This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Clementine Stibbard of Little Coco’s. Little Cocos is a fine food catering company servicing the New England.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
We are the husband-and-wife team behind Little Coco’s. We’ve both worked in the hospitality industry for all of our working lives and we had a cafe in Armidale together for around six years before establishing this business. I’ve been focused more on the cafe side of the industry and Chris has been following his passion for fine dining. He was the Executive Chef at The Powerhouse for quite a long time and fine food is his strength. We were both born in Armidale and, like a lot of people, spent a decade away before returning. I’m a city girl at heart and I do miss it, but Armidale has its merits, particularly when you’re raising children.
What does Little Coco’s do?
We’re a catering company based in Armidale but servicing the entire New England from Glen Innes to Tamworth. Being self-confessed die-hard foodies, we love all types of cuisine, so you’ll find our menus are a spin on traditional function-style meals melded with our favourite classic dishes from around the world. At this time of year, our popular menu choices include banquet tables, paella, graze tables and beautiful seasonal salads.
When did you start your business?
The catering work started when we were focused on the cafe and just evolved from there. We were being asked to cater for small corporate lunches and workplace events and identified the gap in the market so decided to go full tilt from there. That was three years ago and now Little Coco’s is working on large social events (corporate and weddings mostly) catering for 100 to 150 people. We needed to change our focus slightly this year due to the impact of Covid so we moved into hampers and frozen meals, which were popular and helped us keep our heads above water over the past few months.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
The biggest challenge is getting the financial side sorted and making sure you have a really solid business plan – making sure the numbers add up and we’re making enough money. In a catering business like this, you’re also working months and sometimes years ahead in terms of bookings, and that can be a challenge. Making sure your menu evolves with people’s tastes and making sure people are still excited about the menu we’re putting together for them. The other real challenge is making sure we’re both fit and healthy. It can be a challenge with a small business like ours and that’s something we keep at the back of our minds. It hasn’t been a problem yet, fingers crossed!
What do you like most about running your own business?
I’d say the best part, at least in theory, is being able to choose your own holidays and being able to take a significant amount of time off if you manage it correctly. You do sometimes have to turn down work, which can be a bit of a challenge, and we do have to pick times that are slower in terms of demand. We tend to have more weekends off in winter, but January is often a slower month, which means we can take a lot of time off, head away and spend as much time as we can with the kids.
What advice would you give a business just starting out?
If you can see that there’s room for expansion and you are confident of that, you might take on a job knowing that in that time you’ll be able to source the staff that you need for the particular job. It’s about making sure the numbers add up and then backing yourself. You need to spend a lot of time on that business plan and making sure it’s really solid. That will give you the confidence to move things forward.
What inspires you?
It’s probably a really big cliche, but also totally true: we love good food. We love all types of food, from amazing cultures all around the world, and we’re excited about trying new things. When we get the chance, Chris and I will head to the city and go food crazy. We also like cooking for each other (and the kids) but if we had a choice, we would both choose Yum Cha. It’s a bit of an obsession for us both.
What is your secret for success?
The secret to our success is not necessarily following trends, but focusing on our strengths and letting the product, our food, tell the story. We’re proud of our product and our clients benefit from that passion. Good quality food is the combination of carefully chosen ingredients and the time, skill, and effort that’s required to turn those ingredients into great tasting food.
People experience our work, say Chris’ pistachio and rosemary crusted lamb cutlets or his amazing filet mignon, and they tell us it’s the best they’ve ever tasted. We love those moments!
The other factor is making sure we’re working together well in a partnership. It takes a lot of patience and practice but it’s vital to the success of the business. We make sure we’re working to our strengths, which makes the team gel as a whole.
What’s next for Little Coco’s?
In the new year, once we have a bit of a break over the summer, we’re looking at expanding our team and employing a couple of new staff. We’re getting to the point where we can’t handle the work ourselves and we need that additional support. That’s exciting.