A Pakistani 'foodpreneur' made history by receiving double honours from the Queen for his services with regards to business and charity during the Covid-19.
Raja Suleman Raza, Chief Executive of the Spice Village, received the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) on the occasion of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.
Raza's not-for-profit initiative Uplyft, based in Croydon, won the Queen's Award for Voluntary Services (QAVS) with the following citation, "Feeds the homeless and vulnerable, uplifts communities through diversity and inclusion initiatives."
It is highly unusual that a recipient of the Queen's honours received them twice for services in different sectors.
The QAVS is the highest award given to UK volunteer groups, being equivalent to the MBE. It recognises the exceptional work done by volunteer groups in their communities.
The foodpreneur was instrumental in the One Million Meals campaign that served hundreds of thousands of meals to doctors, nurses, paramedics, and key workers across the UK during the first lockdown from March to the end of June 2020.
Raza moved to London from Pakistan with his family in the year 2000 and began his career as a chef in a restaurant in Brixton. Since 2004, he has been living in South West London, running his family business along with his elder brother in the restaurant industry and helping the vulnerable communities there.
In 2021, he led a multi-branch restaurant chain serving Pakistani cuisine in the south and west of London. He also ventured into the event business and hospitality sectors.
Raza champions the uniqueness of Pakistani cuisine in the UK as a distinct category from Indian food.
Upon receiving the honours, he said, "As a Pakistani, I am absolutely delighted to receive an MBE and a QAVS on Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee. It is incredible having two honours in a week."
"While Spice Village is a Pakistani cuisine and catering company, Spice Village Uplyft is entirely a humanitarian initiative led by volunteers. We have provided food to the homeless and vulnerable people since 2015," he added.
The foodpreneur added, "Spice Village Uplyft has provided training to the local youth, encouraged the ethnic communities to join the Royal Armed Forces, and delivered food to the homeless through our 'No One Eats Alone on Christmas".
Speaking about the startup further, he said, "Multiple award-winning Spice Village is more than the aroma and delectable dishes: it's about creating a community heart and giving something back. Our staff and volunteers have done a fantastic job in times of crisis, and it has been amazing to witness it. I'm incredibly proud of them all, and it really has been a team effort throughout."
Shedding some light on his past, Raza said, "I came to the UK with £50 in my pocket and, after working hard for 22 years, received the two great news in a row. It is unbelievable how a chef sweating once in a Brixton eatery could set up a nationwide business, serve the communities and get recognised by none other than the Her Majesty."
Interestingly, he said, "We were aware of the nomination of our voluntary work at the Spice Village Uplyft. However, the nomination and the news of the MBE were unexpected. My mother, brothers, wife and children – all are jubilant. It is nothing short of a British dream coming true at the Platinum Jubilee of the Queen".
"Giving back generously and quietly is the best thing I learned while growing up. I want to dedicate the rest of my life to delivering this message of 'giving back' to the communities in Pakistan and the UK. I know how hard we had to work to earn the success that does not come overnight. It comes with a lot of blood, sweat and tears," he expressed.
Even more important, Raza stressed, is to give back, after making it. "My story shows Pakistanis are hardworking and can be successful within Pakistan and outside Pakistan given they are treated on merit and fairness."
The foodpreneur also speaks at various forums and institutions to motivate students from the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds to become entrepreneurs in the field of their choice.
He also serves as a member of the 'Founders Circle' at the British Asian Trust under the patronage of the HRH the Prince of Wales.
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