Levi Roots is the entrepreneur, inventor and musician behind the beloved Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Sauce, a jerk sauce inspired by his Jamaican heritage. From selling the sauce at a stall at Notting Hill Carnival to becoming Dragon’s Den’s biggest success story, his is a truly inspirational story for any entrepreneur. Sainsbury’s originally expected to sell around 50,000 bottles of Reggae Reggae sauce a year – but ended up selling that much per week. Here’s how Levi made it.
When my parents moved to the UK from Clarendon in Jamaica, they couldn’t afford to take all of their children with them, so each year they would send for one of us. As the youngest, I was the last to be sent for. This was wonderful for me because it meant I had one-on-one time with my beloved Grandmother, which included plenty of singing and cooking in the kitchen. I also spent time helping on the family farm, from picking mangoes to tending to the pimento berries on the pimento tree.
Eventually, my time came to go to the UK. I was devastated to leave my grandmother behind, and my first years in Brixton were a struggle. I found school particularly difficult because I couldn't read or write at 12 years old. But I was so determined to catch up with the other children that I got there quite quickly in the end. There were many ups and downs, twists and turns in my adult years; it was only when I decided to become the best of me that I started to find success.
The Reggae Reggae years
When I started out with the sauce, it was my children who helped me make it in our Dutch pot at home. We would be working away in the kitchen, and then I’d head off to peddle each batch around Brixton on my bike! We've come a long way. When starting out, sometimes it would cost me three times as much as I would make from selling the sauce to actually travel to whichever food market or exhibition I was going to that day - but I believed that luck only comes to those at the right place at the right time. It was all worth it in the end, as I was spotted at an exhibition by one of the producers on Dragon’s Den. I also had a handful of mentors along the way who helped me hugely. No man is an island, so find a good mentor.
The many years I spent at Notting Hill Carnival certainly confirmed that there was a gap in the market to put ‘music in the food’, and I felt the public were ready for Reggae Reggae Sauce. My time at the carnival and at many food markets thereafter gave me complete confidence in the product - the public loved it! I therefore felt ready when Dragon's Den approached me to appear on the show. My moment had come.
I wasn’t nervous before I walked up the stairs on Dragons Den, as I hadn’t ever seen the show. I had no idea what to expect. That gave me the freedom to be myself, which I believe is what Peter bought into. I always say I'm not good at many things, but I'm great at being Levi Roots. Find the best of you, be the best person you can be. Centre the brand around you and your unique selling points – because nobody can replicate you!
Above all: have passion and be yourself
There’s a saying I love: Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life. I don’t see my job as work. I am the business, and the business is me.
My birth name is Keith Graham, and when I discovered Bob Marley's music and realised I was African via Jamaica, I understood why I'd never felt comfortable in my own skin with my Scottish name. So, if I wrote a letter to myself at the start of my business journey, I would say:
Switch offf your Keith and turn on your Levi!