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“CURRY IS SUCH A BIG MARKET IN THE UK, BUT I FELT THAT THERE COULD BE MORE INNOVATION IN IT”
From student radio via Silicon Valley to a vegan restaurant, Grace Regan tells us about her journey to curry entrepreneur.
Photography Leon Csernohlavek
When Grace Regan enrolled at UCL, her aspiration was to be a TV presenter. At Freshers’ Week she signed up with Rare FM, the university’s radio station and quickly got her own show. “It was terrifying, but fun. I learned on the job, moving from a random afternoon slot to the breakfast show.” Grace also became head of music, which gave her a seat on the station’s committee and a taste for shaping the future of an organisation.
This grounding in student radio, and the entrepreneurial spirit learned at UCL, led Grace to launch news app Clippet. “The day that I got my degree result, I met up with a friend who had this idea for an audio news app. He needed someone who loved and understood audio. I had no idea what I was going to do after university, so I jumped in.” For the next two and half years, Grace was part of a team creating audio news content twice a day, every day. “It was both creatively and intellectually stimulating,” says Grace. “I knew nothing about newsroom journalism, managing a team or building an app.”
Industry recognition led to Grace and her co-founder being accepted on to a Silicon Valley start-up accelerator programme. No mean feat, but the experience was a double-edged sword for the pair. For all the excitement, innovation and inspiration, Grace became frustrated because there was too much talking and not enough doing.
During an intensive six months, the concept of Clippet pivoted from a labour of love designed to engage young people and give budding journalists a platform, to a news aggregator called Streamr which was more about monetising audio digital audiences. That’s when Grace realised that “you can’t be an entrepreneur and run a business unless you really care about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
“I found Silicon Valley to be a really weird place. There’s no culture – it’s basically suburbia with nothing to do except eat out and go to the cinema.” Grace spent what little free time she had exploring California and its burgeoning food scene: “I’ve been vegetarian for most of my life, but I didn’t try to go vegan until I went to California; it’s so much easier there.” Eating out became research into food tech and vegan businesses. Missing the creative outlet of cooking for herself, Grace returned to London and began selling curries from her front door.
“In the back of my head was this idea for a modern, fresh, Indian takeaway and curry house. Curry is such a big market in the UK, but I felt that there could be more innovation in it.” Family ties and frequent trips to India had given Grace a grounding in Indian food. She sold five curries on her first day, and for the first eight months was making all the dishes at home. “Everything, including me, just reeked of curry” she recalls. But after a successful move into the food truck business and rave reviews from the press, Grace moved into her first Spice Box restaurant in Walthamstow.
Opening a restaurant was a massive challenge, but Grace says, “there is nothing more enriching than creating food, using your hands and your creativity and teaching others how to do it and then seeing people experience it.” Nine months in, Grace is already looking for her next location: “My ambition has always been to open a curry house on every high street in the UK. I’m really passionate about re-injecting life and vibrancy back into our high streets.”