The woman who went from being a barrister for 20 years to founder of Mowgli Street Food

We spoke to Nisha Katona MBE, about her journey from the court to the kitchen...

By Ben Brown | Last updated 15 May 2019

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I suppose when you’ve got a passion it’s hard to push it away and forget about it, so with 20 years as a barrister under her belt Nisha Katona decided to give it all up and follow her true passion – food.

Born and raised in Ormskirk, that’s not to say Nisha completely ignored her food passion as a barrister, she managed to write her very first Indian Cookbook, Pimp My Rice, in her spare time, as well as to teaching the intricacies of Indian cooking to classes of eager students as well.

Cut to a few years later and Nisha is the founder of Mowgli Street Food, which currently has 8 sites around the country with 2 opening up soon. Most recently she opened up a restaurant at the brand new University Green development on Oxford Road and it’s here where we began our conversation…

“We always knew it was going to be a slow build at the beginning, but things are starting to move and we’ve been getting very good feedback so far.” As a brand-new development that’s taking over the old University of Manchester Precinct, it’s clear that any business setting up shop here needs to change tact a bit to appeal to a different clientele.

“I always knew it was going to take time, it’s a new area and there’s a completely different pattern there that we’re used to at our other Manchester site (at the Corn Exchange in the city centre).”

So they’ve started offering student discounts, as well as offering a unique ‘to-go’ version of their menus that offer a more express option for students and lecturers with only 30-45 minutes to grab some food.

“It’s great for keeping you on your toes” Nisha explains, “as a business we need to adapt and that is perfectly fine by me.”

If you’ve yet to visit the restaurant at University Green you’ll be rather impressed with both the food and the stunning interior, (which was designed by Nisha herself) and features a huge tree as a centre piece.

But what sets Mowgli aside from all the other numerous Indian restaurants in Manchester?

Well, Nisha is proud that what’s on offer is the kind of food “that Indians eat at home… where if you want to know what it’s like to go round an Indian mate’s house and get something cooked by their mum – this is it!”

“We also want people to feel as welcome as you would when you walk into a friend’s home – in terms of service, food and everything else.”

Nisha also mentions the culture at Mowgli and how she wants to “enrich lives in the cities that we go to, be that with our guests, food and even our employees.”

“We want to have parents to want their kids to work for Mowgli, because our staff are looked after and they are doing something purposeful, and food is right at the centre of this.”

But it’s not just the food side of things where Mowgli look to enrich the lives of people around them. They also aim to do lots of work within the local community and get involved in as many charity endeavours as possible.

The Mowgli Trust is a charity set up by Nisha that looks to improve the lives of people within the local communities of their restaurants and have so far managed to raise over £400k for local and regional causes.

Since opening up in Manchester, the Mowgli Trust have been working very closely with Maggie’s, a charity that offers free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their families and friends.

Nisha is keen to explain that they don’t just want to be “filling up a slot on someone’s high street” and instead feed into local communities and charities. With this they’ve given 10’s of thousands of meals to Maggie’s and even have members of staff volunteering and helping out as much as possible.

It all leads back to this idea of ‘enrichment’, which is key to Nisha’s understanding and desires with Mowgli. As they continue to expand this concept will be front and centre with everything that Mowgli does, with staff, customers and of course – the food.