 

This is reflected in their "lean" business model, as all meals are made to order and the little food waste they do have goes to a local homeless charity or is composted to help grow their own vegetables. 

The brothers have also been doing their bit during the coronavirus pandemic, donating meals to health-care workers and offering discounts for the vulnerable, as well as hiring people who have lost jobs. 

"We're really lucky that we're in the position where we can help out (in the pandemic)," said Simmy. 

Check out: This expert's credit score dropped to 547 during the last recession but is back in the 800s—here's what she did

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