Chef and business owner Dion Taylor has been in the foodservice game long enough to know that with every opportunity, comes risk and reward.
When we last caught up with Dion, it was early March. Aside from a disruptive start to the year with the Australian bushfires, Dion and the crew from Heart and Soul at the Gardens were optimistic for what lay ahead. On top of a booked-out wedding season, the multifaceted venue was selling chef made prefab meals to the public, hosting their own cooking classes and the business was preparing for its first birthday.
But like most businesses in hospitality, their outlook for 2020 quickly changed when lockdowns rocked the industry at the end of the March. With a big portion of their revenue coming from events and functions such as weddings, Dion and his family had to change things up.
“It was a big shock, we were essentially forced to go from a team of 12, to just me. So, I’m having to think harder and work faster than ever before.”
“In terms of how we’ve been able to adapt as a business, I like to say we’ve gone from canapes to container meals. We’ll be reopening the café soon, but there’s the 10 person limit for dining so we’re still looking for ways to connect with our community” Dion says.
Adapting to the times is more important than ever given the current circumstances. Chefs and business owners alike are used to changing the model, but nothing quite like this.
Dion plans to reopen his café again now that Queensland has allowed for limited sit-down diners. However, he still expects his prefab meals (which he was actually making before COVID-19) to carry much of the business, as they are proving a hit with the locals.
You’d forgive the owner of Heart and Soul at the Gardens for being discouraged, but he’s not. His optimism and passion for foodservice is still at the heart of everything he does.
“It’s a challenging time, sure, but you’ve got to stay positive and continue to work hard. Our database for our prefab meals has grown as a result of this, and we’ve just made these meals available online. So that’s a good thing.”
“Business owners are being tested, but seeing how people are innovating to keep things going has been really great. I appreciate people finding creative ways to adapt and have some fun with it.”
“We’ve got over four acres of land here, so one of the first questions I asked was how can we use this space? Can we set people up with picnic hampers down on the grass? We’ve got this area and now we have a newfound appreciation for it,” Dion explains.
Exploring ideas and being innovative with your business model are great ways to make the most of the current situation but doing so in a cost-effective manner is the difficult part. Looking at all of your assets and trying to decide where your opportunities lie is a start, but understanding your niche market can help direct you to these opportunities.
“Understanding what that demographic wants is key. Look at the market, digest it and mould around it. It’s better to be proactive rather than reactive.”
“Our main focus at the moment is focusing on our niche, which is our takeaway. We’re fortunate to have our own licensed food truck, so we can deliver these ourselves and see the type of people ordering our meals. But we still need to be mindful of the relationships we’ve built through our functions and weddings, and we talk with them often,” says Dion.
“We’ve used the extra time to harness our niche. What are we here for? What can we offer? What has been interesting is when we look around we see people relearning to live again, reconnecting with their families. Reconnecting with the earth. We want to share our connection with the food we create and the gardens that we’re blessed with.”
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