Becoming a business owner | 3 min read
Running a business during a pandemic is tough, but adapting and evolving through the changes is possible.
Commercial-kitchen-for-hire company Cooking Space took a major hit the day after the COVID-19 restrictions were announced.
Enquiries slowed and many bookings were cancelled. “Everything just halted and I walked into a completely empty business”, says co-owner, Mei Lim.
Mei is one half of the brother-sister team who own the business. Cooking Space lets small food businesses hire a fully compliant commercial kitchen, saving them from having to build one themselves.
At the start of March, all 30 of their commercial kitchens were cooking up a storm. Then in a matter of days, most of them were empty. Like many hospitality businesses, Cooking Space has had to pivot their business to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first simple move they made was to start having kitchen inspections with clients over the phone and via Zoom. Potential clients can let themselves in and tour the commercial kitchens, while owners Eric and Mei talk them through the space.
As a business owner who values face-to-face contact with clients, this hasn’t been ideal for Mei. However, she says it’s been the perfect option for them during this time and they’ll continue to do it post-crisis if they need to.
When the meetings were sorted, Mei says they were still unsure what to do with the business and even considered totally repurposing their kitchens. “We’ve looked at using them as a place for the homeless, manufacturing hand sanitizer, or masks and talked to people to see if they would use our space,” she says.
Home schooling two little ones, juggling family life, and working from home to manage her business through a pandemic has been a challenge for her. “I think like everyone I just went into a sort-of panic mode for a bit,” she says. “Do we close? What are our plans? If this never ends what will I do with all my kitchens?”.
But as things settled into a new type of normal, Cooking Space found a solution for their customers. “We were getting really specific enquiries about packaged meal setups and equipment, so it made sense to do that,” says Mei.
To help clients move into the food delivery space, they had to invest in expensive equipment like vacuum sealers and blast chillers they hadn’t planned to buy. They decided the investment was worth it. As a result, Cooking Space can now better integrate with businesses who need to deliver frozen and take-away meals directly.
“During these uncertain times, it’s a bit scary to be spending money but it was the best decision for our business and we’ve even had a few brand new clients”.
For other hospitality businesses, Mei suggests being strategic with any business changes they make to cope with COVID-19. “Look at what you already have and what else you can get out of it, or how you can package it up differently”, she says. “Then execute a bit at a time and see what is and isn’t working”.
She also wants to remind business owners to think about their mental health. “This wasn’t predictable and it’s crazy where we are now, so take some time to make sure you don’t burn out”, she says. “If you can’t look after yourself, you can’t look after your business”.