A day in the life… running an award-winning cheese company

By Razan Alsous, founder of Yorkshire Dama

Yorkshire Dama is a multi-award-winning cheese company. We produce haloumi that can be enjoyed hot or cold. Every batch is handmade with 100% finest cow’s milk sourced from Yorkshire.

My journey to start my own business hasn’t been without a struggle. I arrived in the UK in 2012 after having no choice but to leave my home in war-torn Syria. As a mum of three, my husband and I made the decision to move to Yorkshire to create a safer life for our children.

As a medical graduate, I began searching for jobs in pharmaceuticals shortly after arriving in Yorkshire. Despite being well qualified, my lack of references and work experience in the UK meant that I was being turned down for jobs, time and time again.

Feeling disheartened, I began exploring my options.

Halloumi is a much-loved staple in Syria, people often eat it for breakfast! But in England, there were hardly any brands to choose from. I realised that I could use my scientific background, together with my husband’s experience of supplying to food industries, to create an authentic taste from home by creating my own halloumi cheese using Yorkshire’s finest cow’s milk. It was the perfect solution to the problem. We secured funding from The Start Up Loans Company, and Yorkshire Dama was created.

My morning usually focuses around my kids. My alarm will go off around 7.30am, and first things first, I’ll get the little ones sorted for school. As a working mum, I feel hugely privileged that I can plan my working schedule around my family. After completing the school run, I’ll head into work at around 10am and respond to any urgent emails before I get stuck in for the day.

By this time, my husband is usually at the farm collecting the milk to start our production day. Our mornings are typically spent packaging cheese from the day before, having given it time to mature overnight. Next we’ll check online orders, book the courier and post any orders.

Owning my own business often means I’m working around the clock. I rarely take a proper lunch break, so I’ll usually grab a quick sandwich when I get a spare moment – normally a cheese one!

My afternoons usually involve checking stock. We only use 100% cow’s milk in our products – after all, Yorkshire is renowned for its good quality milk.

I’ll check the schedule and manage more deliveries for the coming week if we’re running low. I’ll respond to more emails before leaving the office at 3pm to collect my kids from school. I know that not all working mums can be flexible with their working schedule, so I appreciate that this is a huge plus for my family and I.

In the evening, I’ll prepare tea for the kids and my husband. We eat early as the kids need to get to bed at a reasonable time. Plus, this gives me downtime to catch up on emails and sort out some invoices.

Whilst running my own business does give me flexibility, there’s plenty of work involved. It’s not always plain sailing. In the first year of starting up, it can be tricky to achieve a decent work-life balance. The early stages demanded long hours, which was a little tricky at times with the kids. We relied on support from family and friends for childcare a fair bit. But once the foundations were in place, it became a lot easier to find a routine.

Now, three years in, I’m starting to see more benefits. Running a business is a long-term project, so it can take a while to feel the positives. The best part about it is seeing your business idea flourish, it’s hugely rewarding. Plus, I have a new-found sense of responsibility. It may sound obvious, but as a business owner, it’s up to you to make the final decision on how things are run. It’s both rewarding and scary in equal measure!

My aim for the future is to continue making high-quality halloumi cheese for my growing customer base. As a new business owner, it can be difficult to ensure a high level of quality control at all times, but it’s an essential part of keeping customers satisfied and maintaining a good reputation in the industry.

Over the next five years, I will focus on continuing to build sales. I’m currently developing a new product – it’s all confidential at the moment, but we hope to launch in the next year or so.

Reflecting on my situation, I never thought I’d be running my own halloumi business in Yorkshire. My circumstances have changed dramatically over the past five to ten years, but it’s definitely been for the better. And whilst running your own business involves plenty of hard work, if I can provide a better future for my kids, then it’s definitely worth it.

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