I want you to meet the woman who saved my life.
Okay, a bit dramatic. I want you to meet the woman who saved my sanity. This is Rebecca Jones.
I’m guessing that you, like me, sometimes feel some, er, disdain, for dinner. Perhaps it’s not cooking the dinner but the preparation that goes into cooking the dinner (with kids / pets at your ankles and work / chores / worries on your mind). Perhaps it is deciding what to cook for dinner. Or, days earlier, figuring out which ingredients you need. Or shopping for said ingredients. Shopping for ingredients while children hang off the trolley like wild monkeys demanding and tantrumming like they just know your mental health is perilously fragile. Do any of these activities make you feel less than chirpy?! Don’t worry, I know those feels. And so does Rebecca Jones.
Thankfully, instead of losing her own sanity after the birth of her third child, Rebecca put those frustrations to good use and set up a business to cure them. Village Kitchen, Rebecca’s business and “baby”, as she describes it, provides delicious, hearty, home-cooked dinners. Think – slow-cooked meats and roasted vegetables, ribbons of papardelle, tangy fresh slaws, Mexican fajitas, Thai salads studded with pieces of pineapple or Beef Bourguignon. Traditional with a twist, I’d describe it. The kind of food you really, really want to make… but don’t have the time, patience, energy or inclination to do so.
Since our youngest was born we have been getting Village Kitchen meals for Matt and I several times a week. The meals are so hearty, tasty and “real” – they don’t use packet mixes or bought sauces and do not taste like takeaways – that we now have a subscription we simply roll over week to week. We know the food will be great and the portions generous – it is really good value for money – but frankly, mainly, Village Kitchen simply makes our lives a LOT easier. Initially I felt a bit guilty about getting help with dinners but now I just feel really lucky to have access to a service and business like Village Kitchen. Plus, it is so satisfying to support someone like Rebecca, who is creating a wonderful, thriving and meaningful local business.
Rebecca, tell the good people how Village Kitchen came to be:
Long story! It definitely didn’t happen overnight. It came from an idea I had after I had three babies…close together! We had no family anywhere near, and life was hard – so so hard! All I remember in that hazy blur was 1) how hard it was! 2) how, at the end of the day, when we’d finally got everyone into bed, all I craved was a beautiful, home-cooked dinner and some quiet time with my husband, and how that never actually happened and we always ended up with takeaways – EGH! And 3) the kindness of people, two in particular, that I met through Plunket [baby healthcare support and organisation in New Zealand]– local girls both with daughters born within 2 days of my eldest. In the early years, these lovely souls would appear at my door to take one or more toddlers away for an afternoon of fun – always just when I needed it most. So I got this enormous appreciation for doing things for others – it really resonates with me, because I really know how the teeniest act of kindness can make a world of a difference to someone (it did with me, a lot!).
Obviously doing nice things for others out of the goodness of one’s heart is not the sort of hard-nosed strategy one might build a wildly successful business around, but I feel that that philosophy does underpin everything we do at Village Kitchen. It genuinely makes me happy to know that what we are doing is lightening people’s load – lots of people! We know many of our people by name, we know what they like, what they don’t like, and we genuinely care about the meal that each customer will receive each evening. The feedback we receive on a regular basis makes it all so worthwhile. Village Kitchen has elicited an incredible response – I knew it would – so to be sticking to our values, and attracting new customers each week (as well as retaining our loyal fans) – well to me, it’s all good! I really believe that business doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be all ruthlessness and no heart – there is most definitely flexibility.
It seems to me that business-building really resonates with you, really fits who you are as a person. Was this always the case? Tell us about some of your past life jobs…
Okay, I’ve had some interesting ones…. Sorting dags (dictionary definition: lock of matted or dung-coated wool), pulling claybirds (from a 1m3 dugout for 2x 12hr days), clearing an acre of gnarly scrub by hand, scrubbing a vast cigarette-stained ceiling (stiff neck!). The awful ones spring to mind, but there have been so many interesting past life jobs. A best friend and I set up a ‘handyman/odd job’ business one school holidays. We charged $5/hr for both of us, and we cleaned windows, scrubbed toilets, polished silver, water-blasted, weeded, cleared out garages, cut back hedges – basically anything that needed doing. We were booked every single day of that summer hols, made several hundred dollars each and managed to fit in a huge amount of fun. It was most definitely a case of work hard, play hard. Neither of us will ever forget it – so much fun (despite most of it being back-breaking, smelly and horrid)! I’ve always craved independence, and to me having your own hard-earned money is hugely gratifying. That’s always been my big motivator – to earn your own money, and do with it what you will (for me, the big goal was getting overseas, to as many places as possible, off my own bat, which I did, and loved). It’s something I want to impress upon my own kids. To learn the value of a hard day’s work. Plus, I have huge determination. Tell me it can’t be done and I’ll be forced to prove you wrong. I don’t know where this craziness comes from! Sometimes it’s painful (ask my husband!).
