This month we’d like to introduce you to small business producer Razan Alsous, owner and producer of Squeaky Cheese. Razan came over to the UK in 2012 after fleeing war-torn Syria. She has an incredible story to tell and in particular, explains how she overcome many challenges in order to start her own business making Halloumi cheese in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.
1. How did you get started?
It was all about the need to survive and thrive. Because of a bomb at my husband’s office, we left our home in Syria in 2012 and moved to the UK. Before we left I was studying for a second degree in Pharmacology at the university, as I have done Laboratory work before, and my husband was an Electronic Engineer.
When we arrived in the UK we came with nothing. We had to start again. We had three children which made me think responsibly about their future and resettlement and the need to build a new life.
Our story started from zero really then we became a hero. We have spotted the gap in the market in Halloumi cheese production/consumption after research I have done on milk production in the UK and the waste, how that is affecting the environment and there is a real need for Halloumi in the British market due to the increase in demand, and from this point, our business idea started.
2. What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I have enjoyed each moment because you feel that you’re changing something, you are working and planning your family’s future, your feel the positive response from the consumers, you see the appreciation. We wouldn’t grow without our cheese lover support.
Starting a new business is not an easy thing, we felt tired, we’ve been down so many times but it is a matter of keeping going and reaching your goal, our target was to be producers, not consumers, to be effective in society, our partnership with British milk made it the real success.
3. What did you do before you created Squeaky Cheese?
I was ready to do any work, I did some interpreting jobs in the UK and before that I helped my husband in Syria in his company, doing some marketing with him.
5. What was your inspiration for creating your delicious products?
It was the relaxed feeling you get from the countryside in the UK, uniting with nature.
6. Future plans?
Before the pandemic we were thinking of growing our business and having mass production and thinking of exporting, however we have managed to survive during the pandemic by changing our plans and being flexible, and we have learned a lot, and proven that small little steady steps will grow the business better. There are plenty of different possibilities to grow your business it’s not always mass production.
7. Favourite ingredients?
I love to mix flavour from the middle east with local ingredients because I believe food is one of the important ways to deliver your love message and enrich life by mixing quality of life from the best in the middle east with the best of British milk, and this is what made us develop the Rosemary Squeaky cheese as rosemary is organically growing in the UK, and the smoked Squeaky cheese inspired by the smoked Scottish salmon.
8. Favourite place to eat?
I love to eat in those small restaurants you often find in the Yorkshire Dales.
9. Favourite time of the year?
The summer in July when life is vibrant.
10 Top Tip
1st: never give up, and think out of the box.
2nd: the success will be made by the amount you fall down then you stand up again, energetic and happy.
3rd: think positively as the negativity will damage you first.
4th we are all human and we react the same, don’t be afraid of anyone.
5th all the big companies started small, it is good to be small sometimes.
6th learn how to dance on your pain, tell your dream in loud voice, and start the first step, your idea will stay as a dream until you do the first step.
7th in business don’t copy others, make your identity and believe in it, if you don’t believe in yourself no one will believe in you, and always ask yourself Why??! Why people will buy my product??!!
8th it is never too late, if you can’t achieve what you are thinking, then change the way you think, change the place, take a break and your view will change.
9th think quality, it is durable.
10th don’t fight, your competitors use them as motivators.
11 Biggest challenges:
1- changing your country with no plan, and having children at a critical age and stage of life.
2- introducing a product that already existed in the market.
3- building a business from zero, especially having no relations or established relationships when we first came to the UK.
4- keeping going with your plan even when you hear lots of “NO”
5- motivating yourself
6- being accepted in the community
7 – changing your way of thinking
9 – supporting yourself financially
10 – being flexible and managing different roles at the same time whilst balancing between them.
11- being hurt but the need to keep smiling.
12 Inspirational story
I actually have two people in particular who have inspired me and one company. The most inspirational and the first person I met in the UK was Judy Bell the owner of Shepherds Purse Cheese Factory, she has a confident amazing personality.
Then when I met HRH Princess Royal. I understood what real royalty was. It is not as the fairy tales paint but by sheer hard work she is doing what she does, she also has an amazing natural personality which really put me at ease.
I have also taken inspiration from the Wensleydale Cheese story especially how they managed to thrive after being so close to closing down, and how they received amazing community support.