Meet Katherine and Sophie
(These woman are fantastic and I think the answer to a lot of our prayers!!! Keep reading and I promise you will not be disappointed and you will google to find out more about their business – oh and it’s a funny read as well!)
From The Dinner Ladies
Can you tell us a little about your background before your children…
In the distant past before we had kids (pre-1998), I started my working life as a journalist before working for a literary agency. Katherine worked in marketing for business television. So no professional food background for either of us but always a passionate, personal interest in cooking.
Dinner Ladies – love the name – how did it come about and why?
I’d just had my third child, Joe (now 7) and I was having a whinge to some dear old friends in the park about not having money to buy my husband a 40th birthday present. They were all mothers of young children who also worked part-time and one them, knowing that I was a mad keen cook said, “I’d pay you to cook me some dinners.” A little light bulb went off and I thought, “Aha. There might be something in this.” I got together with my friend Katherine who, with four children to wrangle, was a master of logistics (something I knew this fledgling business would need) and started cooking on a couple of camp stoves in the shed in her back yard. That first week, we sent out a chicken and celeriac pie and a lamb roghan josh, for free, to ten friends and family. The following week we emailed them a new menu (just two dishes a week in those days), leaving them free to order or not and to pass the email onto others or not. Seven years later our weekly email goes out to 6000 and we deliver five days a week across Sydney. And do you know what? I’m pretty sure those first customers are still ordering from us.
Can you tell our readers a little bit more about Dinner Ladies and the amazing meals you have…
I think that probably what makes the Dinner Ladies special is how personal the service is. Almost all the dishes evolved out of dishes we’ve cooked for our families (and in my case, many of which my mother cooked for me and my four siblings in my own childhood) and even though we’re cooking on a larger scale, we still cook in exactly the same way, using the same ingredients, no rubbish or shortcuts and, most importantly, tasting everything all the time. Everyone who uses us for the first time is amazed that the food tastes genuinely home-made, and made with love. Our weekly email is a really important way to communicate with our customers – we tell them about the new week’s menu and about what’s going on at the Dinner Ladies. They email back with comments, suggestions, praise (and the odd criticism!) so it’s a two-way relationship which allows us to be flexible and responsive to our customers, who are universally wonderful.
(Check out one of the menus for a week – yummy!! Hardest decision is what to choose…)
What are some benefits you think would be for families to use your service and are they suitable for children to eat??
The vast majority of our customers are families and from what customers say to us, there are two main stages of family life when our help is really welcome. The first is parents of new babies and little children who are still adjusting to the complete disappearance of their personal life, identity and sleep. When they can snatch a little time together as a couple and sit down to a beautiful dinner (even eaten with one hand while jigging a crying baby up and down), it reminds them that yes, they have a relationship and a life and that one day things will return to normal. The second stage is when kids are older, possibly both parents are working but in any case the children’s school and extra-curricular demands eat up all their free time. With a stash of Dinner Ladies in the fridge or freezer, they can meet as a family around the dinner table even if only a few times a week, without the stress of fitting in shopping and cooking as well. Talking, sharing stories and laughing around good food is one of the best, most cementing, things a family can do – who actually did the cooking is pretty irrelevant.
Almost all of our food – with the odd exception of a really spicy curry – is family friendly. We do season our food with salt but we’re mindful not to overdo it, although if I was feeding a baby, I’d probably blend most dinners with some bland, unseasoned potato, rice or pasta. I had a customer tell me yesterday her daughter’s first taste of solid food was one of our sticky date puddings! We have found there’s a big demand for good, properly made versions of kids’ favourites so we now always have free-range chicken nuggets, home-made barramundi fingers, burgers (I could make these twice a week for my teens without complaints) and individual margherita pizzas always available on the menu, as well as more sophisticated offerings for adults.
How do you juggle working and a family?
Katherine and I are very fortunate because what we produce in our work makes our lives so much easier at home! We actually couldn’t survive without the Dinner Ladies (in more ways than one). It’s also been great having both of us with similar family demands so we know that sometimes you just have to leave early for a parent teacher meeting or to drive kids to sport. It’s been really important for us to create a family-friendly workplace for our staff too; it makes for a very happy environment for us all. In fact, I’m writing this in the office now, with Katherine’s youngest child, Iggy, watching TV in the staff room because he’s away from school with a cold.
