How often can you say you really love your job?


Tracy Smith has gone from employee to franchisee at Cook Stars and she says she has not looked back since.

Tracy first heard about Cook Stars, a franchise that teaches children how to cook and which won the’s Top Franchise Award for Best Newcomer, when a friend saw an advert for class leaders two years ago.

Tracy had been working as an NVQ assessor for hospitality and customer services, having worked in the hospitality industry for 25 years.

She was looking to go part time and applied to Cook Stars. “I loved the concept,” she says. She got the job and worked for some time as a class leader. She could see that the concept worked and that it was popular. Classes were packed full of children and there were waiting lists too. When the business was franchised, she did her research and took the plunge. “I went for it and have not looked back,” she says.

She says it was “pretty scary” taking the decision to become a franchisee because she was used to working with people, not on her own. “That was definitely the biggest challenge. I have always had people to learn from and to take advice from,” she says. “But I believed in the product as I had seen the results. That gave me a bit of reassurance.”  She was also looking for a better work life balance.

She launched last September and works Monday to Friday doing preschool and after school classes as well as children’s parties at the weekends. She combines this with voluntary work and special projects. “The business plan is not just about preschool and after school classes. It opens the door to other things,” she says.

One of those other things is teaching autistic teenagers and adults cooking and the benefits of healthy eating.  “I am teaching them important life skills: how to make smart choices, to avoid obesity and keep healthy. There’s a deeper message in the cookery lessons and I am proud to be involved,” she says.

She also plans to start selling Cookie Bags full of cookies baked in her classes in local shops. “There are so many different possible income streams. The possibilities are endless – adult classes, special needs classes, merchandise and so on,” she says.

Word of mouth

Tracy advertises her classes on social media and in the local press, but most of her custom comes via word of mouth. She says she has enthusiastic testimonials showing how much children like the classes and she feels that she teaches more than just cooking skills, for instance, social skills. “You can see the children developing every week,” she says.

Tracy says Cathy Harding, the franchisor, is very supportive. “She put together a fantastic manual which is constantly updated. She also has monthly meetings with me which have given me the support I needed to run my own business. I had questioned if I had the ability to do this and it turns out I do,” says Tracy.

When she launched she was still doing some classes as an employee of Cathy’s. “I wanted to ensure my classes were properly established and I still had a monthly wage,” she says. “I dug my heels in and researched my area with Cathy to see where the children lived and we developed a marketing strategy.”

Within six months she had full classes five days a week. She now teaches around 100 children and 32 autistic adults and is looking to take on employees in summer to expand the business. “The hard work is paying off and the business is constantly evolving.” She says she is now making more than she did on a part-time basis as an NVQ assessor.

Tracy has three children, aged 14, 19 and 26. She cooks with her 14 year old and tries out new recipes with him which she sends to Cathy.  “He loves food and helping me. He was really excited when I started,” she says.

She adds that she now can’t see herself going back to employed work. “This is my business. I feel like my opinion matters. It is definitely the best thing I have done. I love my job and I love getting up in the morning. How often can you say that you really love your job?”

* will be producing a free Best Practice Report in the summer based on the Top Franchise Awards, highlighting some of the best flexible business models.

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