In our fifth instalment of our memoirs of a whisky salesman Roger Mallindine fondly remembers one particular episode that changed whisky history.
Meeting The Sawhney Family
The DCL had a rota system regarding prospective customers requesting direct terms and it was my turn to call on Mr Sawhney at The Nest Off Licence, Hanwell W7.
It was the family’s first ever venture into the Off Trade.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Mr Sawhney who introduced me to his young sons Sukhinder and Rajbir. Sukhinder’s hobby was collecting miniature spirit bottles as I recall. The boys would have been around 12 or in their early teens when I first met them.
There was only one problem, the shop was empty and when Mr Sawhney asked me for any advice I could give him with the layout of the shop, I knew that this was going to make or break the Sawhneys. I was only in my twenties and a little lost for words when an older man asked me for help.
As it turned out, it was a tremendous success with everyone working long hours to make a success of the business. I soon learnt that failure was not in their vocabulary. To arrive in the United Kingdom with no knowledge on how the trade worked or indeed how the country worked must have taken courage at the time.
When I met them for a first meeting Mr Sawhney immediately asked for credit terms, as most people did, but it was against company policy. I suggested that he should buy his stock from a local cash and carry for three months and thereafter I would visit him again and review his business. I kept my promise and returned to The Nest and was delighted to offer the family direct credit terms.
Sukhinder and Rajbir eventually took over the running of their company and their business rigorously expanded. To gain more storage, they purchased the cash and carry site that I sent them to all those years ago. Who would have believed that Sukhinder and Rajbir would have built a huge empire to become one of the largest spirit operators in Europe? A tremendous achievement, and to think I played a small part in their success.
Many years later at the Restaurant Show in London I was treading the boards with other colleagues. I asked if anyone was going to attend the session as the seats were empty. I was told to just to start talking on the microphone and an audience would arrive, which was exactly what happened. The first person I saw was my old friend Mr Sawhney who said that he had been waiting to see me.
Keeper Of The Quaich
One of the finest moments of my trade life, was being made a Keeper of the Quaich, an honour reserved for those who have made an outstanding contribution to the world of Scotch whisky. In a nutshell, people who were passionate about Scotch whisky.
A proud moment was sponsoring my friend, Sukhinder Singh Sawhney as a Keeper of the Quaich! Sukhinder and his brother Rajbir have achieved great accolades and have gone from good to great and well-respected individuals in the Scotch whisky world. It has been a privilege and an honour to work indirectly with Sukhinder and Rajbir over the years and in retirement, I often think about the time all those years ago when the family started out in the business of the whisky world.