Cook's Night Off founder and single mother of one, Suzanne Cannell, explains how her food home-delivery business was motivated through hardship and a dislike for cooking.
A brief description of the business
We provide fresh meals - made by chefs - using natural cooking methods and ingredients, and fresh produce as much as we can. The key thing about the business is our meals are "buy one, give one" which means for every meal that is bought another goes to a person or family in need. It started in April last year.
What inspired you to start the business?
I actually had the idea for it years ago - mostly because I don't like to cook - but I just got fed up with not being able to find decent food home delivered. It's all pretty much pizzas and Indian food which is great, I love pizza and Indian food, but you can't eat that on an ongoing basis.
I had a friend staying with us for some time who is a chef and it was just so nice to come home and have somebody cook a delicious dinner every night.
I thought: "Oh, what a fantastic idea for busy parents or people who are maybe a little bit older and struggling to cook for themselves," so that was the original idea. In terms of the social element I just wanted to be able to give something back.
I know what it's like to fail and I know what it's like to need help. There is help available, but it can be difficult for people to ask and often that help is hard to come by. Agencies like the Auckland City Mission and other programmes struggle for funding and for resources so I thought it could be a way to help fill that need.
How big is your team and where is the business based?
We have a small number of chefs and then me who does everything else. There's three of us plus extra temporary staff as required. The commercial kitchen is in Penrose with a double garage converted into an home office.
Have you had to make any sacrifices to operate as a social enterprise?
No more so than I have had to for a non-social business. Sacrifice is a given when starting a new enterprise, but I don't feel that it has been any harder or more daunting than any other new business.
Who and what organisations do you donate meals to?
Initially we wanted to partner with an organisation that could help us with the actual delivery of the meals because there's a lot of logistics involved. When we started out we felt it might be quite a large hurdle to overcome and felt partnering with an existing organisation would make that part of the business very simple.
I went in to see the City Mission and they explained to me their agency food programme. We just felt initially that would be a really good place to start. They're very reputable, well-recognised and do great work. Food poverty is often a result of other problems so it was really nice to be able to work with an organisation that takes care of other things apart from just the food aspect.
Often some successes have been born out of the failures so just never stop swinging the bat.
The issue with food poverty is it is like shelter - it's a basic human need that is vital and can't wait for trickle-down economics. You can't wait for the next round of wage increases - if your kids are hungry you need to feed them today.
What's the best thing about running your own business?
In personal terms it's the flexibility it offers. I'm a single parent so having flexibility to be able to do things with family is incredible, compared with working a regular 9am to 5pm job. I've had several in the past, this is not the first one.
What sort of feedback does your business receive?
The response has been overwhelmingly fantastic. Not all of our customers buy the meals for the social element - if the food was no good they would stop buying it. The customers we've had right from the start are almost evangelical; they love the food and that's why they stay , but I know they all feel really good about the fact they are making a difference with the money they're spending.
How does your business work?
Our menu changes every week, we never repeat meals. Everything is fresh, we don't use any frozen meals, it's all cooked and delivered fresh on the day. We have a selection of what we call "family favourites" so we offer people the option to customise their meals. All of our meals are made in a commercial kitchen and we then have a delivery service which drops them to customers in a refrigerated truck.
At the moment we only have options for certain restrictions such as no fish, no beef, no pork, but we're launching gluten free and vegetarian options soon.
What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business?
Prepare for inevitable failure because every business has some element which doesn't work at some point which needs to be redesigned or reconfigured, so you need to have a plan to get through tough times.
Don't give up and don't stop during the hard times.
I've had some spectacular successes and some catastrophic failures but I've always managed to pick myself up and have another go. Often some successes have been born out of the failures so just never stop swinging the bat.