Philip Juma changed career from finance to chief
- Philip Juma left a career in wealth management to follow his passion for showcasing Iraqi cuisine.
- He had no formal training but spent 7 years running pop-up kitchens and working in restaurants.
- Juma told us about his difficult journey and why, despite the pandemic, a 9-5 has no appeal.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
Food has always been a part of Philip Juma’s life.
Growing up in London with an Iraqi father and an Irish-English mother, he remembers bringing Iraqi-inspired dishes to school for his friends to try. Food was Juma’s calling, but he entered the cold, logical world of finance.
He obtained a 2: 1 degree in Business Economics from Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, before working at the City, first for a series of wealth management startups and then for UBS.
He was comfortable – earning a salary of around £ 2,500 (around $ 3,500) a month by the age of 24 – but he knew he wasn’t happy.
The 2008 financial crisis took its toll, and food still holds a certain fascination.
“I was in a world that just wasn’t aligned with my morals, wasn’t aligned with who I was as a person,” Juma, now 37, told Insider.
He spent vacations and weekends working shifts in the best restaurants, but didn’t feel able to take the leap. He didn’t want to disappoint his parents either.
“You convince yourself that this is what people expect from you,” Juma said of his high-flying financial career.
It took six years to finally make a change.
Juma worked in a restaurant alongside a consultant position
He left finance to become an account manager in an energy consulting firm. This involved fewer hours and meant he could earn a salary while honing his experience managing occasional supper club pop-ups, working freelance as a chef for a rental company, and covering jobs. shifts in restaurants.
Much to his father’s dismay, in 2014 he quit his consulting job and decided to start cooking full time, even though he couldn’t afford a cooking school.
“My dad said to me, ‘Are you going to quit a high paying job in finance to become a dishwasher?’ Juma recalls. “It was difficult, I hadn’t prepared anything, but I knew I just wanted to put Iraqi food on the map.”
He spent the next seven years in various roles in the kitchen: managing pop-up restaurants, managing events, working as a freelance chef and managing a Lebanese restaurant in London.
Pursuing his passion meant a serious blow to his finances.
His income has grown from around £ 2,500 a month after tax – to around £ 300 ($ 500) after covering staff, venue and food costs from his monthly pop-up – which is three days of work full.
Her income was not always this low, but it was inconsistent, depending on the seasons of marriage or job to job.
“It’s very alienating because it makes you wonder if you made the right decision. ‘Sure, I should go out to dinner with my friends tonight, but I can’t afford it,” Juma said.
By the time January 2019 arrived, he said he had suffered burnout. He had £ 167 ($ 230) in his bank account, no savings and “nothing to show for it”.
Opening to a famous London food market was a breakthrough
But when doubts set in, something would usually motivate him.
Out of the blue, he got a call to train chefs on a royal Saudi yacht. Earlier in his career, he was offered a column in the Evening Standard newspaper.
Then, in mid-2019, he was fortunate enough to finally earn a steady income. Borough Market, London’s famous food market, was on the hunt for new blood. Juma applied and was accepted.
Juma kitchen, his first permanent site, opened in December 2019. It has grown, and Juma estimates that he worked between 14 and 16 hours a day.
Then COVID-19 appeared and restaurants had to close their doors.
“The borough was my first opportunity to earn a steady income, and it was taken away from me,” Juma said.
He said he suffered burnout during the pandemic. Being open on social media about his need to slow down – and the support he received in return has helped him find a better balance and learn that it’s okay to walk away sometimes.
Juma Kitchen is open again, but revenue is about 60% of what it should be. He is optimistic that when tourists and office workers return, it will “shine”.
In the meantime, he was able to build a reputation for himself appearing on the BBC to Cook His Food, which received rave reviews, by being invited to cook at festivals.
Make the change slowly – don’t jump all the way
Despite the challenges, Juma says he will never return to the stable comforts of a city career and no longer doubts his career choice. He says his parents are very proud.
Still, he has a piece of advice for anyone considering leaving the stability of a full-time career: don’t jump right in.
“Have a mini salary on the side or cut your hours to have an income,” he said. “Structure your life so that you always have the safety net that pays for all of your overhead, but gives you time to pursue what you love. “
“You have to be prepared for a level of discomfort that interrupts what we still think is the norm.”