Heartfelt tributes have been paid to a “humble” and “hardworking” Derby businessman who has died aged 65.
Sohal Foods founder Gurmukh Singh Sohal, who lived in Littleover, was well-known in the food industry and worked with dozens of restaurants and other businesses over the years. He died on July 2.
Mr Sohal, who was originally from India and moved to Derby as a teenager in 1966, leaves behind his two sons, Bhupinder Sohal, 34, and Narinderpal Sohal, 43, daughter Narinder Baraclough, 44, his wife Debo Kaur Sohal, 63, and his mother Chanan Kaur, 100.
Bhupinder Sohal said his dad was a hardworking, generous, selfless, loyal and humble person, who had a very simple outlook on life.
“Over the years he helped many of the communities of Derby,” he said. “From working with the Sikh temple as their treasurer, to supporting many local restaurants and takeaways when they first set up with extended credit facilities and additional support wherever he could offer to help get these businesses off the ground.”
In 2006, Mr Sohal was featured in the book 50 Years of Punjabis In Derby which was published to celebrate the achievements of some of the most influential Punjabi citizens of Derby.
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In 2008, he began his mission to make improvements in his home village Sangal Sohal in India by creating a fund to modernise the drainage and sewerage system in the village, install street lighting, construct roads, create a park area and plant trees. His work was featured on a special Sikh Channel documentary looking at the work done in the village and to encourage others to support their own villages in the Punjab.
Throughout the years, Mr Sohal helped to raise money to support an organisation that provides free eye operations in Punjab India.
Each year, he donated his lorries to be used to transport the elderly for the annual Sikh Vaisakhi parade – or Naga Kirtan – in Derby. He also supported the Derby Caribbean Carnival through supplying stock and lending them a lorry each year.
Bhupinder Sohal added: “He always saw the good in people. He was always very welcoming to everyone he met no matter what your race, religion or background. Being such a humble individual all he ever wanted to do was help all those around him and he did whenever he could.”
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He said that, ultimately, his father’s passion was his work, and he had no qualms about working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, doing what he loved.
After leaving school, Mr Sohal’s first full-time job was as a labourer in a builder’s yard before he worked at a cash and carry. It was then that he came up with the idea to open his own business.
While working for British Rail as a conductor, Mr Sohal opened his first corner shop on Porter Road in 1982, Sohal Food Store, where Mrs Sohal worked in the day and Mr Sohal worked in the evenings. This shop was one of the first in Derby stocking the specialist Asian foods and spices than can now be seen in many other stores.
From here, he began packing his own spices in his garage and began supplying local Indian restaurants and takeaways owned by many of his friends. The wholesale side of the business grew and rapidly expanded, to eventually renting his first industrial unit in Robinsons Industrial Estate.
In 1989, Mr Sohal, a devout Sikh who visited the Guru Arjun Gurdwara on a daily basis, further expanded his business and moved to Dale Road, a former Davenport Drinks at Home depot, which he converted into a supermarket at the front of the building and a wholesale warehouse at the back with living accommodation on top. From Dale Road, Mr Sohal was one of the main suppliers to restaurants and takeaways in Derby.
In 2009, he moved the business to Sandown Business Park to further expand and eventually it was taken over in 2014 by Hyperama Plc for which Mr Sohal continued to work as a delivered wholesale manager.
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One of his customers was Naveed Khaliq, from Anoki restaurant, who said Mr Sohal’s charity work was well-known within the community.
“I recall a weekly grocery delivery from Sohal Foods to our home in mid-1980s like most within our neighbourhood. We are only getting accustomed to such services 35 years later, a great visionary,” he said.
“I opened my first restaurant in 1993 and my first delivery amounting to over a thousand pounds came from Sohal Foods on credit. He never asked for a reference or checked my credit history.
“I just wonder how many businesses started with his help and generosity. RIP Mr Sohal you always gave more than you received.”
A funeral service for Mr Sohal is due to take place on Wednesday, July 19, at the Guru Arjun Dev Gurdwara, Dale Road, Derby, at 10am and Marketon Crematorium at 11.20am.
Tributes to Gurmukh Singh Sohal from friends, relatives and business owners
Bhupinder, his son: “Dad, I am so proud of everything you achieved, you will always be my hero.”
Narinder, his daughter: “Dad helped anyone that crossed his path and taught me about forgiveness and loving unconditionally. A very spiritual man, we are lucky to have had him as our dad.”
Sharon, his niece: “When you lose someone you love, you gain an angel that you know.”
Rajinder, his brother-in-law: “He will always be remembered for his humble heart and his kind thoughts for all he came into touch with. It has been a true honour to have known his humble soul so may God bless always my brother-in-law, my dear friend for always.”
Tajinder Atwal: “Although I have known Mr Sohal for more than 20 years but began to know him well when I started business dealing with him in 1996, I found him a person true to his word who would go a mile to help others. God knows how many people he helped over the years while running the Sohal Food Stores who were struggling and asked for financial help from him. No was never his answer when help required.
“In 2015, when selected as treasurer of the Guru Arjan Dev Gurdawara, Stanhope Street, Derby, for two years, within this period of two years he spent his valuable spare time by doing voluntary service for the Gurdawara and serving the community, always on the forefront if any donations were required. He was a man with big heart, our community will cherish his memories for ever.
“I pray to mighty Lord to rest his soul in peace.”
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Mr A Razzi: “When I opened Pepitos in 1997, Mr Sohal, who I had known since 1987, helped me source the Mexican ingredients necessary to cook our dishes. At this time, there wasn’t any suppliers selling Mexican ingredients and, if it wasn’t for the help of Mr Sohal, Pepitos may have not existed.
“Twenty years on, we continued trading with Mr Sohal because he was a man of principle and conducted business in the same way – honest, fair and loyal. It is a huge loss to the community to lose such a wonderful human being and he will be sorely missed by my team and I.”
Mahmood Akhtar and staff at Shalimar Gold restaurant: “Mr Sohal was my supplier for 30 years. When I heard he had died, I felt really shocked. He was such a nice person, not just to me, but to the whole community. He was very helpful when a person opened their business. I really feel sorry for his family. You can’t find people like him these days. We had a great relationship. We are very sorry to have lost a great man in the community.”
Source: Derby Telegraph