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Why one barrister quit her job to become a successful restaurateur

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Nisha Katona had been practising for 20 years

📸 Nisha Katona

A barrister who gave up the daily grind to launch her own restaurant has revealed why she made the unconventional career move.

Forty-eight-year-old Nisha Katona was a family and child law barrister at Chavasse Court Chambers in Liverpool before she took the plunge to found Mowgli Street Food, a swish Indian restaurant chain in the UK.

Katona trained at the Inns of Court School of Law and had been practising as a barrister for 20 years before she decided to follow her dream of becoming a professional chef and restaurateur. By then in her 40s with two daughters and a mortgage to pay, Katona knew the move would come with risks but the thought of not pursuing her goals had started to give her sleepless nights.

While she was still working full-time in 2014, Katona launched her first eatery specialising in authentic Indian cuisine in Liverpool’s foodie haven, Bold Street. That has since grown into a UK-wide empire of seven restaurants in cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Oxford (with three more on the way) and sales of £10 million.

Speaking to the BBC, the successful entrepreneur, who has penned three cookbooks including her debut hardback Pimp My Rice with over 100 rice-related recipes, explained the meaning behind the restaurant’s name:

“Mowgli is a pet name I have for my two teenage girls which literally means feral child”, which is not, as some might think, related to the well-known The Jungle Book character. “My daughters chose the logo and the restaurant was named after them.”

Mowgli was the result of Katona’s sheer passion and hard graft. The self-confessed ‘curry evangelist’, gave cookery lessons, shared recipes and cooking demos on her own YouTube channel, and would even stand in the corner of restaurant kitchens at night to see how they operated.

Despite her success and becoming the first female Asian barrister in Liverpool, Katona, a second-generation immigrant living in 1970s Britain, admits starting her first restaurant in what is considered to be a male-dominated scene wasn’t easy.

“As I was building Mowgli, at times I was met with disdain from friends and family as I threw myself into the business and had less time to spend with my daughters… It struck me that if I were the husband, or simply the man, I wouldn’t receive this criticism. And unfortunately, in this day and age, I still must fight my corner as a businesswoman.”

Katona isn’t the first lawyer to swap cases for culinary conquests. Speaking to Legal Cheek last year, Helen Tse, a former partner whose CV includes stints at magic circle firm Clifford Chance, big four accountancy giant PwC, and Cayman Islands-based outfit Walkers, launched Sweet Mandarin, a Chinese restaurant she co-owns with her twin sister.

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46 Comments

The Lord Harley of Counsel Real Northern Pie Company Limited

Is now taking orders.

Anonymous

Cliff notes: Woman quits job and does something else.

Scouser of Counsel

Well worth a visit.

👍

Anonymous

Fair play to her but her restaurant looks distinctly like my local Tesco

JDP

And our interview assessment centre looks a lot like my lounge but hey who’s judging?

Anonymous

Brothers! Sisters!

Jeremy Corbyn will tax City greed to pay for legal aid!

No BAME female barrister should have to quit her job to pay the mortgage!

This is a scandal.

Every legal aid barrister should be paid the same as a doctor, basically! Same deal.

A windfall tax on Goldman Sachs.

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!!!!

Jake

Yes… but in socialist societies the doctor gets paid the same as the bin man, and can still not afford to buy a house!

Anonymous

She’s got sales of £10M. I don’t think she’s struggling.

Anonymous

Chavasse Court, a chambers where 85% of members are too embarrassed to give a photo for the website.

Anonymous

And people wonder why the gender pay gap exists!

Anonymous

Not really as she is turning over £10 Million with her restaurant chain.

Anonymous

Turnover means nothing. What’s the profit margin?

Anonymous

With that revenue, her restaurant is publicly audited. Full accounts available on companies house

Anonymous

Just checked: 1.2m loss; 150k paid to highest paid director I.e. ex-barrister babe.
Let’s hope someone has deep pockets 😂

Anonymous

Cmon legalcheek, it took me three minutes of googling to find her company house accounts and confirm how successful she is(n’t).
Was that too much research or was some that loss she made due to bribing you to give her a puff piece

Anonymous

At an early stage running at such a loss isn’t a surprise (provided there is a game plan). The name of the game is to get snapped up and become the next Strada. When you roll out the restaurant on a mass basis (chain of 20+) then the thing becomes profitable. You just need to establish a suitable concept/brand/decent menu/experience and hope the investment comes in.

