Community Spotlight – Natalie Dinning, Owner
Natalie Dinning is the owner of Caribbean sauce brand Lesley’s Sauces. We spoke to Natalie about her love for culture, family, the challenges of being a solopreneur, and her proudest moments.
Tell me a bit about yourself…
My name is Natalie Dinning, I’m 39 years old. I’m a mum to two amazing boys and owner of Lesley’s Sauce’s, named after my mum. We make Caribbean sauces.
It started as a family business, originally set up by my dad who started a street food stall at the Arsenal Stadium called The Jerk Kitchen. My Dad’s wanted to see our Jamaican culture better represented in our local area and at Arsenal football games. It was a big success and had queues all the way down the road. It was a really great hub for our community because we cooked amazing food with passion and love.
My mum created our infamous Jerk BBQ Sauce that was used on our stall, alongside my dad’s generations old family recipes in Jamaica. We always got asked by customers to buy our sauces. Eventually, with my mums permission, my dad, myself and my brother launched them, adapting our family recipes from Jamaica to launch.
Can you tell me about your career and what you do?
I used to be work in the creative industry.
My dad closed the The Jerk Kitchen food stall before the pandemic hit. Luckily, we had already launched Lesley’s Sauces by then so I ended up pivoting and taking over the company. It was during the pandemic that we grew in stockists, customers and it was a great time for our business in terms of scalability. This is when I had to make a really big decision and put my design career on hold temporarily to focus on the business.
Tell me more about the sauces?
We currently have four sauces at the moment and it’s soon to expand. I just love using our sauces simply as a way to add loads of flavour to dishes. They’re all very different sauces and we’re passionate about making quality sauces packed with flavour. At the moment I’m loving our Hot Jerk BBQ Sauce, it’s quite hot but it’s full of flavour.
Our aim is to bring a taste of the Caribbean into everyday cooking, for any meal. It can be put in sandwiches, omelettes, baked beans, used as a marinade – there’s no limitations.
How do you stay motivated/driven in the industry?
I find it quite hard sometimes because I’m a solo-business owner and I find myself having to wear all the hats, which can be quite lonely. It’s important to be strong and resilient but I make sure that I keep a balance so I’m constantly fulfilled.
I also talk to people, I find that the people I surround myself with are important. I recently won a year’s membership at WeWork from Foundervine, which has been a game changer for me. It helps because I’m surrounded by all these other people that are working as well and has been phenomenal in terms of motivation.
Something else that makes me so excited is when I see people winning, especially when they’re from my community and look like me. It inspires me to push myself as much as I can.
Do you have a proudest career moment you can identify?
If I could narrow down two really big moments though, last year I sent over my first pallet of sauces. The feeling of constructing my first pallet and turning it around 3 days from order, really fulfilled me.
Also, getting stocked in Whole Foods, when it launched, I was the first female-owned Caribbean sauce company that’s ever had a condiment in Whole Foods UK. To see my product and our culture being represented means so much and I’ll never forget the day we launched. I was with my son and family and we saw my face and sauces displayed in the shop window at their flagship store in Kensington, I was so emotional.
Have you encountered any career challenges to date?
A big challenge has been breaking down barriers and the preconceived ideas that people have surrounding ‘Caribbean’. While we’re stocked in 70 shops, it has been quite hard to even get a foot in because of these pre-conceived ideas. Also, a lot of the spaces I go to, people don’t look like me. It doesn’t put me off but it can feel quite isolating.
Another challenge is financial, since the business is entirely self-funded. It’s created a lot of stress and limitations because there’s things I want to do but can’t necessarily do yet. Being an independent business, without a platform or big endorsements, so I have to shout even louder for my place in the industry.
The future of hospitality is…
I think the future of hospitality is really exciting. I feel this year is going to be really big for black-owned businesses, the world is opening their eyes and seeing that we’ve got the gold. A lot of people have set down some amazing foundations and are really growing as a result. I also love that the new generation of businesses are continuing to add their own twist to the culture.
The hospitality sector is very resilient and even though it’s tough now, I can definitely see it coming out the other side. You can find Lesley’s sauces on their website.
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