Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Raj Athwal-Browne for her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Raj Athwal-Browne is a passionate Events Planner and Founder of Chipotle Event Planners Ltd, dedicated to creating inspiring and unique events with especially tailored themes. As well as devising original menus, she helps locate the perfect venue and deliver a seamless delegate journey. Raj describes the Chipotle experience as first class, memorable, and exciting.
As a food buyer and event organiser for large supermarkets, was setting up your own business the next step on your career journey?
After 25+ years as a food buyer for Waitrose, I developed a strong passion for food. This role included traveling to Europe to buy the best delicatessen products, learning about key culinary ingredients, and I had the privilege of attending many courses at Raymond Blanc’s cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. I also acquired great organisational and creative expertise whilst organising our 1,000 delegate-strong Supplier Conferences – events which I relished planning and bringing to life.
So, leaving the corporate world, I knew that my next move had to combine these key strengths, which would bring me job satisfaction and lots of fun too! Setting up Chipotle Event Planners was the perfect next stage for my career.
Chipotle brings a twist to corporate and private events by putting food at the heart of everything. Food is usually an afterthought at company events. By using both my food buying and events experience enabled me to set up a truly unique business model. It gives us an edge on our competitors. There’s nothing more satisfying than a room full of people having a fantastic time but have no idea of any issues that might be happening in the background and you're totally on top of it. It’s a real buzz!
Our aim is to create truly amazing events that the attendees would be talking about for days to come. We listen carefully to the brief and whether the event is for their customers, business partners, employees, or friends and family members, we spice it up with imaginative and tasty food.
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The events industry has been hugely impacted by the pandemic. How have you coped, managed, and relaunched your business?
After months of careful preparation, we launched Chipotle Event Planners on 25 February 2020 in the splendid surroundings of Moor Park mansion. It was a wonderful day that showcased some of the types of events that we could organise for businesses and individuals. The response was amazing and led to many enquiries from companies of all sizes, as well as individuals keen for us to plan their special occasions. Just as we started to get stuck in, the pandemic hit!
At first it was truly scary as there was no income coming in at all and there was so much uncertainty about. The word “pivot” was doing the rounds and for some businesses it worked but for us, it was all about live events. So, we decided to hold off and used the time to network online with as many groups as possible, which proved invaluable. We have made many new connections and learnt so much about different businesses.
After almost 18 months of not trading, we are proud to announce our upcoming event July 22 at the prestigious Hunton Park Hotel near Watford, Hertfordshire. It will be a ‘Wine Tasting and Food Pairing’ evening in conjunction with French Domaine Les Caizergues, which features several award-winning wines.
All are welcome as it will be a great opportunity to enjoy a special evening with friends and business colleagues. People interested in buying tickets, can contact me: email@example.com
What has been the lesson you have learned during lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic?
Like for many people the pandemic has provided a period of reflection and figuring out what truly matters.
From a personal point of view, it has reinforced the fact that family and friends are what matters most in life. Hard work is important to succeed but key relationships and having some fun should not be sacrificed for the sole chasing of business dreams. When you come face to face with death and you have no contact with your loved ones other than those in your direct household, it is so unnatural.
My mother always calls me her strong child, but I found myself some days not knowing what I was doing or where I was going. It was truly hard. Thank goodness for my little girl! When you are responsible for a little person it makes you re-focus and get on with things.
From a business point of view the key lesson has been to keep positive and not be afraid to ask for help. I received a lot of support during lockdown, and I was blown away with the many stories of everyone coming together to help each other. I hope as a nation we continue with it. It was so humbling.
If you could go back and give your teenage self one bit of advice, what would it be?
I would say believe in yourself and don’t doubt that you can do it. There are always opportunities out there; you just have to go out and find them. Follow your dreams, don't listen to people who tell you what you can’t do because not only you are a girl but an Indian girl.
And keep positive – it’s infectious!
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How do you think the pandemic will change the events industry?
The events industry pre-pandemic was worth billions. It’s one of many industries that haven't been allowed to open up fully, when each easing of the restrictions was lifted. There is still a lot of uncertainty about what things will look like in this new world that we find ourselves in. The virus is not going to go away; we will have to find a way of living with it. And we will have to adapt how we run events going forward.
A number of operators have sadly not been able to survive, and those who have found ways of running virtual events may continue to do so as it has opened new markets for them. I do believe however that people can’t wait to get together again with their teams, their customers, their friends and families, and will jump at the opportunity to take part in live events. The way events are run may be different, the companies that survived will probably come out stronger and new players will appear – so I would not be surprised to see a return to pre-pandemic numbers.
Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive “In Conversation” series for iGlobal, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist catches up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons. (*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.)
*Info: Chipotle Events