Ask Brenda Kennedy what’s for supper and she’ll offer up 60 options.
It might be a salmon casserole, deep dish sloppy joes or chicken biryani. Or maybe Caribbean chicken with mango, jambalaya or beef enchiladas.
The owner of Our Turn to Cook, a take-out meal shop at 201 Archimedes Street in New Glasgow, Kennedy is coming up on her first-year anniversary.
“It has been a year of constant adaptation,” she says. And it’s an experience she would not have traded for anything.
Kennedy, who grew up in Lyon’s Brook and moved back to Pictou County after some years in Fort McMurray, Alts., was previously a personal care worker with the Victorian Order of Nurses.
“One of the things I did was cook for people in their homes. I’d go in, see what they liked to eat and make a few meals to keep them going until the next visit.”
After work she would often stop to pick up supper for her three daughters.
“They’d want to eat as soon as I got home, so often it was picking up a pizza or burgers or sandwiches. Many nights I felt guilty feeding it to them.”
Kennedy was also battling her own weight problem.
“I was a sugar-aholic, totally addicted to anything sweet. I’d tried lots of diets and they might do some good but then I’d feel so desperate or stressed I’d eat a bucket of ice cream. I knew I had to find a healthier way to live.”
It made sense to her that if she wanted to eat better, so did a lot of others. She also reasoned she might be able to do the cooking for others who were pressed for time.
“I grew up cooking with my grandfather who I thought only started to cook after my grandmother died. He could make anything and that so impressed me. It wasn’t until many years later I learned he’d been a cook in the army at a young age.” She also knew friends and family enjoyed her cooking.
“But when I started to talk about opening a cooking business I didn’t get much support. In fact, people warned me against it. Everything I heard was negative, but I just kept thinking there were people out there who needed what I had in mind.”
In spite of all the advice to the contrary and grim predictions, Kennedy went ahead, putting up her own money to start her business.
“Maybe other people didn’t think I could do it, but I really thought I could. As it turns out, I’ve been more right than wrong about that.”
Originally, she did all the cooking but that meant someone else was greeting the customers, many of whom wanted to talk about the options available.
“I realized nobody was as invested in the business as I was, and nobody was as passionate about the food, so I hired a cook and met the customers. I found it a lot easier to train a cook to my way of doing things than to train someone at the counter.”
Something she didn’t anticipate was the demand for gluten-free and keto meals.
“Right now, keto is a very big part of the business as 75 to 80 per cent of the meals I sell are from keto recipes.”
Keto meals are low in carbohydrate and popular with weight-conscious diners, but Kennedy points out others appreciate them just for their fresh ingredients and flavour.
“I eat keto myself, so I understand the diet and that gives me a big advantage. I support people who go that route because I know it has helped me lose weight and increase my energy.”
In a nod to her gluten-free customers she uses only almond flour.
“If I was going to offer gluten-free, I decided I could not have any wheat on the premises.”
In addition to serving local customers, she delivers meals to a shop outside Halifax every Saturday, making drop-offs in the Truro area on her way. Recently, her partner has been making the out-of-town deliveries because she opens up at the New Glasgow Farmers Market from time to time.
“This whole year has been about trying things, but the customers are my biggest inspiration. I listen to them, I hear what they want, and I try to provide it.”
Most new customers coming into the shop tell her how they heard about her business.
“I had somebody from Michelin come in because a co-worker’s lunch smelled so good. I’ve had the same thing happen in school staff rooms and as a result, I do a lot of teacher meals. I have seniors who have heard about me from family or friends. Some are tired of cooking and some have never cooked while others just want something different a couple of times a week.”
Return customers want to see what is on the menu and chat about options.
“They’ll tell me what they bought last time and based on that I can point to another dish that might suit them. Middle-aged men, in particular, may take a little coaxing to try something new but they always come back happy.”
After a few weeks of buying meals, one such customer came in and asked what else he could get without onions.
“He was suddenly telling me he hated onions but everything he had already bought and loved had onions. I had to tell him everything begins with onions and he does not hate them after all.”
From time to time she does get one request she cannot fill.
“If you are looking for pan-fried haddock, I can’t help you.”
Kennedy is proud that she is managing to run her business without any waste.
“What does not sell goes into the freezer for sale at a reduced price and it goes very quickly when I announce a freezer sale. I’m paying a good price to use good ingredients, so it would really bother me to be throwing out food.”
With the store open Monday to Friday, the out-of-town business and the market, the ratio of work to time-off is not ideal but she expected that in her first year.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to build a business and success doesn’t come overnight. At first, I was worried I wouldn’t have any customers and now that I have them, I worry I won’t be able to keep them but I’m learning that is the nature of business. You just look for ways to expand so the market is a new opportunity.”
The shop is open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. but closes earlier on Fridays. “Fridays are busy and I stay open until I’m sold out which is usually early afternoon. Saturdays are for deliveries and the market, and Sundays are getting ready for Monday. It is not like I’m running a shoe store with stock on hand. I have to have food available when I open Monday morning.”
Some food is sold by pre-order, including packages of five and 10 meals, but there is always walk-in traffic. A seating area at the front of the shop accommodates those who come in for a quick soup or salad at lunchtime.
“It is a bright cheerful atmosphere, the food smells great and I’m always happy to see people,” says Kennedy.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ask Brenda Kennedy what’s for supper and she’ll offer up 60 options.