My Week: Levi Roots of Reggae Reggae Sauce

The Caribbean cuisine King on dealing with the Dragons, making his ma proud, and keeping it real.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

This is a really busy week for me as I’m currently focused on the launch of my chilled Caribbean ready-meals – chilled out food for chilled out people. This means that the Caribbean food market now has a mainstream offering for people, as it’s the first of its kind and will be launched into Tesco stores. Negotiating with supermarkets as an entrepreneur can be tough, but Peter Jones, the Dragon and my mentor brokered my first ever deal with a supermarket. One of the things that attracted me to his offer back on Dragons’ Den a few years ago is that he said he wanted to introduce me to a contact of his in the supermarket business. That person was none other then Sainsbury’s chief exec Justin King. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I still talk to Peter a lot; we’re always on the phone to each other. I recently bought my shares back from Richard Farleigh, the other Dragon investor. I am really keen to drive the business forward, but first of all, I wanted my shares back. Richard drove a hard bargain and I had to pay lots and lots of money for them, but all the same, I was very proud that I was able to do that after just a short period of time. I would never try to buy Peter out though; he will always be involved. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how much you think you know in business, you always need someone who knows more than you, someone who inspires you and helps you along. Peter will always be my mentor. And it’s gone beyond a business relationship now – we’re great friends too. He was at my gig at the Jazz Café a few weeks ago and I help out at his business academy. We also do speaking engagements together that we call the ‘Dragon and the Slayer.’

Obviously, a large portion of my time is taken up with cooking. I’m developing more than 300 recipes for my new book, so every spare moment I get I’ve got something on the boil and I’ll be taking notes. One thing I don’t have to worry about is the running of my restaurant in Battersea – my son and daughter take care of that for me.

The other thing I’m busy with is my band. We meet every week and at the moment we’re working hard preparing for our gig on Clapham Common on 30th May. We’ve just finished a UK tour of my ‘rastaraunts’, which involves my two favourite things: food and music. I’ve got a cooker on stage, you see, so I’ll be cooking rice and peas and then I’ll say ‘alright, I’ll leave that to simmer for a bit’ and I’ll go and do a number. And then I’ll go back over to the food and do a bit of cooking. It’s literally what I say on my sauces: ‘putting music in food’.

I also spend a lot of time at schools talking to kids about entrepreneurialism and enterprise. Last year I was talking at, on average, 15 schools a week. It’s mad because schools are now using my story in exam papers, and children as young as seven know the lyrics to the Reggae Reggae sauce song. The story has become an institution. I think it’s important to tell the kids that you don’t have to come from a particular area or a particular school to be enterprising. Anyone can be an entrepreneur. All you need is a good idea and the passion and drive to see it through.

I also still do the day-to-day stuff, like going grocery shopping. I’ll often take my mum with me. I still live in Brixton so we’ll go shopping on the markets, even though now it takes me half an hour just to walk ten paces because people recognise me and want to chat. I like that because it makes my mum proud, but at the same time, it’s always important to stay grounded and be among the people who supported you before you made it big time.

Levi Roots is the creator of Reggae Reggae sauce, which won the backing of Dragons Richard Farleigh and Peter Jones on Dragons’ Den.

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