Anonymous

Looking further into it, you can see that significant money has been pumped into getting new locations. That is of course going to dent profits and drive them to a loss. It is of all course for the purpose of drawing in profits of 1m+ in the future. A necessary step.

Anonymous

So perhaps she’ll only be a successful restauranteur once the game plan (of turning a profit lmao) pans out?

Also my point stands – hopefully someone has deep pockets. Child law barristers rarely have several million saved up, and no serious investor will invest in a business founded by someone with no experience, so it’s either generous family (who might well be in for one hell of a shock) or a sugar daddy

Anonymous

It doesn’t.

Sol

Chavasse Court are quietly brilliant. Their barristers do a fantastic job without broadcasting to the world how great they are.

Anonymous

So quietly brilliant that they have one silk out of 77 members?

Anonymous

Why are chambers / legal industry so fixated on photos? Like anyone gives a shit what you look like? All the client wants to know is if you can do the job and deliver the desired outcome.

JDP

Err, sorry but we actively encourage pics. Send pics pls.

Anon

JDP. Is that you asking for pics again Mr Carter-Silk? If you don’t stop, I will have to apply for an injunction. Regards, Charlotte.

Anonymous

Ohh it’s not in London so it must be embarrassing? LONDON LONDON LONDON

Anonymous

Actually a great restaurant!

Anonymous

48? Blimey

Anonymous

She looks really young!!

Anonymous

Rolling Stones shirt! Such a rebel. Good luck to her 🙂

Anonymous

Why was my comment about the famous Birkenhead Stage 3s deleted?

I was merely speculating that many barristers on Merseyside may have looked elsewhere for gainful employment when the Birkenhead Stage 3 gravy train came to an end.

It isn’t remotely controversial to suggest there were funny goings on in Birkenhead.

Anonymous

How is the gravy train at an end? You can do two stage 3 hearings a day,l for a minimum of £500, and clear £2,500 a week, £100k a year with two months holiday (before chambers expenses). Prep for each stage 3 is no more than 20 minutes.

It’s not Ferrari money any more but it’s money for nothing. Pees all over the chancery barristers doing wonders all day for £40 each

Anonymous

They used to be able to bill over 2k every day in Birkenhead from what I hear.

Allegedly due to over listing and knowing the people doing said listing.

Anonymous

A select few who are doing 5+ stage 3s per day are still making close to £2k. It used to be much higher though!

Anonymous

I’m all for it personally. The insurance companies who perpetuate this PI racket need to lose money somehow.

Anonymous

1. They only do winders in the morning, shortly to change to the afternoon

2. Standard is about £75 and you do several at once, with the potential for a few hundred for a direct access one

3. They are more fun than stage threes as the barristers are all friendly in there, there’s a few jokes with about 20 other barristers, and they aren’t dribbling imbeciles like PI people.

Anonymous

Doesn’t take much more than a dribbling Pi imbecile to say “judge I seek the usual compulsory order” or “the debt has been paid, I ask for the petition to be dismissed”…

Anonymous

Or more challengingly, “I ask for an adjournment for 56 days to allow the directors to raise funds from personal borrowing to pay the debt”

Anonymous

Dribbling PI imbeciles would get confused by all the wigs. And they’d get confused by one of the parties not been awarded exorbitant compensation.

Speedy and Picko

Dribbling all the way to the bank, mate!

Anonymous

So much argument over so little income. If I was earning the sums they were rowing over on this thread I’d have given up a long time ago.

Dribbler

…with a nagging sense of worthlessness and lack of meaning in ones life.

But you keep telling yourself you’ve found your calling.

Anonymous

Her t-shirt is very cool. Love the Stones

Anonymous

Good luck to her, but no need for all the ‘wouldn’t happen to man’ stuff in order to sound like an underdog – it would! She’s got enough ability to succeed without having to do that.

Anonymous

What ability? The ability to somehow have several million to burn after doing child law?

Get me away from the law

Soon…

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