Simone O’Kane visits the little factory where the Patels are keeping East Lancashire supplied with the finest ingredients

TUCKED away in the heart of Blackburn town centre is a small factory where Babu Patel and his family run a well established business providing herbs and spices across the north west.

The Spice Factory, based in Hart Street, supplies fine-quality ingredients for wholesale purposes to established restaurants as well as to the general public.

With around 200 spices on display from chilli and nutmeg to hot piri piri, there’s a wide selection.

Mr Patel took over the factory and store in 2007 after a 28-year long career in retail, working as store manager at Dolcis shoes in London. After being made redundant, the former Shadsworth High School pupil came back to East Lancashire to grow The Spice Factory.

“When this business came up I was happy to take it on,. My wife encouraged me and we haven’t looked back since. We import spices from South Africa and India as well as buying locally,“ said the 55-year-old.

Along with his wife Nasreen, and three daughters Umaymah, Adilah and Saadiyah, Mr Patel provides the produce to local curry houses and delivers as far as Wigan.

The factory is open to the public and shoppers from the local community flock there to buy the fresh spices.

Behind the shop floor is a large warehouse that contains two large grinding machines that are used to crush ingredients including coriander and cumin and where the chilli powder is made from grinding dried chillies in batches of 60kg at one time.

“We like to mix and grind our own spices so that we know that they are fresh and customers know what their packages contain.

“We package everything ourselves and it is important to keep the spices fresh and well-sealed so that we can sell the quality and delicious spices knowing that they have been well handled,” said Mr Patel.

At The Spice Factory, piri piri masala is the most popular spice and like everywhere else in the world saffron is the most expensive one sold. Made from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus it has a deep auburn colour used in exotic dishes and curry dishes and is sold at the Blackburn premises in one, two and four gram boxes.

Members of Blackburn’s large Asian community are regulars at the store and Mr Patel said that other customers were starting to buy their spices there because of the sale of his competitive and well-priced produce.

“We are reasonably priced and offer good value for money to all of our customers. We have people who come here for all different types of reasons and we are certainly becoming more popular with English customers who want to start cooking their curries from scratch,” said Mr Patel.

“We offer advice and have recipes printed on the back of the packets and buyers can experiment with the spices they have bought.”

With three part-time staff members and family to help out, Mr Patel’s daughter Umaymah said she wants to take over the business and branch out, once she has finished her degree in business and economics.

Having recently been on a trip to Gujarat, to see how the process of spice growing and grinding is carried out, Miss Patel aims to open more shops in East Lancashire and beyond.

The 20-year-old said: “It was the first time I went to Gujarat and it was a wonderful experience.

“I was surprised to see the amount of work that goes into growing and establishing the spices. It was really interesting and we have been able to bring some of the traditional methods back home here in Blackburn.

“I am looking forward to finishing my degree and establishing the business even more.”