The personal touch has been a winner, finds Grant Allen.

How many of you have dreamed about opening a little food business or a cafe? "It wouldn't be that hard, I'm a good cook, I like people, I make great jams and chutneys, I love playing in the kitchen."

Yeah right! Take it from me, running a small business is not all beer and skittles. You have to be prepared to ride a roller coaster of ups and downs as you work towards your goals.

You need to know how to keep your accounts, be able to make short and long-term decisions on a daily basis, take risks, market yourself and your product or service and be prepared to work long hours. You must also realise holiday pay, sick days or time in lieu don't drop out of the sky any more.

Andre Wike set up Andre's Kitchen a couple of years ago. I think his approach to building his business has been very clever. He's kept his product range tight, his overheads low and he gets friends to help when he needs expert skills. He's done the hard yards in a low cost way. He's worked on building his brand by being out there and selling himself and Andre's Kitchen's goodies directly to his market. He puts his own image on his packaging to personalise it and he has a warm story.


After working for 14 years in hospitality, Andre, inspired by his mother who runs her own business, made the big jump to doing the same. He rented a space at a local weekend market to get "real" customer feedback. "It was a cheap and eye-opening reality to retailing food," says Andre. "I was selling out of the back of my car, covered by a gazebo."

Two years on he now has his own kitchen. Andre's Kitchen is located in a converted garage underneath his mother's office. Don't worry, it's a certified commercial kitchen. But it's not huge and he does all the production himself, without staff. He works 40-50 hours a week. As a self-confessed late riser, he often works at night.

His product is now stocked in all Farro Fresh Stores and The Good Food Trading Co in Tauranga. Last year he won a New Zealand Food Award for his Ginger Cookies. He's a finalist again this year with his Garlic Crostini. He'll know next week if he's won another prize.

As Andre notes, "Capital is vital in any business.

"I was very lucky as my mum built me a kitchen in her work premises, which was easy to get certified by the council."

Like any good business owner, Andre has plans. He aims to be selling nationwide by the end of next year and exporting in two. His long-term vision is to own a shop in Central Auckland to showcase the many new products he keeps dreaming up. Posted on his kitchen wall is a visual wishlist: photos of exotic places he wants to visit and supercars he'd like to own. Go Andre!

Here are some great sweet treat ideas from Andre. These are not part of his product range so if you don't feel like baking, go buy some of Andre's.

Visit or Facebook.

Tips for beginners
* Make a great-looking website. Have a Facebook page for your business, and update it with positive posts several times a week.

* Get a small business accountant who wants to help you. Don't register for GST until you legally need to. Get MYOB or XERO accounting software, it makes doing the books much easier. And be prepared to not get paid for weeks after your invoices are due sometimes.

* Do a barcode course with GS1 Barcodes and take other courses to fill in your skill gaps.

* Get to know your business banking manager.

* If you are in a relationship, make sure your partner understands your business is a part of you and you need to give it 100 per cent all the time to have great success.

* Don't let your suppliers down as they can make or break you.

Extreme Almond Cookies to try

125g butter
½ cup castor sugar
1 size 6 egg
1 tsp almond essence
1 cup plain flour
½ cup almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
Almond flakes

1 Cream butter and sugar until white. Add egg and almond essence. Fold in all the other ingredients except the almond flakes.

2 Roll up balls of dough and press with a fork and top with almond flakes. The mixture should make 20-25 cookies. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack.

Here are a few other sweet treats you can taste at home:
* Chocolate, pistachio and Nutella cookies
* Meringues
* Chocolate filled cookies
* Chocolate malt brownies