An underground kitchen with sky-high ambitions

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Vodafone Xone. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week Jess from Jess’ Underground Kitchen gives some great advice about what it takes to get a business off the ground.

A flippant comment around a kitchen table in 2013 brought about a business that has gone from making one Thai Green Curry to now having a delivery or pick-up service for ready-made meals, two cafes, a commercial kitchen, regular media appearances, two cookbooks, thousands of meals sold a week, and a staff of 25.

Jess’ Underground Kitchen is now very much in the overground. To talk about the journey, Jess Daniell joined the podcast.

Either download (right click to save), have a listen below or via Spotifysubscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

Sometimes the creative industries see business as sort of crass, or not as worthy as creative work. Do you find running a business interesting?

Yeah, I mean it’s a challenge every day. I definitely don’t pin myself as a business owner in my white collared shirt and business heels. I’m a pretty relaxed, creative business owner and I think that attracts the right people as well.

I have a team of, I think around 24 females and one male. That’s not by choice at all, it’s just worked out that way. We have some pretty great vibes, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a young team and it makes it all the more enjoyable to come to work. I don’t really position myself as a business owner, I’m just Jess and I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m creating something and that’s really cool.

Tell me about the brand-building side of things with the cookbooks and the media appearances and the really great social media channels you run. How does that all play into the growth of the business?

When I started in 2013 I set up this Facebook page so I didn’t have to spam my friends living in other countries with what I was having for dinner and what other people could have for dinner. I didn’t even have a website back in those days because Facebook was the platform for young businesses. It was a way of reaching people, I had amazing engagement, it was a way for people to watch the conversation online and see what people were saying about the business, like “oh my god Jess, last night’s lasagne was so delicious!” and someone else goes “oh, maybe I should try this lasagne” so it was very much word of mouth marketing. I don’t think in the first three years I spent a cent on marketing.

I slowly got a website and built up a bit of an infrastructure and obviously with the cafes we had to have a point of sale system and a bit more structure around that, but in terms of the brand it really has been quite self-perpetuating which is amazing.

I know that I definitely can’t complain about the media that I’ve had or the way that it’s grown. And I guess as a copywriter in a past life I’ve had some sway in how it’s been presented to the media and the public which has helped.

I think what’s been important is the whole way through I’ve maintained my own voice and I still do all my own social media, there’s no agencies involved whatsoever. You kind of have this authenticity which comes through in the cookbooks; I’ve worked with the same team on both books. It’s really all about teamwork and how everyone’s working towards making this brand even better.  

Does being a published cookbook author add legitimacy? Or having the Jervois Road address? Are there certain things that do a lot of work for you in the business like that?

In terms of having the cookbooks, it does lend an authenticity to people who perhaps haven’t heard of me. My customer base is quite Auckland-centric and the cookbooks give me more of a nationwide presence. It’s probably through the cookbooks that I’ve had opportunities to do regular slots on TV and radio interviews and stuff like that, and it’s just a really fun project.

I love doing the books, it’s hard work, and after the first one I said never again but we’ve secretly been planning book three so I guess we’re suckers for punishment.


Business is Boring is brought to you by Vodafone Xone, a NZ-based Innovation Lab and Startup Accelerator helping to bring the best startup and corporate ideas global.

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