Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Chef Liz Murray, she has been working in the culinary field for over 20 years, based in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am a private Chef and occasional Culinary Instructor in Toronto, Ontario. I provide custom-curated menus for busy families with specific dietary requirements with the aim of providing the most nutritious health-supportive foods available.
Tell us about yourself
I have been in the Culinary world for a long time. My start was in a vegan Juice bar in the mid 90's of Downtown Toronto, where I worked for periods of time in between touring with Bands as a bass player... yes I did that too! I eventually met my husband while on tour in Regina, Saskatchewan.... yes, a poor innocent Prairie boy that I had to capture, corrupt, and eventually Marry! I moved to Regina and proceeded to cook during the summers for tree planters with my husband, who is an amazing cook! During the winter months, I worked in an organic produce and grocery store and eventually began making food for take-out. After 6 Years of tree planning life, my husband and I purchased an old house in a beautiful area of Regina that was operating as a cafe, and we transformed it into a Vegan Restaurant, which we ran for ten years, then sold it and moved to Ontario. We landed in Guelph, an hour outside of Toronto, and eventually moved to Toronto 3 years later. In between the move, I was able to attend my dream Culinary school - The Natural Gourmet for Health and Culinary Arts in NYC. It was a life-changing experience, of course!
I had originally attended the school in hopes of becoming a private chef but had heard many unpleasant stories about unreasonable and difficult clients and was turned off the idea. When I returned to Toronto, I began working at a vegan restaurant in Toronto's Famed Kensington Market, a place I had always loved growing up! It didn't take me long to realize that I was done with the restaurant industry and decided to move on and was hired by a company that placed chefs with families. They provided the menus and grocery lists, and I would just pick up the groceries, show up at the client's house and make the food. This was a great learning experience, and it taught me how it all works, and I was grateful for that. Unfortunately, the pay wasn't great, and I knew I would eventually move on. I actually had a lot of little chef gigs here and there through a company that did events, large and small. And again, not for me, but definitely an interesting learning experience. Just before I had left the Restaurant job in Kensington market, I cut my finger badly and needed stitches. I ran down the street, bleeding all way, and went into a walk-in clinic where a lovely Dr. sewed up my finger and was trying to calm me down. He eventually became my first Private chef-client. He and his wife (a lawyer) were incredibly kind and lovely to work for and, as it turned out, very well connected. It wasn't long before my week was filled with families to cook for. During that time, I also taught classes here and there for different groups. The topics varied between plant-based eating, gluten-free sourdough bread, and mushrooms, and as of late, I teach classes to promote brain health with the Toronto Alzheimer's society. There is always so much to learn about nutrition and how it really is medicine for the body and mind.
I hope to be able to find more time to teach in the future, but it really does take a lot of time and effort to put classes together, and I really do love it! I love sharing information and getting folks excited about cooking, and learning about new ingredients or techniques they may be unfamiliar with. Additionally, there is immense job satisfaction when my clients send me photos of their kids hoovering down food!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Getting to the point where I am so thankful for all my excellent clients and a schedule that works for me. I have a waiting list, and anytime I would like to teach a class, I have a network willing to host me.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
You have to be prepared to do everything yourself. From bookkeeping to recipe research and all the items in between, you have to rely on yourself to do all the work! Fortunately, I have a good support system which includes an accountant and other chef friends to guide me from time to time... and lord knows my husband has helped me over the years!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- It takes time to build up a solid client base and get your name out in the world. One has to pay their dues, but if it's what you really want to do, then stick with it, and success will come.
- Ask for advice and help when you need it. Find a mentor or a colleague who is already in the business and try to get some advice on specific questions.
- Be patient. Not everything is the right fit. Sometimes it takes a few tries to lock down your vision and find your groove.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I am so grateful every day that I get to cook for a living for amazing folks who are also really grateful to have me. It really is teamwork.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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