Monday is a red letter day for Katie Elfer and her children’s cookery franchise business Cookery Doodle Doo. Not only are she and her son Finlay cooking on the Mel and Sue show, but earlier in the day This Morning chef Gino D’Acampo will be featuring her new range of children’s cookery outfits.
It’s good progress for a business that grew from a weekend job on the side of her full-time work until two years ago.
Katie’s background is in marketing, but she has always loved cooking. “My parents are both bakers. My dad is obsessed with Bakewell tarts. It’s something I have grown up with,” she says. As for many women, having children changed everything for her. She had always thought she’d be a career person, commuting into London and doing long hours. “Then I had my son and I realised that I was missing out on so many things with him. I wanted to do weekend classes with him, but the only classes I could find were for dads. I felt there needed to be something for working mums,” says Katie.
She decided to start her own weekend cookery classes. She tested them on people she knew. She had already been volunteering locally doing cooking with children so she knew all the practical stuff. Katie used her marketing skills to promote the business. She bought 100 helium-filled chicken balloons from China and got her husband to dress as a huge chicken and they took to the streets of Brighton delivering flyers. They got coverage in the local newspapers and spread news of the classes by word of mouth.
The classes grew to the point where she was running them every weekend alongside her full-time job. “I loved doing it,” she says, “and my son was really involved.” Eventually she was taking calls in the lunch hour and doing seven-day weeks and rarely seeing her husband on weekdays. Two years ago just before her son started school she took the plunge and left her full-time job. She ran the business part time over the summer holidays so she could have time for the family. “I haven’t looked back since,” she says.
She has had another son since and says it was so good to be able to fit her work around her family life. She has built it with contractors, including a web designer who has set up a unique online payment scheme for franchisees and graphic designer. Her husband, who works in PR, helps out on that front. Her oldest son also shows other kids how to cook on videos on the Cookery Doodle Doo site.
Last year the business launched as a franchise and now has five franchisees, including in Brighton, Cheltenham, Milton Keynes and Hampshire. “I enjoy it so much. It is so creative and fun and it fits so well around my family that I thought other women who love baking would enjoy it,” says Kate.
Around 200 locations are still available. The franchise costs £3,950, with few ongoing fees. For that franchisees get a 90-day training period, lots of help with negotiating things like insurance, an operations manual, visits by Katie, help with sorting out venues, a bank of around 60 original recipes, an online payment system and help with promotion. Franchisees get the business blueprint, but they can also be fairly creative. For instance, the Hampshire franchisee has launched a successful pudding club on Sunday mornings so kids can take their creations home for Sunday lunch. They also get the security of knowing that everything has been tried and tested.
Katie says one of her main challenges was wading through the red tape surrounding working with children and food. Even marketing was a challenge, despite her professional background. “I knew marketing in the financial services, but not for children and families on a local level,” she says.
Her youngest son is now in nursery and the nursery is attached to an office space where Katie works. She can also work from home. A local teacher does the cookery classes so Katie focuses on the business side of things, including developing the business. It is branching out into events such as festivals, does children’s parties and after school clubs and has just launched its children’s cookery outfits. “I always wanted to do merchandise for the brand. It so lends itself to that,” she says. She was approached by a textile manufacturer who makes outfits for adult chefs. Local kids have been involved in their design and in modelling the outfits for promotional material.
Katie is certainly enthusiastic and ambitious and Monday’s tv appearances are sure to bring a good response. She says simply: “I want to make it the biggest children’s cookery franchise.”