My week begins on a Saturday morning. I get up nice and early for a run around Victoria Park and then it’s off to the Broadway farmers market, where we run a stall. As I live nearby and Happy Kitchen is based around the corner, this is my favourite working day of the week! I spend half my day serving and chatting to customers, and the other half shopping for ingredients and chatting to my friend and supplier Mark at Ashgreen Organics (we have a shared passion, or perhaps, obsession for English apples!). The stall is a nice complement to our catering events and our wholesaling to health food shops: we can chat directly to our customers, giving us valuable insights.
This week, the topic of the day was definitely the organic food report released by the FSA. Our customers were rather outraged at this, arguing that many issues have been overlooked: like an EU report that found a range of nutritionally desirable compounds like antioxidants, vitamins, and glycosinolates were present in greater amounts in organic crops. The FSA is a branch of the government but works at ‘arm’s length’ to it, so there’s no oversight. And given the FSA includes former employees of companies like Arla Foods, Sarah Lee Corporation, and Sainsbury’s, it’s not hard to imagine that the perspective is skewed towards agribusiness interests. It was a great day for debate!
On Sunday, we’re at Brick Lane with the stall. However, I spend the whole day working on my computer designing packaging labels for 15 new product lines. I’ve recently found heat-sealable packaging that is 100% biodegradable, after a year of pestering manufacturers; there’s now enough demand for us to package things up without plastic. I have a background in design, so I enjoy it – but I do wish sometimes we had funds to outsource this sort of thing. I’d say 10% of my week is spent searching for streams of finance open to young social enterprises. Many funds won’t help until you have a year’s worth of accounts – but this first year can be very expensive since you need new everything. We want to scale up our operation to fulfil orders, so cash flow is one of our most difficult areas.
I also spend a large proportion of my week on new business: finding new stores to approach, or setting up meetings with customers who have contacted us (we’ve been lucky: over 60% of our business has come to us).
On Wednesday, I travel up to my hometown Chester, where the other half of Happy Kitchen lives, Ellie Pennington. Ellie is my business partner, best and life long friend ...and food making extraordinaire! We work on future plans, communication of our ideas on the new packaging and even some new recipes. Ellie has just had a little girl, Macy, and has moved to Chester to be near the families. But once she’s mastered juggling a baby while typing, Ellie will be working on admin, acting a PA to me and developing new recipes.
Meanwhile, back in London the kitchen is busy making the week’s orders. Our full time COO Martyn Davies does a fantastic job at managing our kitchen staff, production and deliveries. I am never far from my Blackberry, and calls come through all day. Since we order fresh produce weekly, direct from many English growers, we have close relationships with our suppliers; we work with them to predict the arrival of the new season of plums, or the availability of English salad leaves. We’re always on the look out for deals, especially as we want to make our food accessible to all – while using top-quality ingredients from small-scale, local suppliers.
Today I’m meeting a headmaster of a local school to plan some classes with the children: we talk about issues such as seasonal eating, food production, fairtrade, organic farming and the origins of food ... while making recipes together and having some fun! This is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job – it feels great to go away thinking all our hard work is helping pay for this, especially when the children ask for the recipes to take home with them!
Happy Kitchen is a social enterprise that sells food to raise money for social projects in London and to raise money for the international charity Action Against Hunger. www.happykitchen.org.uk
Lisa's also an ambassador for Make Your Mark, the national campaign to give young people in the UK the confidence, skills and ambition to be enterprising. www.makeyourmark.org.uk