Do you think parenting is different from when you were raised? How?
I was born in the late 60s and grew up in the benign neglect of the 70s, where kids ran rampant on the streets, climbing trees, skateboarding, making explosives, all that good stuff, and parents had no idea or, frankly, interest, as long as we were home by dinner time. We are more minutely interested in every aspect of our children’s lives and seem to think that parenting is something that we can perfect and that perfect parenting will create perfect children. When it doesn’t happen, we just can’t understand it. Fortunately as Katherine and I have become busier, we’ve become less hands on (read, more slack) as parents, so we’re probably reverting to the sort of parents our parents were. Hopefully, minus the explosives.
Can you describe to our readers where Dinner Ladies takes place..
About a year and a half ago, we bought a disused, incredibly run-down commercial kitchen on an industrial estate in Matraville, and brought it back up to scratch. Having started in the backyard shed, then shared a kitchen at a bowlo, before renting an old butcher’s shop (where Denise, who runs the office, had her desk amid the plumbing in the basement), we now can’t believe the luxury of having an actual office, a staff room and a big kitchen, complete with walk-in blast chillers, a giant freezer room and two cool rooms. We just love it and couldn’t be more proud.
Have your own self expectations changed since having children? How?
Definitely – but it’s funny, I have both higher and lower expectations of myself. I expect that I can (and do) do a million things at once, preparing lunches and breakfasts, walking dogs, sticking a load of washing in the dryer, signing permission notes, listening to home-reading with one ear and French verb conjugations with another, all before drop offs and work (incidentally, and quite nobly, without throwing anything at my husband who has been sitting, calmly, reading the paper throughout). But I don’t expect to do any of these things perfectly, or even moderately well. My house is a bit of a tip, my children have never known an ironed school shirt and sometimes lunch is Vegemite Vitawheats but it doesn’t fill me with guilt or make me feel like a bad parent. 75% is sometimes more than enough, considering how much we have on our plates.
What is one thing you swore you would never do as a parent …. and now do?
Stalking your own child on Facebook when they’ve blocked you (me – let’s hope Fred doesn’t read this blog, as he’s a 16 year old boy, this is a fairly safe bet). Letting a 9 year old watch an MA 15+ video (Katherine). Oh no, now our shameful secrets are out.
Can you walk us through a typical day for you…
I think I’ve already covered the dog-walking, breakfast, lunch, drop-off chaos. When we get to work, Katherine and I meet in the office where we have a couple of big whiteboards, one with the menus for the next two weeks, and one with our daily tasks. These whiteboards are our brain substitutes for the days when things are a bit fuzzy and if they were wiped out we’d be totally lost. Our days used to be spent in happy tasks like plucking herbs and less happy ones like chopping kilos of onions but now there’s a lot more admin, planning, ordering goods and communicating with customers and we have a great team in the kitchen who don’t seem to mind the onions. We’re up and down all day from the kitchen, tasting and finalising dishes and testing new ones. Depending on the day, we’ll pick up various children from their various after school activities and I’ll always have grabbed something from the cool room to take home for dinner. A couple of nights a week, I’ll whack something on the stove, with instructions for the 16 year old to dish it up, so that I can get out to yoga, otherwise we’ll all sit down to a family dinner around 7, accompanied, in the case of the adults, by a very large glass of wine.
What is one resource that has kept you sane and helped you on your journey of motherhood? Eg book, person, website
Would it be wrong to say alcohol? Oh dear. It’s probably true though, particularly in those early years. Now I’ve discovered vinyasa yoga which is probably a healthier thing to depend on and gives me good practice at keeping at least trying to maintain a calm face in the midst of chaos.
And one tip for us all on keeping it real…
As Quentin Bryce said, you can have it all, just not all at the same time. Enjoy whatever stage you’re at, don’t stress about perfection and look for whatever help you need – which may just include ordering from Dinner Ladies!
Find out more about Dinner Ladies here..
and here on facebook..