Indonesian-born Bernadette Kusuma and Hartoni Ashali find business success supplying nutritious meals to Canadian school children
When a friend suggested buying a Lunch Lady franchise after
reading about it in a parenting magazine in 2003, Bernadette Kusuma
didn’t need much convincing. “With five children to take care of, a
home-based business seemed an ideal
choice,” she says.
The Lunch Lady franchises provide hot meals to local schools, an enterprise the Indonesian immigrant was happy to invest in, as it would leave her with enough time to care for her children.
However, Kusuma, who used to work in market research, soon discovered that, “although starting up my own business was a good decision and allowed me some amount of flexibility, running a Lunch Lady franchise was a lot of hard work.”
Not one to give up easily, Kusuma, who had been in Canada for just one year at the time, entered into a partnership for a franchise with the friend who suggested it.
“It was difficult initially because I didn’t drive and my partner had to do all the deliveries. So that meant, in addition to learning and co-managing a new business, I had to work on getting my driver’s licence as well.”
Today, her kitchen has 12 employees and averages around 700 meals daily. “From pancakes and salads, to hamburgers and spaghetti and meatballs, we make about 12 different types of hot and cold lunches,” she explains with great pride. “On Fridays, we prepare 900 lunches.”
Inspired by her success, her husband Hartoni Ashali gave up his job in a stock brokerage company and bought his own franchise in 2006.
The husband-and-wife team work together; since Kusuma had a large commercial kitchen already set up, Ashali simply purchases the lunches his franchise requires from her kitchen.
Describing it as an “easy business model that anyone can follow,” Ashali focuses on the administration while Kusuma takes care of the rest.
“We now also want to go a step further in building a stronger relationship with the schools that we serve in Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington. This means helping school management with fundraising and other activities. ”
The couple’s hard work has paid off. The Platinum Spoon Award for top annual sales within the Lunch Lady group, and the Children’s Choice Award (Bronze) for high participation numbers among their schools’ students are the latest in their collection of trophies.
They also received the Gold Spoon Award for the previous two years in a row.
What’s the recipe to their success? “My attention to detail,” says Kusuma. “Perseverance is also very important,” adds Ashali. “You must keep at it in order to do well.”
“As new immigrants, we are very conscious of our status and that makes us introverts and holds us back,” says Kusuma.
“I wouldn’t make an attempt to talk to anyone unless they approached me,” agrees Ashali. “Then I realized that my hesitation was preventing people from talking to me as well.”
Their advice to new immigrants is to “get out more. Volunteer at your local library, community centre or school or wherever you get a chance. It will help you get to know people as well as the Canadian way of life and build your self-confidence,” says Ashali.
What is the couple’s next goal? “Supplying 1,000 meals a day!”