It’s 3 pm. You have to take your oldest child to an orthodontist appointment, drop your middle child at ballet class and drive your youngest to the soccer field. Your dog needs to go to the vet and then you have to circle back and pick everyone up from their activities. You arrive home at 6:00 p.m. and realize there is nothing for dinner, argh. But wait– you open your fridge and there is a fabulous three-course meal ready to be popped in the oven for 30 minutes. The Cooking Fairy was here.
Joanna Wallis, aka The Cooking Fairy, left her software sales to stay at home with her three kids. When her youngest, finished a year of preschool, Joanna started thinking about what she wanted to do. It had to be a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. job with flexibility.
“Family meals are so important my own mother made it a habit,” said Joanna. “ I was a really good cook, so I thought, why not do something around that?”
Her friends always complained that they never had time to make a good meal because they were so busy running their kids around in the afternoons. For Joanna, family dinner time was the best time of the day with her kids. “Not only does it encourage good eating habits, but it also teaches conversational skills,” she said. “So, if I could help other families with healthy meal preparation, I’d be offering a great service.”
In 2010, Joanna started cooking for a few families she attracted through word of mouth. “I’d take all the ingredients and all of my pots and pans to different houses and prepare the meal for the night. At one point I was cooking for 2 -3 families a day.”
She found that she was particularly busy at the beginning of the week and had to say no to some requests for dinner. Joanna’s clients became her friends and loved having her preparing dinner while they were in and out with the kids and errands.
As her business grew, Joanna realized that she needed to have one central place where she could prepare meals. This would allow her to provide dinners for more families. “I found a catering company that rents me kitchen space during the day.”
Because she was preparing different meals for each family, this was much more efficient. Joanna works up menus a few days in advance and then leaves the casserole dishes in her clients’ refrigerators so when they get home, dinner is there.
Profitable from the beginning, Joanna wants to build on her concept. “I hear such great feedback from my clients,” she said. “It’s quite satisfying to know I’m helping families have more time together.”
Who is her target market? Families with multiple kids involved several after-school activities, working parents and people who don’t cook either because they don’t know how or they don’t have time. Best of all, she’s finished working by 3 p.m. every day so she can spend time with her children who are now 8, 10 and 11.
What’s her most popular dish, “I get a lot of requests for my garlic and cognac chicken.” (She made it for me and it was so good, I can’t wait to have it again.) Her competitive edge: ”I customize (meals) to meet each family’s wants and needs.” The usual request is for a meat dish, starch and green vegetable for two or four a week.
One client said to Joanna, “I don’t know what I would do without you. We’d probably be having take-out every night.”
“It’s tremendously satisfying to know I built a business on my own terms,” said Joanna. When Joanna went away for a week, one client said, “So glad you’re back, I’m starving.”
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