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I risked everything I had to follow my dream - here's what happened

TV chef, author, and founder of Mowgli Street Food restaurants, Nisha Katona, 52, tells HELLO! how taking a leap transformed her life

Katie Daly
Lifestyle Writer
On 24 April 2024
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Many will know Mowgli restaurant founder Nisha Katona for her appearances on This Morning, where she shares her incredible recipes with thousands of British viewers. 

But guest appearances on Interior Design Masters and writing bestselling cookbooks are a far cry from where it started for the 52-year-old MBE honouree. For HELLO!'s Take A Leap, we heard all about what gave Nisha the push to follow her dreams and how a risk changed it all. 

Nisha Katona in her restaurant© Nisha Katona
Nisha is opening her 25th restaurant

Stepping out of her comfort zone

Though an enormous - and fruitful - passion, Mowgli wasn't always what occupied Nisha. For 20 years she worked as a child protection barrister and was even appointed as a trustee of National Museums Liverpool by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 2008.

Nisha with Michelle Ogundehin and Alan Carr© Instagram
Nisha's success has opened doors including being a guest judge on Interior Design Masters

But beneath the surface bubbled a passion for cookery, and for sharing her culture. "I had a very happy job as a child protection barrister. I was secure and content, but this dream of bringing the way the Indians eat at home to the streets, came to my mind like a migraine, and would not leave me until I gave much of my life to give life to Mowgli," she recalls.

She says not taking a leap was not an option. "I always describe entrepreneurism like eczema!," Nisha tells us. "It is an itch that afflicts you if you are one of the burdened few destined to risk it all, for no guarantee of success."

To say the risk paid off would be an understatement. Nisha is in the process of building her 25th Mowgli restaurant and now her business achieves more than happy customers.

"I built the Mowgli charitable Trust alongside the restaurants because I always wanted to do more than just serve curry; I wanted to build a business that enriched lives in every city we went to," the accomplished restauranteur says.

Nisha in building site© Instagram
Nisha is building the 25th Mowgli as we speak

"We’ve now raised close to £2 million for local and world charities, and we sponsor a child in need for every full-time person we employ."

The final push inspiring her adventure

With the great risk attached to leaving a stable career, there was a final push that gave Nisha the fire in her belly to put the wheels in motion to make her dream a reality.

Nisha Katona with her MBE in black outfit© Getty
Nisha Katona with her MBE following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace

"The final push to start this adventure came with my mother falling very ill," she admits. "I realised that, unless I built Mowgli and captured the ancient recipes of my ancestors - in my cookbooks and in an eatery, my elders would take the way that Indians really eat to the grave with them.

Nisha with her mum and dog© Instagram
Nisha's family drives her

"There was far too much to lose. I simply had to put my head above the parapet, and build the restaurant, and dedicate my life to keeping these ancestral kitchen secrets alive."

Approaching this new challenge

You would expect that with such great risk comes great anxiety. But for Nisha, she was able to put her feelings of apprehension to one side in pursuit of her goal. 

The author of Pimp My Rice explains: "The other fascinating trait of entrepreneurs is that we tend to be glass-half-full people. We are eternal optimists and tend to keep our heads down, and we’re driven by whatever guiding light it is that leads us on. Real entrepreneurs build, despite the dissenting voices around them. 

Nisha smiling with her cookboks© Instagram
Nisha has written six cookboks

"I risked everything I had, and put all my life savings into Mowgli," she continues. "It’s never an option for a founder. You are compelled to shelve the doubts, and if you fall, you know and take strange comfort in the fact that you fall on your own sword."

Facing the obstacles

But there are obstacles that even the most optimistic businesswomen face and Nisha is no exception. "My greatest obstacle was the voices of the women around me who told me I would destroy my family by pursuing this selfish desire," the mother-of-two reveals. 

"Most men didn’t even countenance my ambition as anything more than a daydream and the ones that did told me that I was mad and that I would fail. But their words did not sting like those of the women around me who I thought would have my back."

Nisha Katona being given her MBE by the King© Getty
Nisha Katona was made an MBE by the King

She says her obstacles spur her to inspire other women. "That’s why it’s so important to talk about success stories that are borne from women like me, with no business acumen, no business background, but simply a bright passion for something that filled a very evident gap in the market," she tells us. 

"Older, battle-scarred women, like me, who have constructed and navigated family, learned which battles to fight…we are uniquely gifted at building and keeping great teams around us and that’s the secret to success in any field!".

Her advice for others

The Spice Tree author shares her pearls of wisdom for other women who are gearing up to take a leap of their own. "The world does not owe you a living. It’s not enough simply to have a dream. You have to look at the marketplace and spot a gap. You can only expect success if your skill and your passion uniquely fill that gap," says The Kitchen Cabinet star.

Nisha on This Morning with plates of food© Instagram
Nisha shares her recipes on This Morning

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"My big advice is to keep the day job going while you try for new pastures. You must never put yourself in a place where you financially need success. You can only hope and/or pray your socks off that it comes your way!".

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