How determined Leeds woman conquered sight loss to create kitchen business
An entrepreneurial Leeds resident has conquered sight loss issues to become a one-woman success story - from the kitchen of her Bramley home.
Caroline Burton, 38, suffered from "terrible eyesight" throughout a former banking career and reluctantly took redundancy after rising through the ranks of the Lloyds Banking Group.
Caroline had a series of emergency operations in order to save her sight and feared her career and aspirations were over.
However, not to be deterred, despite more than two years out of employment Caroline fought back and transformed her life - starting up her business The Kitchen at Haley’s Yard in Bramley.
Caroline uses popular local produce to create restaurant quality meals from her kitchen - which she has been forced to upgrade due to the "explosion" of orders during lockdown.
Since the start of the pandemic, Caroline said her business has gone from strength to strength and she may even need to employ staff to help expand because of the rapidly increasing popularity of her service.
The business is almost entirely marketed through Facebook, where hundreds of loyal Leeds residents pre-order meals - including her most popular Chicken Katsu Curry dish - on a weekly basis.
Caroline said the inspiration for her business came from her experience during her period of sight loss.
Speaking to the YEP and explaining her business concept, she said: "When I was partially sighted, I no longer enjoyed going out for meals as I once had, it was traumatic just to read the menu or find the bathroom!
"Hence my business was born, The Kitchen at Haley’s Yard.
"‘Restaurant quality dishes enjoyed in the comfort of home’ for those of us who either can’t or just don’t want to go ‘out out’!
"I started by offering what I call a ‘Take Home’ on weekends, a different cuisine every time, I market it as a healthier alternative to a traditional takeaway.
"I release the menu the week before, customers are invited to pre-order, I produce the dishes and then customers collect or I deliver locally.
"They then heat the dishes over the weekend when they’re hungry."
Caroline said she takes pride in only using local suppliers including Sutcliffe’s of Farsley, Bentley’s of Pudsey and the "local old fashioned milkman".
She added: "I avoid anything processed and make dishes with little sugar, salt or fat."
Caroline said she always had "terrible eyesight" while growing up.
However, a detached retina during University forced her to defer graduation for a year and her sight was only saved due to an emergency operation.
Despite her determination to complete a masters degree in HR management and forging a successful career, her sight issues returned to halt her progress.
Caroline added: "I kept getting promoted and built my way up to Senior HR Manager across 10 years.
"I felt super successful, earned lots of money and drove nice cars!
"In 2015 I got another detached retina, again an emergency operation fixed it and saved my sight.
"A few weeks later, however, I then got a detached retina in my other eye.
"Over the next 3 years, I had over 20 different procedures, around eight or nine I think major surgeries to save my sight, inter vitriol injections, many different lasers, but things kept going wrong.
"I went to LGI for retina treatment, Seacroft for glaucoma and Sheffield Hallamshire for a tumour that I also got along the way.
"Thankfully it was benign but it caused damage inside my eye.
"The oncologist at Sheffield said ‘I have never in my entire career seen another patient with such a complex mix of eye complications’."
Caroline was registered as visually impaired, couldn't drive and had to take two years off work sick.
She told the YEP it was a "horrible and distressing time".
When redundancy was offered, Caroline took it due to what she explained was a "loss of confidence".
She then set out on a fundraising mission for the RNIB and found a "new purpose" - including completing the London Marathon.
However, Caroline still wasn't working and "needed a challenge".
Her love of cooking led her to complete a one month intensive cookery course with a Michelin star chef.
Caroline completed the course using a light and magnifier due to her sight.
In 2018, her tumour finally responded to treatment and miraculously disappeared.
Caroline added: "I went to Vision Express at the White Rose with my mum and dad just so I could get glasses.
"We were dancing around the centre whilst I read out every single thing I could see really loudly.
"I could now think about earning some money again!
"I was reluctant to go for a job as I didn’t know how things might go in the future.
"So, I decided to use my new chef skills to start a business from my home."
The business - set up in 2018 - has "exploded" during the pandemic.
Caroline said: "I was all set up for it already!
"It was like my business was made for it!
"Many others have started similar business to mine during the pandemic and I wish them loads of luck!
"I have so many amazing reviews and the feedback I get on a regular basis really is the best part of my job."
Caroline has now upgraded and extended her kitchen - rated five stars for hygiene - during the pandemic.
She is now looking to the future and may even think about taking on extra staff.
Caroline added: "Until now I do absolutely everything myself, it is such hard graft but the most rewarding job I’ve ever had!
"I enjoy the cooking but I also love designing menus, purchasing ingredients, doing my ‘socials’, marketing, my accounts and working to always provide the best possible customer service."