Virgin StartUp of the Week: My Italian Cook
Even when it comes to fast food, more and more startups are all about the slow food - food made with love and care. One such startup is My Italian Cook, offering delicious Italian food with carefully-sourced ingredients. Selling at market stalls, retail outlets and catering for events, all food is made by hand (including the fresh pasta). We caught up with founder Andrea Mascaro over a glass of wine.
1. Explain your business in the time it would take a drink to be poured
Producing and selling artisan Italian ready meals.
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
We have a fully equipped commercial kitchen in Hackney, east London. The location is ideal, because we easily reach Central and East London, and there are plenty of foodies living there!
3. How did you come up with the idea?
I have always had a passion for good food, I have fun cooking and I wanted to work for myself... so I said: let's put the three things together and see how it goes...
4. What’s the business model?
At the moment, My Italian Cook does three things: producing artisan Italian ready meals for grocery stores, selling artisan Italian food at food street markets, and catering home-made Italian food to corporate customers. We are still a start-up, so in some way we are still “exploring”, but my long term plan is to focus on the artisan ready meal market and get a good reputation in the organic food market.
5. Who are your competitors?
Hospitality and food retail is a very competitive market. However the saturated market gives lots of new ideas and inspiration. The key is to work hard and find your own space.
6. What’s unique about your business?
We are trying to put together two opposite ideas: real, homemade, artisan food with ready-to-go, microwavable meals. I believe there is plenty to do in that direction.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
I did some market research, I had a clear idea where I wanted to position myself and consequently the kind of food I wanted to produce, and the general “corporate image” I needed.
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
At that stage, I needed the money for the deposit and rental of a proper production kitchen (before I was doing some trials in my registered home kitchen) and I also needed to buy some equipment and insurances. The initial cash reserve allowed me to leave my full-time job and keep going. Later, I used some money to improve the website and the packaging design.
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
My mentor is Uri Mizrhai, who has years of experience in the food industry (founder of Bagel Nash). As this is my first entrepreneurial experience, and I started without any business partner, having Uri on my side was crucial: he gave me great advice, and also helped me with “practical” issues (like finding new products for the street markets and cooking them, or setting up the first stall). Most importantly, he was there any time I needed to discuss any problem, idea, or just to discuss how an important meeting went. We had long conversations that helped me to organise my thoughts and to understand where I wanted the business strategy to go.
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
I worked directly with Virgin StartUp. I attended a workshop where I got all the information about the process, and then they supported me writing the business plan and applying for the loan. It was a very straightforward process.
11. Biggest achievement so far?
Having my products on sale in high street retailers such Spar and SimplyFresh, and having regular customers coming back every week, meaning that they really enjoy my food.
12. What’s next for your business?
The next step will be expanding the artisan ready-meal sector: new products, improved packaging and distribution will be our priorities for early 2016.