Two kilometres from the country NSW town of Eugowra is Eat Your Greens, a successful function centre and catering company owned and run by Jess and Ben Stanley. Interviewed by Frank Leggett
Jess: I was born in Eugowra and when I was about 13, I started my first job in the kitchen of the venue we now own. I left home when I was 15 to start my chef’s apprenticeship in Canberra. After that I moved to the Blue Mountains and got a job at Lilianfels. That’s where I met Ben.
Ben: I was working in the hotel and Jess was in the kitchen. Eventually we moved to Margaret River in WA and worked there for about 12 months. We then returned to Eugowra and lived with Jess’s parents. We would work hard for a few months, save money and then head off and go travelling. We went to England for a while, Port Douglas for about eight months and spent six months in Newcastle.
Jess: We would always come back to Eugowra to work the wedding season. When we bought a house, we had to start getting a little more serious. We had both been employed by the wedding venue in Eugowra for three years, when the owner offered to sell us the business. With some help from my parents, we made the purchase.
Ben: We took over on the first of January 2015. It was operating like a well-oiled machine so we didn’t want to change anything too drastically. However, we did want to add our own touch to things. It was nice to have the opportunity to do whatever we wanted.
Jess: A lot of people think that because our business is in the country, we are at a disadvantage. That’s not true at all. We’re located between many larger towns and people like to get out of those places and hold their wedding or function at Eat Your Greens. Likewise, having so many towns around us offers lots of opportunities for our catering business.
Ben: We probably do 30 or 40 weddings a year. In addition, we do about six graduations and six debutante balls with a lot of little jobs in between. Staffing is one of our biggest issues but we have a great core group of employees. We also have a pool of 30 casual staff but we don’t know who’s going to turn up until that week. That’s our biggest hurdle.
Jess: Eat Your Greens is doing well and a lot of that can be put down to the fact that Ben and I are owners who actually work in the business every single day. We’re very hands-on. It also helped that we took over a well-established business and were coached and guided by the previous owners. The nature of our business means that it’s extremely seasonal. However, it’s very hard to pick. Sometimes, we’ll get six weddings in January when it’s blazing hot. Then, in other Januarys, we won’t get a single wedding. Last winter was very busy for us.
Ben: Fortunately, most jobs are booked well in advance so we have an accurate 12-month plan, budget and cash flow. I think our type of business is a lot safer than a restaurant where you don’t know how many people are going to walk in the door each night.
Jess: I would find running a restaurant very stressful. We employ a lot of young people from the area and it’s great to see some of them continuing with hospitality. We do encourage them to get out of town and experience as much of the industry as possible. There’s always a job for them at Eat Your Greens if they come back.
Ben: If I was to give advice to someone starting out in the industry, I would tell them not to over-commit too early. I see so many people just starting out and pouring way too much money into their business. Start small or maybe buy an established business and let it grow.
Jess: But don’t be afraid to take a risk! I’m not sure if that’s good advice but that’s my advice.
Ben: We have a toddler and a new baby but when things quiet down a bit, we may add some accommodation. But that’s a couple of years down the track.
Jess: Our kids are going to grow up in the business and if they want to work weekends or whatever, that would be great. But I would never force them. I don’t think that would be fair. Like us, they need to find their own way.