“I spend my days juggling home and my very busy business. Life is busy, but great,” says Rebecca Jones, Village Kitchen’s founder. Verve caught up with Rebecca a few weeks ago, and chatted about her business, good food, and life in general.
What motivated you to start your business?
A few things. Years of ill health and managing autoimmune conditions in my twenties brought a focus on what I was putting into my body. After struggling for a long time, I came to understand that what really contributed to my feeling well was the type of food I was eating. All of us are made up very differently. What works for me will probably not work for you, so I am very wary about any sort of preaching, but certainly for me, the awareness has been life changing in terms of just feeling normal again.
Secondly, I went from working and freedom to having three children in relatively quick succession. It’s hard on a body, physically and mentally. Life was demanding; a constant stream of nappies and washing and my diet suffered hugely. Consequently so did my health. I had no time or energy to prepare real meals, so I snacked on easy foods which caused one of my conditions to flare badly. I used to fantasise about someone arriving at our door with our ready-cooked dinner; fresh, nourishing, seasonal, simple; nourishing for body and soul. Of course, that never happened!
I started thinking about creating Village Kitchen when our baby boy was a newborn, and the girls were just three and four. I became interested in people who had made something out of nothing, and started reading motivational business books. A couple stand out: Heart to Start by Derek Handley, and Daring and Disruptive by Lisa Messenger. When our second daughter turned five something flicked in me. What was I waiting for? So I found a commercial kitchen space to rent, convinced my mother to help me cook, bought some meal containers, chose a couple of favourite recipes and on 13 July 2015, Village Kitchen began.
Tell us more about your philosophy around food and the family meal.
Fresh, seasonal, free range — good simple food to nourish our bodies. It is certainly not pretentious. Perfectly placed bits and pieces are not really my thing when it comes to our everyday dinner. I just love beautiful accessible ingredients to create incredible flavours. My (and so many others’) issue is that during the week, I simply do not have the time or energy to do this myself (which is where Village Kitchen has been our life-saver). Village Kitchen solves the planning, sourcing, cooking and cleaning part. It sorts out dinner and gives people back that commodity we all want: time.
Some of my best food memories are around sharing together with friends and family. Talking and laughing, learning table manners and telling jokes. Food represents so much more than just something that goes into your body. It’s all the rituals and memories that are created alongside. These days, life has become incredible busy, so Village Kitchen fresh, daily, delivered meals are not only about amazing food, but also about allowing us to still have these dinnertime rituals. We can still sit around the table each evening, we just don’t have to come home from work tired and stressed, help the kids with their homework, and then have to start cooking something from scratch. There are more important things to focus on during the week!
Do you cater for all types of diets?
At the moment, we cook one fresh meal each day. The meal is available in three types: regular, vegetarian, and paleo/gluten-free. All of our sauces and pastes are made from scratch in the kitchen, and we do not use any refined sugars in our cooking. I believe that all that added artificial sweetness is just not necessary. We’re about real, wholesome foods and flavours.
Tell us more about your menus.
For the first six months, we cooked the type of food that I love to eat — that I used to crave in the early days of babies: real, seasonal, whole, fresh, simple, flavoursome. We’ve been cooking for nearly three years now, and we know the kind of food that our people love. There is such a wide range in palates, appetites, preferences, but we have very satisfied, loyal customers, so we must be doing something right! There are definitely customer favourites, and meals generally reappear in some form or other every 6-8 weeks.
Please tell us about your deliveries.
Our delivery window is between 3-7pm, Monday to Friday. Ninety percent of our customers are regulars, and see that after their first delivery, their dinner will arrive around about the same time each day. Barring major traffic or weather events of course — but we’re quick to keep you informed of any delays. Every day we deliver to our wonderful customers in the CBD and surrounding central suburbs (generally busy corporate workers), and also on the Shore, between Milford and the Devonport peninsula and out to Stanley Point.
To date, what has been your most popular product?
People adore our fish tacos! Slow-cooked meals are always very popular – we have a Moroccan lamb tagine, which is a universal favourite, and of our frozen meal range you can’t go past our beef lasagne, which is always in hot demand. We can barely make them fast enough!
Describe some of the best things about working for yourself?
Flexibility. Shaping the business as I see fit. Being able to take my kids to school and pick them up again at 3pm. I really don’t think I could work for someone again! This own-business thing is tough, and non-stop, but incredibly rewarding. And now I’m addicted so couldn’t change it even if I wanted to!
Having a business of one’s own is more often than not tantamount to attending the university of hard knocks. What are some of the lessons you have learnt?
Don’t give up! If you truly believe in what you are creating, you won’t ever want to anyway. (Well, mostly not!)
Be authentic and available. Talk to your customers, find out what is important to them. Know who likes extra attention and who doesn’t need to you check in regularly.
Stay true to your vision, but don’t be afraid for it to evolve. Things are always changing. As long as I’m true to my vision and values, I find it easy to stay on track with the business.
Last one: don’t listen to naysayers. Nod and smile if you really have to. Then go out and prove them wrong.
And finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes! Have a look at villagekitchen.co.nz and follow us on Facebook (@villagekitchennz) to see what we’re having for dinner next week! We can give you your weeknights back, I promise!