Karen Allardice, Melbourne Business School How did they do it? Insight from successful food entrepreneurs

Last Wednesday the MBS How I Did It club (run by Jarrad Savage and Adam Sohaib) held a food entrepreneurs evening with three speakers.

We heard from:

  • Emma Welsh, of the gourmet juice company Emma & Tom’s
  • Chris Lucas, who owns and runs Chin Chin restaurant in Australia
  • Colin Lear, whose fleet of 80+ Tasty Trucks serve sandwiches and hot food directly to factory workers Australia-wide

Jarrad, who co-founded the How I Did It club, explains its philosophy.

“We want to hear from the best business minds: owner/operators who have made it in their industries, whether through entrepreneurship or traditional corporate measures.

“We ask for their history, what they believe are the attributes and skills needed for success in today’s business environment and where they think the future of their respective industries are going.” Jarrad is a food entrepreneur himself, having started up his own restaurant, Burger Monster.

The food entrepreneurs night was a tremendous success. I found each of the speakers inspiring and insightful. It was amazing to have such accomplished speakers presenting to us and provided an excellent supplement to our otherwise structured learning environment.

Jarrad and I have put together what we think are the most interesting things we heard from each of the speakers:

Chris Lucas of Chin Chin: Chris’s philosophy was to look at successful restaurants in the market, work out what they were doing well, copy that and then serve the same quality product at a lower cost and compete on volume.

He noticed that Melbournians love Thai food, but also that social trends are moving from the traditional Aussie pub to a casual dining experience. With this insight he saw that the atmosphere and dining experience was just as important as the food itself. He uses loud music, shared food, cocktails and space designed for chatting rather than eating to accomplish a buzzing social meeting place. He is inspired by Zara’s responsive supply chain management. He designed the price points of his food to fit a more mass-market appeal and then found the meals and ingredients that would provide profit at that price point. Chris also believes that authenticity is key – his restaurants would not be successful without Thai chefs designing the cuisines – you can’t fool the customer over the long term.

Emma Welsh of Emma & Tom’s Gourmet Juice: Emma’s path to entrepreneurship came after spending many years working in corporate roles and completing an MBA at Insead. Her partner Tom came up with the idea of selling fresh gourmet juices in Australia after seeing them take off overseas. Emma & Tom’s utilise a technique that heats their product for only 15 seconds to kill bacteria, but which then gives their juice a refrigerated shelf life of two weeks.

Emma’s key insight was that you need to change your business model over time. While they had initially planned on being a sales and marketing-based organisation, outsourcing production and distribution, they had to rethink this a few years into their business. Emma & Tom’s had contracted vans to distribute their product to cafes across the country, and eventually discovered that as the deliveries were not profitable, the distribution company was pressuring cafes to make larger, less frequent orders and damaging Emma and Tom’s relationships with their customers. Emma & Tom’s took over the distribution of their product after this discovery and this forced them to rethink their business model and product lineup. They developed new products, expanding from juices to health bars and this improved the feasibility of van delivery to the cafes.

Colin Lear of Tasty Trucks: Colin started his business in 1979, operating a sandwich shop out of a single truck. He has grown his business organically to become Australia’s number one food truck business. Colin stressed the importance of making yourself redundant and the ability to standardise procedures to ensure consistency. As his business grew and he took on more and more trucks, space and employees, he found that he was too anxious about the health of the business to take any holidays. This was a turning point for Colin and the business as he discovered that he was going to need to delegate and grow if he was to get his business to the level he wanted.