Ani Heta is a very busy lady. The 24-year-old entrepreneur is sole owner of The Lunch Box Whangarei.
Her business supplies school lunches to seven Whangarei schools.
She also has another separate branch to the venture where she makes nutritional gourmet lunches for business people and people with busy lifestyles.
The Lunch Box makes between 300 and 400 lunches a week and there are plans to expand, Ms Heta said.
The idea of setting up The Lunch Box came from her upbringing. She said hospitality was in her DNA.
"Where I am from, you welcome people into your home, you give them your best food, you treat them like family no matter who the visitor was and, most importantly, make them feel as comfortable as you could."
Ms Heta was raised on a beef farm in the Far North. She was later sent off to school at Whangarei Girls' High graduating with an honorary award for Distinction in Hospitality.
She was also the top overall student in Te Reo Maori.
She then moved away to study hotel management and returned to Whangarei unsure what direction to go in. She worked for two Whangarei cafés, the last being Jolt in Maunu, where she managed the front of house. She then realised she could work for herself.
The following week she decided to take a break for three months to work out what to do even though she had a degree path lined up for 2018 in social work which she felt strong connections with.
"Helping people has always been a prominent value within my family and I'd always felt the need to give back where I could. Everyone from my home town, Kaeo, would know how much work my mum and dad have done to help the youth back there."
Because wellbeing was something Ms Heta valued most, she always spoke about how demanding lifestyles were today and how people failed to nourish themselves with a decent diet because of this.
She saw an opportunity in this situation to provide nutritional lunches for people with such lifestyles and a good friend encouraged her to go forward with the idea.
"Pretty much two days into my 'break' I had a menu written up consisting of a decent ploughman's sandwich, a sweet muffin and a delicious couscous salad which is now called our Original Combo.
"We did a trial day with some local businesses around town, all of which I had personal contacts with, and it kind of blew up from there. Before I knew it, I had to source a commercial kitchen and all the other legal stuff that comes with it."
The Lunch Box Whangarei operates out of the Kamo Rugby Club, which Ms Heta said was perfect with five of the seven primary, intermediate and secondary schools they look after nearby.
Every Sunday the menu is announced via a Facebook page – @thelunchboxwhangarei – or via email to those on the mailing list.
Lunches are provided every Tuesday and Thursday and for $15 the Original Combo is delivered to work by noon that day. There are other combos available.
All dietary needs can be met, gluten free, vegetarian and vegan, and anything can be substituted. The salad and muffin flavours change daily.
Ms Heta employs two staff members who help prepare and deliver lunches three days a week. The other two days she works solo. She looks after all the paperwork, networking, and marketing after a hard day's work in the kitchen.
"This sometimes can be overwhelming but balance is key for anything," she said.
Since starting the business in September 2017, she has connected with The Orchard Business Hub and is now with the Inno-native Business Hub at the Town Basin for Maori entrepreneurs.
"The network of people has been of massive help for me and utilising these networks is a must."
The most rewarding thing for Ms Heta so far is knowing people have had a decent lunch to help them through their busy schedules. The most challenging is juggling everything, lunch box, lunch online, catering, markets and, most importantly, the paperwork.
Ms Heta said she had had a few pats on the back so far, being approached by lunch online, for schools, after only two weeks. Since then things have "kind of come my way, being invited to cater for particular events and office spaces".
But the biggest accolade was being invited back to her home town to Whangaroa College in mid-2018 to help the students set up their own café in the school and educate them on better food alternatives.
Her biggest lesson so far was learning how to juggle and find balance with work and life outside of work.
Future goals include stepping back from the practical aspects and focusing on the paper side of things and expanding.
She's making gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free, plant-based and vegan raw cakes to sell as the demand for them increases with conscious eating. Essence Cafe and Fresh Cafe have started stocking them so far.
Her agenda includes getting more schools signed up for lunch online, attending more markets, catering for business meetings and events and hopefully being able to train some students and get them work ready before they leave school.
Ms Heta volunteers for the I Have a Dream foundation every Thursday at Tikipunga High with a few students and their hard-working Navigator.
"Ultimately this is what I'd like to be doing when I'm not doing my own business duties. Nothing could make me happier in my work week than spending time with the kids that appreciate it the most, but, most importantly, being able to impact their lives positively through our one-hour cooking lessons.
"I guess the whole volunteering thing is the substitute I was given for the social work degree. I wouldn't have it any other way. Do the mahi, get the treats."