We here at GOBankingRates want to help get our nation’s small businesses back on their feet after the COVID-19 pandemic. To do that, we’re highlighting readers’ favorite small businesses around the country, and shining a spotlight on what makes them special to their customers and their towns.
In this edition of our Small Business Spotlight series, we’re featuring Victoria’s Kitchen LLC, a kids’ cooking school in Richmond, Virginia. Owners Ellen Victoria and Romell Luckey started the school to help their community learn the importance of eating natural, organic and fresh homemade foods while teaching young people the fundamentals of the kitchen. Here, we chat with Ellen Victoria about how her daughters’ health issues inspired her to start her business, the positive impact she hopes to bring to her community and the questions every aspiring entrepreneur should ask themselves.
Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired you to start your business?
As a young mother of three (Arianna, 10, Jasmine, 8, and Rachel, 7), I needed to find something that would not only allow me to keep [spending time with] my children but would also bring me happiness and joy.
We went through a horrible experience with our oldest daughter having a lot of digestion and food intolerance issues, along with some behavioral issues. We sought help, but were only given tests and medication after medication to cover up her [issues rather than resolve them]. We ultimately ended up trying to figure things out on our own. We realized a lot of her issues circled around what she was eating — what we were putting in her system. We began to research, try things out and soon found out if we tweaked her way of eating, her digestive and behavioral issues started changing.
Later, our youngest daughter Rachel would end up having food allergies, and our mission to help other families and kids with food intolerances and food allergies became even more prevalent. Our desire was to show our communities that we can eat better — on a budget — and still have food that can taste good; to teach them you can have food allergies and use food substitutions that can still make wonderfully delicious foods.
One main issue with having food allergies, intolerances and special diets is that the food doesn’t always taste good. It may be healthy, but if it doesn’t taste good, the kid or adult is not going to eat it, which ultimately leads to bad health and behavioral issues.
What did you take from past experiences or jobs that you knew you wanted to be a part of your new business?
Before starting our business, my husband and I worked in different finance and customer service positions, [so we had knowledge about] finance, accounting, networking, human resources, legal contracts and how to conduct business. Personally, I was blessed to learn a lot by working with executives such as CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and presidents of companies, as I worked in a finance department that reported directly to executives. I learned one-on-one by watching and actually being included in high-level dealings. All of these components are necessary for any business owner. Without these experiences, I would have been a bit more lost in the beginning, as well as now.
Mixed with Romell’s years of experience with loans, customer service, auditing, account management and hospitality, we have been able to create a wonderful platform.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
Being a business owner is an absolute blessing. With schools closing and us having three kids, our business has allowed us to keep our kids with us as we work at the same time. Now, has it been easy? No, it hasn’t! But we were able to keep them in a safe, controlled environment while being able to work to provide them with what they need.
We love the flexibility of owning a business — being able to create and agree to our own schedule; being able to constantly think out of the box, to see what new ideas we can create; being able to be a role model and example for our kids and our communities — letting them know that, yes, someone that looks like you can and will be successful, you just have to continually work for it.
To be able to teach someone with special needs, special dietary needs or someone who didn’t have anyone to teach them how to cook is life-changing. To see your students smile with confidence and pride because they made a dish from another country; to see someone who doesn’t like or who has never had vegetables like the recipe you created for them — and are now eating and buying more vegetables — these are the rewarding aspects of owning our business. And we are loving every moment of it!
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Like many other businesses in the food industry, we took a pretty bad hit during [the COVID-19 pandemic]. Once schools were shut down, we lost about 95% of our revenue. It was a very hard and trying time, seeing our friends having to close down their restaurants, etc. Thankfully, we were able to implement an idea I had years ago — virtual classes with matching cooking and baking kits. We launched that and things began picking back up for us, and for that, we were truly grateful. We’re still in “bounce back” mode, but I can fully say with confidence that we’ll be OK and will be able to stay in business.
It did shed a lot of light on things, so we revamped and opened up other lines of revenue, such as our allergy-friendly baked goods line, Rachel’s Harvest. Rachel’s Harvest is named after our youngest daughter, Rachel, who has food allergies. We also are now a commissary kitchen as well as a small event space rental.
How can people continue to support your business during this time?
People can support us by spreading the word and purchasing our classes, gift cards and baked goods from Victoria’s Kitchen Kids Cooking School and Rachel’s Harvest Allergy-Friendly Baked Goods. Word of mouth is the best — going to our social media and sharing posts, going to our website, shouting us out whenever you can. Without the help of the public, a business will cease to exist. No matter how good the business is or how good their products are, it’s the people that keep you in business. We need the people, we need your support. We are even looking into shipping Rachel’s Harvest around the world, as well as having our virtual cooking classes globally.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
I would first start off by asking, “What is it you are looking for when starting your business? What do you want this business to do for you? What makes your business stand out from anyone else in the same field?” I would honestly ask them if they are willing to take a risk — a risk you’ve never taken before — because honey, let me tell you, there is nothing like starting your own business. You have to always be aware of the risks. Do you have savings? Do you have a backup plan? Are you able to basically live off of nothing for the next three to five years, or even more?
After saying all of that, I would then ask, “Are you ready for a change? Are you ready to make a change? Are you ready to see how your light can impact this dim world? Are you ready to find your place in the world? Are you ready for your happiness?”
Owning a business is a whirlwind roller coaster. Just like life, you have the good, you have the bad, but it’s all in how you manage it all. It’s all in how you view it — in how capable you are to continually bounce back. Will you always see your business as half full or half empty? You choose. Hope for the best, as you give your best!
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This interview has been edited for clarity.
Last updated: June 17, 2021
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: A Family-Run Cooking School Teaches Kids To Love Healthy Foods