How to Start Your Dream Food Business

Sarah Hancox noticed her love for the food industry when working as a second job as a waitress.  It excited her more than her day job at the Evening Standard.  She signed up for an HND in hospitality and went on to run a restaurant with her brother.  But her love of Adelaide lured her and her husband back home – where she arrived – ‘emotionally exhausted and in a broken-down state.’

“Shattered, I took six months out and eventually recovered and got a temping job. But the days dragged, so I went into real estate”



Researching the market

“While in real estate I had started thinking about the food busi­ness again and as we became more familiar with Adelaide and the market, it seemed to become a real possibility.

“I started as a small stall in a food court within a shopping mall.  I cooked in the morning and served the food, and it was all gone by lunchtime. It enabled me to have a really good look at how Adelaide worked, how it dressed, how much money people had. It was a great insight into the market. Without realising I was doing it, I was looking in the Businesses For Sale section in the paper and came across a very cheap food outlet in the city centre.

“We were sitting in the back garden one hot summer night, drinking a great bottle of South Australian wine, lamenting the fact that it was very hard to buy something other than Asian fast food for lunch in the city centre. I already knew what type of dishes people liked to buy from my experience in the restaurant and wondered if I could produce that type of food for the price that people were prepared to pay for lunch. My husband works in marketing and I have always been a believer in strong market­ing. By the time we finished the bottle, we had a framework – the name, how the shopfront would look, the menu and what equip­ment would be needed, who the customers would be and how to reach


Researching the food court

“I sat every day for a week just watching what went on in the food court – when it was busy, who was purchasing, what they were purchasing, what they looked like, who was just walking through, where else they shopped.

“I then approached my bank. Having an appropriate qualifica­tion and lots of experience is always a good thing when talking to banks. And they definitely will want to see a business plan. Put everything into it – it doesn’t matter how trivial it may be.

“I spoke to all of my friends and associates who buy their lunch in the city and I ate at a lot of different outlets to see what the quality and pricing was like.

“I did approach a local business enterprise council but for some reason they were very unhelpful and told me that there wasn’t a market for what I wanted to do. True to my character, I ignored everything they said and pushed it to the back of my mind.


1. Know your trade. These days you need to know your strengths, whether it is cooking or in other parts of the business. If it’s not cooking, take a back seat and let your chef do it but be able to fill in for them if for any reason they can’t.

2. Understand your target market. Know who they are, how to reach them and what they want.

3. Know your key performance indicators. You need to understand your KPIs very well, especially your food and labour costs. This will help you understand your cash flow and what’s happening in your business, including whether someone is stealing from you.

4. Quality products almost always produce a quality dish. People are very educated about food these days – many through watching cooking reality shows – so don’t scrimp on quality.

5. Focus on customer service. Too many in this industry forget about the customer and instead think they are the stars of the show. If no one is buying your product because they are not getting the right service then the venture is pointless.

6. Value your staff. Not only should you reward good work but you should not be afraid to get rid of poorly performing staff. By looking after staff you get low turnover and consistency of product.

7. Plan your menu well. Stick to your skill set and remember who is going to be eating your food as well as where and how.

8. Get a good accountant. You need someone who is proactive; they don’t have to understand your industry but they need to be able to make suggestions. You should also outsource anything that you don’t have skills in, especially marketing.

Could you be your own boss?  Read more inspiring stories from ordinary people.



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