Bruce Cheek, co-founder of Theresa's Kitchen, talks starting a business in homage to his wife and helping schools feed disadvantaged children
What does your business do?
Theresa's Kitchen is a food manufacturing business that makes vegetarian foods, based on Auckland's North Shore, that launched four years ago. We supply the supermarkets with four different kinds of wraps and two quesadillas in the chilled and ready-to-go sections.
What was the motivation for starting it?
My wife Theresa and I started it and we had some friends that really liked the vegetarian wraps we made at home so we tried to make them on a larger scale, started investing in a business and setting it up and got interest from the supermarkets and it has been growing every year.
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Theresa is a pastry chef - she's really good at flavours and tastes - and the vegetarian market for years and years had been the same sort of products like vegetarian sausages, burger patties, and we always tried to stay away from that; anything that resembles meat, so we just tried to make good healthy food that doesn't blow your stomach up, quick and tasty snacks - we wanted to offer an alternative product offering different flavours of the world. We felt there was an opportunity to bring a lot more flavour and tastes to the vegetarian section of the supermarket.
What's your background?
I've got an MBA and have done businesses most of my life and my wife has been involved too so we've been a husband-and-wife team; we've had coffee shops, food manufacturing businesses and this one is quite special because of the opportunity - there is a huge market for us to tap into as an alternative to meat products, and particularly with people trying to eat less meat and more vegetarian meals to be a bit healthier. There's definitely a market there so we're just trying to use our business experience to tap into that.
I'm 50 and my wife is getting close, and we've had a good life, and so we want to give back and part of the business is Theresa's Community Kitchen where we feed children in schools. We buy the food and supply it to schools - we support about 100 meals per week at the moment, but as we get busier we want to increase that and get more schools involved. We supply one school at the moment but we are talking to two more. We want to help children that are disadvantaged. We also supply guidance counsellors so they supply children with food during the day too.
How big is the team?
There are six of us at the moment.
How has Covid-19 affected the business?
We took a bit of a dive and lost quite a bit of sales in the two months of lockdown, but it is coming back nicely now. Most of our market is ready to heat and eat - for people in offices and the like, and most people were at home during that period so we did see quite a decline in sales. Trade is probably 85-90 per cent back to where it was.
What are your long term plans?
We want to export one day and grow our donations to schools to two meals per day - we want a part of the business to keep giving back to schools and kids - and the long-term plan is to definitely expand our product ranges; we have about 15 different products that we want to bring out and keep growing from there and send the products overseas as well to become an international business. In the next two to three years we want to be exporting to Australia and Europe.
It's quite an exciting business where a lot of people are more conscious of the environment and want to eat less meat and wanting to eat healthier so we feel there are lots of growth opportunities.
What advice do you give others who want to start their own business?
Take a chance and go for it - give it everything you possibly have and expect to work all hours and work whatever it takes to make it a success - it can't be 8 to 4 - you've got to eat, breathe, live it.