After 13 years of working for her employer and Ozone’s Managing Director, Craig Macfarlane, Jo Eliason was offered the opportunity to become a shareholder in her first cafe, Lush. Jo threw herself into the opportunity to grow her career and challenge herself in a new direction which she had previously never considered. As the business continued to grow and eventually expanded into a catering arm, she knew that was just the beginning of her journey ahead and in 2015, business number two, Public Catering Company was born.
What did you do before you opened your first site?
I am a baker by trade and, at the time, a mother of two young children, so worked part time at night for my now business partner. I would go in and bake bread and make cakes in a wholesale kitchen after my husband got home from work. This would allow us to have 2 incomes, but one of us always being available to look after the children.
Were there any brand new curve balls associated with opening a second business which you hadn’t encountered the first time around?
Were some things a little easier? Well I wasn’t pregnant the 2nd time round! With our first business I was 6 months pregnant with our 3rd child, so yes the 2nd time round was a lot easier! Day to day systems were easily transferred to the new site, recipes and ideas could be tested and trialled in the Lush kitchen while the new kitchen was built. We opened The Public Catering Company knowing what worked and what didn’t in the terms of catering and how we wanted to move forward with it. We also wanted to develop an online ordering system for catering orders. We knew how we wanted our clients to order online, it just took a little bit of time explaining the concept and talking through the process to get them to realise that it was a more efficient way to get what they were after. They also have an opportunity to pay on ordering so no need to send out invoices.
Operational systems and processes can be replicated for multiple locations, but how did you ensure the business culture and brand integrity translated across a whole new team and environment?
Employing a general manager that is also a working shareholder means they have a vested interest in the success of the business. Our general manager at Public Catering worked for us in Lush looking after the day to day catering that we produced out of that site, so was able to see where we could improve on things before we moved into the new site. Our concept and vision was then one that they could full be involved with from day one.
How similar are your businesses to each other? Were location, clientele and competition factors in defining the two sites?
The two businesses couldn’t be more different! We find that Lush is a “mum and dad” crowd that look for consistency in a menu. There are several items that have been on the menu at Lush for 8 years and could never be removed as that is what they come for. The Public Catering Company appeals to a more corporate crowd and tends to attract people that may have moved back to the “Naki” for the lifestyle after living in places like Melbourne, London or even Auckland. We have had many people say that it has a European or Melbourne feel to it. Our busy time is between 11.30am-1.30pm when it’s not unusual to have a queue out the door… this is the corporate lunch hour and we are lucky to have several corporate businesses in the area. In regards to competition, although we have other cafes and restaurants within the area I think we complement each other more than be in competition with each other. Having the different choices brings a vibrancy to what once was a “quiet” part of town.
What’s next for you, the business, the brand, the vision?
One thing I have learnt from my business partner over the past eight years is to never settle. Always strive for excellence in what you do and always consider new opportunities! We have a few ideas up our sleeve and I’m a true believer that if things are meant to happen everything will fall into place. We originally looked at the site that Public Catering was in about 18 months before we decided to go ahead with the build. At the time other factors didn’t seem to fall into place so we walked away from it. It was a place we did like and eventually when we revisited it after some new developments in the surrounding area, it didn’t take long to see our vision turn into reality.