One thing that I hate about being a parent, actually about being a human, is having to think about dinner. Of course I love eating it, but thinking about what to have, going to the supermarket to buy ingredients, cooking, going back to the supermarket to buy forgotten ingredients, cooking some more…ah its such a drainer. Every. Single. Day. And while I could get away with take-away and eggs on toast as a single working lady, as a mother – I really have to step up my game for my son. Or at least try to. So when I discovered Gourmet Juniors, conveniently available and nutritious ready meals for kids I was over the moon.
Unlike me, Alecia Whitelaw, mother of two girls and founder of Gourmet Juniors loved the journey of introducing solids to her daughter. But when she returned to work and her husband (who is not as keen in the kitchen as Alecia) took paternity leave, meal times became a bit more stressful and much less nutritious. Enter the need for a convenient yet nutritious home-style ready meal!
She began developing her daughter’s favourite dishes into commercial recipes with a focus on whole foods and organic produce to maximise nutrition. She then sourced the best suppliers of this produce in Melbourne and tested on family and friends. She discovered that there were many, many parents out there that could benefit from her products, so she took a leap of faith, left her job in marketing and events and established Gourmet Juniors in December 2014, the same month she fell pregnant with the couple’s second daughter!!
I chatted to Alecia about motherhood, business, cooking and starting a business with two very young children.
Did you always want to run your own business?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak- I started a (short-lived) jewelry business when I was 16, ran a Christmas Tree Delivery Service in 2003 then I ran a Nannying Agency between 2004 and 2008. I’ve also dabbled in Wedding and Event Management. However, I feel I have found my true passion in Gourmet Juniors and look forward to building this business to become my lifelong career.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Fortunately or unfortunately there is only one thing typical about each day and that’s coffee!
We start each morning with a walk and coffee before daycare drop off, it’s the perfect way to kickstart and energise for the day ahead.
Each day brings a different challenge but I have come to appreciate that’s all part of the fun and responsibility of running a business, a home and a young family.
Each day can involve sales, marketing and PR, web development and maintenance through to product innovation, logistics and of course cooking!
The day flies by and sooner than we know it, the whole family are sitting down to Gourmet Juniors for dinner (it’s true, we all love it!!)
You have a young baby and a toddler – do you find this impacts a lot on the business?
I’m very lucky to have an incredible support network and to work with the best suppliers in Melbourne who are all very accommodating and help me immensely.
Since Evie’s arrival I have taken a step back to relish and enjoy her as a little baby. When I was pregnant with her I set up some strong systems and engaged the best suppliers in Melbourne that have enabled the business to tick over with me working at a limited capacity.
It certainly helps that running a food business means I rarely have to worry about what’s for dinner! True story, we were walking past one of our stockists the other day when Camilla (our nearly three year old) saw the Gourmet Juniors sticker on the window and she said “Look mummy they sell my dinners.” There many things I get mummy guilt about, but luckily mealtimes aren’t one!
How do you make time for you?
We had a little bit of a rough ride just after Evie was born but as things are settling down now I am trying to catch up with friends without the girls in tow as much as I can. I love to exercise, so a pilates class or walk with a friend followed by an uninterrupted, spill and tantrum- free coffee is a real treat.
My husband, Tim, and I are also starting to re-schedule date nights too. Melbourne has such an exciting and fast moving food scene that we are loving trying out all of the new places that have opened since Evie arrived.
What surprised you most about being a working parent?
The fact that I would start an entirely new career and business because of it! And the juggle of trying to do it all while also being present with your children.
What has been your greatest achievement or your biggest challenge as a working parent?
Personally, my biggest achievement is still hearing the words ‘I love you mummy’ from my eldest daughter. Some days are absolutely crazy and hectic but hearing those words make me know that I’m doing a reasonable job of parenting despite feeling stretched to the limit some days.
Professionally, I would say that my greatest achievement as a working parent is having our product stocked in four great locations and the string of loyal and new clients we continue to develop.
The biggest challenge is of course finding the time for a balanced life- I’m certainly still working on it!
Is there any advice you could share with other mums about balancing career and motherhood?
I don’t really feel qualified to give advice yet as I’m certainly still learning, but being present in each thing you do would have to be my top tip. Multitasking all sounds great in theory but I find I don’t do the best I can if I’m doing 100 things at once!
My next piece of advice is outsource where you can so you have more time to do what you love doing. If you detest cleaning- get a cleaner and if you don’t have time to cook- give Gourmet Juniors a try!