How I Got Here: Yousif Aslam

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Yousif Aslam co-founder and managing director of Heavenly Desserts on honing your business model and why he wants VAT reduced

Related tags Heavenly Desserts Desserts Café Casual dining Ice cream Pudding Multi-site R200

The co-founder and managing director of Heavenly Desserts, which operates around 50 sites across the UK and Canada, on honing his business model and why he wants VAT reduced.

Why hospitality?
Hospitality was a natural transition for me. Having always worked in customer-facing roles in the past, naturally when setting up a business, I was inclined to do so in a sector that I was familiar with. For me it was important to create an environment that was inclusive of all generations, cultures and communities and I thrived off the ability to generate mini moments of happiness for people, whereby they could come together and share in an experience based on best taste, best venue and best service.  

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
As an entrepreneur, I always think about the bigger picture and do everything I can to prepare my teams for the challenges of the hospitality industry. But there are many challenges you cannot prepare for – from a pandemic, the rise of remote working, several economic downturns and even expansion into new territories – and then some far exceed expectations. Ultimately, business is full of ups and downs, remember to embrace both and enjoy the journey!

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Nando’s, without a doubt. I’m a huge chicken lover and a big fan of the concept. There is a major brand loyalty aspect to Nando’s customers, its concept to suit a very niche type of a craving means that Nando’s is the go-to for Peri-Peri smothered chicken, and it even sparks great debate among chicken-lovers about what your condiment level of choice says about you. Let’s not forget that celebrities like Ed Sheeran and Example have even made a viral rap about it in previous years.

What motivates you?
A number of things motivate me in different ways, I guess. At work, it’s everything from seeing great products, campaigns or our strategy come to fruition and produce amazing results. But it is also hearing really positive feedback from guests on their visits to our Heavenly Desserts restaurants. Outside of work, my friends and family are also a great source of motivation for me.

What keeps you up at night?
Not a great deal, I sleep pretty well most nights. Worrying doesn’t solve anything! Tomorrow is considered a new day and as a team we will always overcome any situation.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the hospitality business?
It’s difficult to really attribute this to one person. We have always had a diverse team with a broad range of experience and along the way, I certainly have learnt a lot from them and still very much do so today. I think it’s important to continuously learn from those around us – you can never have enough knowledge. That’s something that I wanted to encourage for all my staff, hence our recent appointment of a head of learning and development, Mimi Elias, for the first time. Mimi will contribute to staff training and education opportunities across all of our stores and regions as we continue to dedicate time and effort to our people.

What time do you wake up?
Usually around 7am.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee, black with a couple of sweeteners!

How often do you check your email?
Email communication makes up a large part of my day, so I am regularly checking my emails throughout the day to stay connected with all entities – from my marketing team to our franchisees and prospects.

How do you let off steam?
Patience is a key skill of mine, so not very often. However, I tend to surround myself with good people, family and friends and that grounds me.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
At 36, definitely a night on the sofa!

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
Unfortunately, I’m not a great cook, and nor do I cook, but I can knock up a decent breakfast!

Typical Sunday?
Slightly later to rise, around 8am or 9am at the latest. The day is generally spent in a leisurely fashion whilst spending some quality time with family.

Favourite holiday destination?
Dubai. With fantastic architecture and some of the world's most luxurious dining spaces, the emirate offers the perfect mix of a cosmopolitan lifestyle plus the traditional aspects of local culture.

What are you currently reading?
A book on procrastination habits. Something I believe we all possess in different amounts.

What boxset are you currently watching?
None, although I did start and got through a fair bit of Sons of Anarchy​! Boxsets are great, but not something I find to be a valuable way of spending my time.

What's been your best business decision?
Taking our business from being a corporate entity and turning it into a franchise model. It has given us the ability to scale-up quickly, including the ability to move into new territories such as Canada, but it has also meant we have been able to meet incredible individuals along the way and help them in their own journey to becoming a successful business owner.

And the worst?
I can’t say I have one – our organisation's mindset is that no decision is a bad one, we either win or we learn!

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Slow and steady wins the race. I feel like a lot of start-ups these days set up and focus too much on growth. While this should always be the longer-term strategy, I feel there isn’t enough of a focus on honing the model – it is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to ensure quality in both your product and service offering, and to move with the trends, never stand still but know what you stand for and how you will demonstrate that through every aspect of business.

If you could change one thing about the hospitality industry today, what would it be?
I’d like to reduce the VAT rate. Hospitality is a major contributor to the UK economy and putting more money into the pockets of businesses will only stimulate growth and innovation, which, in turn, will always lead to the guests winning, as brands are able to invest more back into the business, infrastructure and pay.

Born in Derby, Aslam inititally studied for a degree in Social Studies at the University of Derby, but very quickly dropped out and entered the world of work instead. His first role in the hospitality sector was as a franchisee for Dixy Chicken. He later left that role to launch his own business, Heavenly Desserts, in partnership with Mohammed Imran. The luxury dessert franchise currently trades from close to 50 sites across the UK, and also has an outpost in Mississauga, Canada. Plans for further international expansion are also in the works, with sites in Pakistan, USA and Denmark all under consideration. 

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