Is that the advice you would give others who might want to start their own business – Be Determined? What do you advise others? Was there a pivotal event that spurred you on?
Erm… hang on tight? It is such an emotional rollercoaster! So many ups, and many downs – but these all balance out, and in the rare moments when I’m able to step back from the business, I get a huge sense of pride in what we have achieved, and continue to achieve.
The pivotal event I experienced wasn’t so much a ‘kick up the bum’ moment – because I was almost desperate to get Village Kitchen started – it was more that the tiny flicker of a dream I’d harboured, over the course of seven years of the demands of tiny people and domesticity, had grown into a raging bushfire! Our second daughter starting school in 2015 combined with reading a book on business by an entrepreneur I very much admire were the catalysts – I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer with Village Kitchen. So I started. And that part was remarkably easy – looking back!
So if entrepreneurship is at your core or in your blood….what lead you to work with food?
Well, I always loved food, and cooking, and I’ve got a massive sweet tooth. From 1997 to 2007, I lived in Europe – ten years in six different countries. During that time I experienced quite a few years of ill-health. It was not attributed to anything and never explained, until one specialist tested for coeliac disease. When I got the positive result I really despaired about the rest of my cake-eating future. Actually I got very down about it – such a sweet tooth, never to eat cake or biscuit again! But necessity made me look outside the square and actually the coeliac thing became very easy to manage. I found ways to build the sweet stuff back in (told you I am determined!). In recent years the popularity of gluten-free food, and even better ‘clean’ eating, has been so great for people like me. There are so many incredible sweet treats to be had that are kind to my tummy.
Who is your favourite chef or cookbook author?
Many many. My style is casual, but properly thought out, rustic, whole, homemade, seasonal, delicious. I admire the style of Al Brown and Jamie Oliver, people like that. Starting Village Kitchen brought me into contact with chef Jeremy Schmid. Such a dark horse on NZ’s cooking scene, but has excelled in almost anything you can think of in the industry. Not at all precious, very down to earth, incredibly clever, and so generous with his time, knowledge, equipment, supplies (especially in the early days when I was learning about ordering, quantities, suppliers, etc). I don’t think we’d be where we are without his guidance over the past 15 months. So yep I’d have to say Jeremy (and yes he’s a 3-time cookbook author – there’s nothing the man can’t do).
Pet food hates?
What about dream dinner party guests?
My Brick Lane (London) posse; all nine of us. School and university friends who ended up living together in London’s dodgy East End (it was dodgy then!) for several years. We would be sitting around our rickety old kitchen table, where we had so so many laughs, parties, tears, drama – but mainly laughs; with copious amounts of wine. And we’d likely be eating a curry from one of the world-famous Brick Lane curry houses we lived up the road from. We are spread out all around the world, so I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get together again but… one day!
Finally, what is life like as a business owner and parent of young kids? Which qualities are most important for the work that you do?
The business is like a fourth baby, but instead of fitting in around the other kids, as subsequent babies usually have to, this one takes front and centre stage for all of us and we all just squeeze in around it. Such a show off! I have to say, in the past 15 months my actual three children have become hugely resilient! Which I joke about, but secretly makes me feel pretty chuffed.
As for the qualities that are most important… Guts, stickability, determination, heart and compassion.
As you know, we don’t do sponsored posts around here (we are willing to accept very large donations from adoring fans, however) but I will make this one public service announcement / plea – Please don’t feel guilty about resenting (insert swear word) dinner or getting help to get it on the table. We all have mad, busy, full lives. We all have big and small humans to connect with, to love and to support, work to be done and projects to be completed. If you are lucky enough to be able to support a local business – and, therefore, family! – to give you a helping hand then I say – do it! In my experience, outsourcing dinner has made cooking more joyful again and gives our family extra opportunities to connect with one another.
So, thank you, Rebecca. My mental health gives Village Kitchen two thumbs ups, a huge hug, several high-fives and a big kiss.