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From home kitchen to Kelham Island: Blessone’s Kitchen opens up as takeaway

Starting out catering from her own kitchen in Sharrow, Paulina Francis has brought her African and Caribbean fusion food to a new takeaway unit at the Krynkl building.

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Blessone's Kitchen owner Paulina with her son Antonio.

Tchiyiwe Chihana

At any artisan market I visit, a distinct guffaw accompanied by familiar aromas will lead me unfailingly to Paulina Francis’ food stall. Her West African and Caribbean fusion food is usually my reason for these visits.

I first met Paulina in 2018 at Sheffield Theatres, where I was compèring the first SoAfrica multi-arts festival. In Tudor Square, across the entrance to the Lyceum, she had a stall decorated in black and gold chitenge ankara fabric. It was striking.

The name, Blessone’s Kitchen, distracted me. I tried to guess what language it was in and how it should be pronounced. When I walked up to her, I had decided she was called Blessone and that she named her kitchen business after herself. “Hi Bless-on, your food smells delicious!” I said. She laughed so hard and since then, that’s the laughter I follow to find her.

I discovered the correct pronunciation was ‘Bless One’, a brand Paulina started building by catering from her home kitchen in Sharrow. We talked about her desire to eventually have her own restaurant and she told me about going to culinary school. (She enrolled at City College and obtained a diploma in Cookery in 2021.)

On 28 January this year, Blessone’s Kitchen took a giant leap and opened its takeaway doors at the Krynkl building, located in the buzzing Kelham Island neighbourhood. I was there with the Founding Director of African Voices Platform, Baillor Jalloh. He was filming Paulina for the media platform which caters to African audiences in Sheffield. There was a pride of achievement on my part, because I was standing alongside two Africans who were each making their mark in their industries in the city.

Both Baillor and Paulina are of Sierra Leonean heritage. They connected over this and over the recipes that Paulina had carried with her, adapting them to her signature taste. They bonded over idioms like ‘feeding people only what you can feed your children,’ which underscores the approach taken at Blessone’s.

I listened to them enthralled and respected their life journeys, wishing that more people could witness this strand of tenacity. Their country of heritage had survived a war and not spared many from seeking refuge in other countries. They had made Sheffield their home and carved out paths for themselves in spite of it all. Their laughter spoke to an understanding that made me nostalgic for my Zambian ilk. This was a Sheffield story that forms part of our city’s African tapestry.

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Paulina Francis at Blessone's Kitchen.

Tchiyiwe Chihana

Krynkl is a space in Sheffield's Kelham Island which was created to showcase "the best and most exciting independent start-ups and businesses" from Sheffield. It’s a fancy building made of upcycled shipping containers, conveniently located on Shalesmoor, near the Penistone Road roundabout. It hosts other food places including Jöro restaurant.

The night before Blessone’s opened, Paulina had arranged for an electrician to finalise the installation of an extractor. When she arrived at the well-publicised launch event, the extractor had not been installed.

Her takeaway is located on the second floor, accessed by lift or up an open and well-ventilated steel staircase. This time it wasn't her laughter, but the food I smelled from the entrance downstairs, past all the other restaurants in the building, that led me to her. The familiar black and gold vinyl on the glass doors and the surrounding walls had cute flags from African and Caribbean countries dotted around the words.

Somehow, the large window that had been opened to make up for the lack of extractor failed her and set off the fire alarm. This was temporarily resolved by moving the steaming food away from the smoke alarms to a table near the window, but not before I learned of some of the other issues Paulina had faced in settling in.

One challenge came when fellow tenants asked for the entrance doors to Blessone’s to be shut because of the smell of the food, followed by people on a smoking break below her window talking about how she, as a takeaway, should not be in the building. She said this experience “makes me feel unwelcome, and can only be because of my race and confidence to uphold my heritage through food.”

Paulina was bothered, but none of this disrupted her pace. If anything she was more invigorated to host the best launch event possible. By the time her first customer came in, I had already had some of her signature smoked jerk chicken and jollof rice, washed down with a carrot drink of her own ingredients. Her first customers each ate and bought takeaway packs after. Familiar faces that I recognised from her stalls came in for their favourite seafood and puff puff dishes. The launch was a success.

Operating from her own kitchen for several years, Paulina’s hidden story is that she has served food to Premier League footballers for several years. Significant among her many catering accolades is that this Sheffield mother of African descent has also been part of the catering team for Sir Elton John.

She tells me her takeaway enrolled with Too Good To Go in February and Paulina has already been assigned an account manager due to high performance.

I followed up with Paulina on 31 March and she told me of a constant problem with some occupants in the building not willing to direct customers up to her outlet when they ask for directions. “Once, the chef in the restaurant walked up to the window and gave directions to my customer who had been turned away. This happens so often - but there are good people too.”

Of the progress made since opening, she concluded, “It is already better than I had expected. I can tell you that I make the rent each month and have some left over to reinvest.

"My next step is to have a bistro restaurant that is intimate.”

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