Donna Carrier

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After taking home a State Award, we find out how Donna from Bent on Food does it!

Hi Donna. You are fresh home from Sydney, where the Tourism Awards were held. How was the event?

Myself and my partner Grahame and Kim MacDonald, Manning Valley Tourism Co-ordinator all travelled to Sydney together for the awards. Grahame had the pleasurable job of escorting 2 ladies to the tourism awards, and having to share the bathroom with us and our hair straighteners and make up.

We all had a great time and it was made even better with the win. We were at a great table with other Mid North Coast tourism operators; there were lovely Hungerford Hill wines and a great band, so we all danced into the night.

What award did you take home, and break down the category for us.

We won the Tourism Restaurants award, which was a great win for us as we had never won that category at NSW level. We were up against some high profile operators, including Esca at Bimbadgen Winery in the Hunter Valley, The Corner Restaurant at Port Macquarie, Taronga Zoo Catering, and Redsalt Restaurant at Crowne Plaza, Hunter Valley.

We won the category due to our contribution to tourism, and for creating a destination for tourists, by promoting local produce in our menu and offering a large range for sale on our shelves. The NSW Tourism Awards are in place to encourage and celebrate innovation and provide a benchmark for best practice within the tourism industry. We were also finalists in another category, Specialised Tourism Services, which we won at regional level.

It takes a lot for a small business to stay strong and be a market leader. How has it been for you since Bent On Food opened?

It is not always easy; there is a lot more work involved in operating a successful business than there is in operating a mediocre one. Other businesses try to emulate our concept but it takes a lot of passion and experience, along with many hours of hard work to ensure that any business is a market leader.

The awards submissions are 20 to 30 pages long and a judge will then visit to ensure that your submission is legitimate. Some of the awards we have won have been judged anonymously. I spend a lot of time communicating with my clients via newsletter, updating the website, emails and through the media.

It is sometimes stressful, as customers have high expectations of an award winning business, but each staff member is an individual with varying degrees of experience, and they need to be given an opportunity to grow and learn the ropes.

Do you have some tips for new business owners in the café industry?

I always advise people not to dare go into the industry without experience. Many people come to me to ask for help to set up a café as a they are planning a seachange, but running any hospitality business is hard work. Many people do not realise that in a café/restaurant approximately one third of revenue goes to wages, one third goes to food costs and the other third makes up your rent, electricity and all of your running costs.

I think that it is a great business for a passionate foodie, but you must do your homework and ensure that you are prepared to take the good with the bad, and know that you are not going to become rich doing it. I would also advise staff training, put them through TAFE courses and ensure that there is someone at the helm of the café overseeing the operation, and this should not be the chef; they have enough work to do in the kitchen.

A Day in the Life of Donna.

6am I try to go for a walk early, but if I have too much work to do I just start; sometimes I stay in bed for another half an hour!

7am I am usually sorting out the day in the café, or getting the banking ready or doing other odd jobs, or maybe the washing!

8am We open the café at 8, so I am in there talking with the staff and serving a few customers.

9am I head to the homewares store and at the moment I am spending most of my day there until I can afford some staff, and then I will run between the two businesses.

6pm If there are no meetings or functions, I head home, which is behind the café and may have a beer or a glass of wine, then maybe some more work or occasionally time out with Grahame.

10 -11pm bedtime.

Thanks Donna

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