Asma Shah is the owner of Go Flour, a successful social enterprise that trains under-privileged women and teach them the art of baking. Hailing from London, it was a huge feat for Asma to enter the eatery business as a woman. Daily Times had the pleasure to interview Asma Shah to get to know her, learn the challenges and triumphs of owning and running a restaurant on social entrepreneurship model, and investigate what makes Go Flour so successful. Tell us about yourself.I was not born and brought up here. I am from London originally. I came here after I got my married. I started a food business and later a home decor store. I also started an organic food market but sold it after a while, as I had to go to England for my daughter’s studies. There I bought an Italian restaurant. I ran that before returning to Pakistan. Is this venture a solo effort?After I came back, I set this social enterprise with my partner Ahmed, who’s a qualified chef. He got training in America at a culinary institute, and he also has a vast experience of running successful businesses in Pakistan. How did you come up with this idea? Because this is definitely a very unique initiative.As I said, I ran an Italian restaurant in London. When I came back, I realized that I have picked some skills and experience in running a restaurant. Also, I knew how difficult it is for women to step into hospitality industry here, how difficult it is to work in male dominated environment where women are not taken seriously, they don’t feel safe, so I thought it would be a great idea to engage more women in this industry because they are very talented and hard working. A lot of them don’t get the opportunity so I thought why not set a training center as well as a bakery where we produce high quality bakery items that other bakeries in Lahore aren’t producing. How long have you been running this business for, and how satisfied are you with the response you got?We’ve been running since April last year, so it’s been just over one year and we have done extremely well.What was the first time you baked something?*laughs* To be honest, I can’t even remember. I think as a child I used to bake butter cake from my mum’s old cook book.We all once in life face a baking disaster. Can you recall one?There are a lot of them. Because we keep trying new things. Nothing major happened though.What skill would you say is most important for you to have in your line of work?I don’t know if it counts as a skill, but I’d say passion. One must have a keen interest in baking and cooking, and must want to learn. There could be other things too, but passion is the first and foremost.What qualities do you think one must possess for stepping into food industry? Umm.. I don’t think you can run a food business until and unless you are really interested in food; not just the way it tastes, but also the quality of ingredients you put in, its presentation and obviously the hygiene practices that you need to follow. You have to have interest in all those things for being a part of this industry.How do you select these women? What is the criteria?The criteria is that they should at least be matric, otherwise it would be quite difficult to train them especially if they want to set up their own restaurants and to scale up the recipes. Other than that they need to be passionate about baking and cooking.You just explained the criteria, could you please tell us how can an underprivileged woman approach you?We don’t formally invite applications. We have contacts in this industry, so it’s usually word of mouth. Those who graduate tell their friends and family, so that’s mainly how we get our trainees. They send us their CVs and then we call them for interview.How many trainees have graduated till now?About 10 to 15 trainees that have graduated so far, in a year.How many trainees are currently working with you?Right now, around 8. Due to COVID-19 it was difficult for many women to travel due to unavailability of conveyance.How did you manage your work during pandemic?We did very well. Our sales increased remarkably. One of the main reasons for this is the huge trust factor from our customers as they know that we are following SOPs and the staff is working under the supervision of the owner who is overseeing everything. So the product we are offering is hygienic. I’d say we managed our work fairly well during these unprecedented times.In your opinion, what makes your business stand out amongst other food ventures in the town?We do not promote using imported items as we try to show these trainees that they can make delicious products with local ingredients. Because once they leave and set up their own food business, they won’t be able to afford imported items. We make them see that they can use whatever ingredient is available in the market locally to prepare good quality food.Moreover, our prices are reasonable because we are not following a strictly commercial business model. We concentrate on taste, flavor and ingredients.What food items are offered at Go Flour?We specialize in European style breads and then we have sweet stuff as well. We have a number of baked items that have become extremely popular, particularly our sour dough and burger buns. We also offer healthy salads, sandwiches and steaks. What is the most in-demand food item at Go Flour?There are more than one, but our sour dough is exceptionally popular. It is a long processed bread in which a natural starter is used instead of yeast. Our starter is from England and is 62 years old. So there’s nothing artificial in our sour dough and it’s made with whole wheat which is a very healthy option since it’s easy to digest and is easy on the gut because it has a very long fermentation process.What was the one best compliment and worst criticism you have received so far?Everyone loves the quality of our products, for example our burger buns are becoming extremely famous in Lahore, a lot of popular restaurants use them, because they don’t break apart, they’re soft and they enhance the flavor of the burger, so people are very happy with our burger buns. We make hundreds and hundreds of them every day. I think that’s a compliment in itself.Of course, you can’t please everyone. Sometimes we are late with deliveries, that’s because we’ve grown so quickly and particularly during lockdown, our riders faced difficulty to move within the city while delivering the orders. It was really beyond our control. Otherwise, on the whole, we have been very lucky. Our customers are happy with us.How do you think you’d be able to stand out among your competitors?We are not really worried about competition. We are not purely 100% a commercial business. Our aim is to change these women’s life. We want to see as many successful women as possible in the hospitality industry and we also want them to learn about selecting quality ingredients because there’s a lot of stuff being sold which is enhanced with artificial additives and chemicals and has implications on health and there isn’t enough monitoring, particularly in underprivileged neighborhoods. So the women we train have to learn that whatever they are making needs to be made with pure, natural and healthy ingredients, and that should be the focus of their own food businesses in future.Do you have any plans to increase the number of trainees or expand your business?So far, everything about our setup is self-funded. This place has a limited capacity. There are already so many women but hopefully when we get a larger space and more resources, we will expand our team and business.Are there any new things on the horizon? We are planning to expand our range of wholesome bread and bakery items. We recently introduced Rotisserie Chicken that again is a very healthy option because very little oil is used. Besides this, we have also introduced good quality beef stakes that are gaining so much popularity. We keep experimenting, so definitely more new items to look forward to.Any last message for our readers?We are very thankful to our friends and customers for their constant support and trust. We will keep bringing in new products. Our customers know we won’t compromise on quality.