Local mother’s passion for cooking lands her products on grocery store shelves

SAUGUS, Mass. — The work-life balance has really forced many people, especially working mothers, to reconsider their careers. A Saugus mom decided to leave her job at a bank in Boston to take care of her daughter and newborn twins. But more time at home allowed her to cook her traditional family meals—that’s when her love for cooking really took off.

Mona Ahmad is a wife and mother of three. She did the daily grind commuting into the city. But after having twin boys and three kids under the age of five, she decided to take time off to raise her children.

“I got to see my children grow which is priceless,” said Mona Ahmad.

But she quickly realized making wholesome, nutritious meals for her family was not an easy task.

“Mealtime is tough for anybody whether you’re home, or you’re working,” said Mona. “We, first of all, don’t know what to eat that day and let alone what to make, do we have all the ingredients.”

At the age of 2, Mona and her family immigrated from Pakistan and she always loved her mother’s home-cooked meals. So she began cooking her family’s traditional recipes. And that’s how ‘Mona’s Curryations’ was born. A frozen meal that can be cooked in ten minutes at home. Sounds easy, but for Mona, it’s been a labor of love.

“At first you start as one but really you need a village to survive and thrive and you realize there’s so many people who want you to succeed,” said Mona.

That’s where the Initiative for Competitive Inner City, or ICIC, comes in. Mona took advantage of its small business program--where it helps provide vital tools to small business owners: Santander Bank to help them financially, Babson College for classes, and mentorship.

“If an entrepreneur in the food business starts a company and doesn’t get the education, coaching and capital, the likelihood of them succeeding long-term is pretty low,” said ICIC CEO Steve Grossman. “A lot of start-up businesses fail.”

Steve Grossman is the CEO of ICIC and says so far 150 businesses, a lot of them women and minority-owned, have gone through the program that has most recently expanded nationwide.

“So we’re seeing an opportunity here to close the racial wealth gap, to hopefully reduce concentrated poverty, to create entrepreneurship to create good-paying jobs, particularly in the communities that need those jobs the most,” said Grossman.

For Mona, a crucial part of her success has been her mentor of three years, Stephen Chen.

“Logistics, transportation, how distributors work, pricing, promotions,” said Stephen Chen. “There are a lot of roadblocks that you have to overcome and I’ve had those roadblocks and I’ve been able to work around them and this is what I’ve been able to share with her,” said Chen.

And because of his help, ‘Mona’s Curryations’ can be found on the shelves at Stop and Shop.

“Surreal,” Ahmad said. “It’s Surreal.”

The grocery store chain released a statement saying “Stop & Shop is proud to support local and women-owned businesses on our shelves. We were immediately impressed by the quality and authenticity of Mona’s product, and we helped her make a few tweaks to the packaging to ensure her product would sell well in the frozen aisle at a major grocery store. We talk regularly - and are so glad to be able to support the growth of her business.”

But Mona isn’t stopping there. She is shooting cooking shows, working on new products, all while inspiring others to act on their dreams.

“It’s not easy but doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, right?” said Mona. “If you have a passion, there’s a will, there’s a way.”

ICIC is currently accepting applications for its small business program in 2022. To learn more, click here.

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