07 Dec Interview with Laura – Founder of Laura’s Idea
Having been around for over 30 years, we learn how the business started and how its been flourishing since its inception in this interview with Laura of Laura’s Idea.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did Laura’s Idea start?
Well, it started from an idea! Going back so many years, the company only actually started about 10 years ago. Before that, it all came about by some good intention and inspiration on my side and a bit of encouragement from a good friend. I was working in a Health Food store [Sunwheel] and I was asked then to prepare some special new foods for the store so I started experimenting with some very inventive sandwiches. In those days (the 1980s), a lot of people were into Macrobiotics as was my own background. I had taken courses at the Kushi Institute running in the same building so I decided to create inspiring lines with unusual ingredients that started to sell very well in the store.
After a little while, I went into preparing food like vegetarian sushi and rice balls as I wanted to add something new to my range. Every food I made was very simple but quite unusual for those days. I started out with just me working on my own. I’d learned how to prepare sushi and other staple Japanese food like rice balls, rice coquettes and rice pouches in Macrobiotic classes so I really enjoyed doing that. To begin with, I was actually making the sushi and the rice balls at the front of the shop to attract people to come in and also to demonstrate how to prepare it. It was a lot of fun! People started flocking in and showing real interest.
A true pioneer! It must have felt great to receive such a positive reaction to your food!
Yes, it did! In 1983/84, “Sunwhell” was a pioneering shop in the field of health and nutrition and the owner was very much into Macrobiotic food. It was a great success! I was busy as people appreciated my food and there were queues outside. It was a joy to make the food that way. As time went by it became busier and I moved to a back room, but without enough space I soon started to think of moving on. So I decided to move to my kitchen in my own house – it basically got so transformed that the whole house became a kitchen after a while! By word of mouth the business started to expand as other shops approached me wanting to sell my products.
I branched out and embraced as much as I could and it was so exiting! As more shops were interested, I launched new lines beyond the sandwiches and original products. New ideas and inspiration came to my mind so I added puddings, cakes, whole grain and savoury dishes, pancakes, meals and salads.
What was the competition like at the time? There was a very different café/deli culture in London back then . . .
Well, in some ways they were easier days, but in others it was much harder because vegan food and other specialties were not very well-known. It was kind of a restricted circle but many people really appreciated what we were doing and went out of their way to buy these products. The quality and combination of the ingredients were very important to them and to me. People appreciated and understood what was good for their bodies. The energy of the food was key and this was what kept them coming back and led me to produce a wider range of products.
In those early years, what were the most successful products?
The sushi, rice pouches and pancakes were very popular (they still are!) but I constantly added new recipes, such as dairy-free desserts, salads and meals.
I remember doing the first tortillas – a non-vegan success of mine. The presentation was important to me and the vibrancy came from the quality of the ingredients such as, organic eggs, potatoes and spinach, deliberately keeping the recipe extremely simple. Really, the secret in food is in the simplicity – as few ingredients as possible in the best combination. This makes it easy on the stomach and digestible. I started creating pancakes, and vegan versions using tofu and spinach, something which is still one of my best-sellers today. It’s lasted 35 years so it can’t be bad!
Where do you get the inspiration for your products?
My interest in food is personal and related to health, wellbeing and medicine. And I must say my family are Italians and they are all very good cooks. Every meal was very important – always fresh and lovingly home- made and this was one the greatest inspiration for me. In every recipe I’m thinking carefully in terms of the benefits for health, energy and how it makes people feel. Some things that taste good at first may grab people’s attention but may be too rich and complex so they’re not good for your health over time. This is why I focus on simplicity: a few quality ingredients which are easily absorbed, digested, healthy and useful to people. I saw how this worked well when I was bringing up my son – he always benefitted from unprocessed, simple homemade food rich in nutrients and it was a pleasure to see him thrive.
Do you feel a lot of loyalty from your customers?
Yes, this is very much how the business has grown. I have some customers that have been with me for so many years and a few stores that have been with me since the beginning. I have added newer locations and now many cafes that try my products once keep on coming back for more! As for individual support, I get many lovely emails and letters from customers who write to tell me how much they appreciate and enjoy my food. They make sure I know and that’s very encouraging as it gives me a lot of inspiration and energy. I love to learn that I’m providing a good service to people – this makes me very happy.
Where do you see Laura’s Idea in ten years time?
Well, I am more the type of person who likes to take one day at a time. I focus on what is necessary to do for today and make sure I do it well. This philosophy suits my character and gives me fewer worries. Carpe diem! This has worked well for me over the years. I always wanted to set up a business where my heart is and that could be of benefit to others. I am confident it will continue to grow because so many more people are becoming aware and interested in their health. As a result, they’re reaching out to alternative, nutritious foods and that is what I am here to offer.
If you weren’t running Laura’s Idea, what else can you see yourself doing?
I am artistically oriented so I would probably still be creating something whether it is another Idea (laughs) or maybe just reinventing Laura herself! But I’m very happy and grateful to be where I am today, doing what I love to do. (big smile)
List three qualities that describe yourself.
Passionate and joyful with a good sense of humour. I wish everybody the benefit of better health in body, mind and spirit and with it a great happy future. This is the spirit behind Laura’s Idea. This is what keeps me going.