Serving up your business in a different way: Life during lockdown for caterer Sally Bycroft
With the announcement of lockdown, Sally Bycroft, owner of catering company La Cucina Italiana felt her world slipping away from her. Having pumped time, energy and money into growing her business over the last few months she realised the consequences of Covid-19 could be devastating. Despite this, Sally remained positive and is coming out the other side smiling. Here's her story.
La Cucina Italiana was born in 2018 with my first private dinner party for 10 people. Inspired by the flavours of Italy that I discover during my travels, the idea to cook private dinners for special occasions, started me on my culinary journey. I have since provided inspired dishes for special occasions, parties, birthdays, fashions shows, fundraising events, and literary dinners and even memorial services.
My new year resolution this year was to make La Cucina Italiana work as a business. To do this, I needed to really rack up the bookings so that I at least doubled the amount of orders and events I was putting on.
I had managed to achieve it. By mid-March, I had bookings for my Italian lunches in cafés and a whole season at the Cambridge and County Polo Club. I had bookings for workshops, hen parties; I even had a wedding in late June. I had a schedule of events in a lovely new restaurant in Haddenham and a cafe in Clare where we were putting on Italian evenings and pasta-making parties. I had been invited to cater for the Open Studios in Granchester, lunches for corporates during the polo tournament season, as well as providing hampers for their picnic goers and dinners in their clubhouse.
Things were looking good. I felt very proud of what I had managed to achieve over a few months. With the announcement of lockdown, it was like a sledgehammer had come down on everything I had managed to achieve in that first quarter. It all came to a shuddering halt.
It didn’t take me long to reach a point of overwhelm with on-line meetings, on-line networking and advice from (albeit well meaning) friends as to what they thought I should do.
Somehow or other though, I remained positive. I decided that now would be a good time to take up a business development course. If was going to re-evaluate and consolidate what I am doing with La Cucina Italiana, now was going to be the best time to do it. I set up a Facebook group called Top Tips in Turbulent Times. The idea being to give people a bit of a diversion and some ideas for suppers to share amongst their friends. It took off. I had realised that to put my business name out there was going to be the best way to keep it in the forefront of people’s minds post lockdown.
So, I scrubbed up on Canva and did a few LinkedIn posts, Facebook posts and of course, on my Top Tips in Turbulent Times Facebook Group. I started cooking some home-made favourites like fish pie, meat balls and lasagne so that I could offer them locally. Literally just to give people a break from the kitchen.
I was then asked to provide some presentation biscuits as a gift for corporates. This took off, and I suddenly found myself knee deep in a biscuit production line. I made packaging out of my La Cucina Italiana place settings (I think it’s called up-cycling) and had quite a few orders from businesses who wanted to thank their staff for managing to work from home.
It then dawned on me that we were in this for the long game. The demand was still there, just needed to be delivered in a slightly different way. I realised that if I adapted my repertoire a little bit, that I could still offer doorstep delivery 3-course meals for special occasions. Usually, I would come along and serve, and make an evening of it, but I found a way to provide food that it was still beautifully presented, but not actually have to go into the house to serve it.
I have managed to do a few of these now. An 80th Birthday which was a present from his daughter, a 60th Wedding Anniversary, and the grandchildren did a ‘show’ specially to celebrate the occasion in the garden. I also did an Anniversary Dinner for a couple I had recently met in the village through cooking for them once a week.
So, La Cucina Italiana lives on to see another day. I have great plans afoot to launch some ‘al fresco’ dinners so that we can still have a Big Friendly Do, observing the rules of social distancing under an open marquee. I am going to continue pursuing workshops for corporates, and hope that this time next year, I will be in my own commercial kitchen with a proper branded business vehicle.
My next investment though, is a portable pizza oven so that I can bring pizza making parties to your garden or outside area. This can travel with me wherever I go.
I am also planning to take La Cucina Italiana on tour. I am doing two trips, one down to Devon, and the other up to the north Norfolk coast. I have had a number of requests for Big Friendly Dos further afield and with a little imagination, I think I can make it work.
This time has been a great opportunity for me to take stock and re-evaluate exactly where I want to go with my business. I was strongly advised against buying a double decker bus at one point and converting it into a travelling restaurant. In hindsight, perhaps it was not such a bonkers idea after all…
For more information about Sally's services and to sample her culinary delights visit https://lacucinaitaliana.info/