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The Kitchen

See what Nelson cafe The Kitchen is doing to combine their philosophy of ‘food as medicine’ with business. They bring healthy food to their community through a business model centred on partnerships, loyal customers and motivated staff.

For The Kitchen founders Grant and Sherilyn Maxwell, health and food go hand in hand. After seeing their own family’s health benefit from eating organic wholefoods they wanted to share their passion for clean eating. 

“We wanted people to understand the value of food and experience the benefits from eating natural ingredients and turn that into a business,” says Grant. They opened the Nelson-based cafe in May 2016.

Getting started and getting support

The Kitchen is located within the Bridge Street Collective, the first co-working space in Nelson. While developing the space for the cafe, an exterior wall was knocked down creating a laneway connecting the shared working spaces to the street.

This shared space creates a sense of community, along with an immediate support network. “Business networks are incredibly important, you need that support as a start-up business,” says Grant. “It means there’s always someone to bounce an idea off.”

Grant also became a member of industry groups which helped him with business planning, health and safety, and employment advice. “Joining these groups meant I had access to experts who could help with any specific legal questions I had. This saved me time and stress.”

When it came to protecting his brand, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand was really helpful. “I was really impressed with the help they provided when I worked through the trade mark registration for The Kitchen, and now I have peace of mind that we’ve protected our brand.”

Getting started with your trade mark (external link) — Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand

Finding the right market

When it came to identifying their target market, Grant recognised that within the Nelson region, many people were moving towards a cleaner way of living and an awareness of the importance of fresh and locally-sourced food.

“I saw the shift in knowledge and understanding people had about nutrition and wellness, so the market was definitely viable,” he says. This reinforced the value proposition for The Kitchen as not only a wholefoods cafe but also a food journey experience.

Teenage girl at the counter

Building partnerships

Early on, Grant and Sherilyn knew they would be working in partnership to achieve their vision.

“Sherilyn works in the business, championing the team and dealing with all things food-related. I focus on the financials, strategy, direction and initiatives that will expand and advance the business. This way our shared understanding of the business feeds into every decision,” says Grant.

They hope this approach will enable them to continually grow while staying true to their vision of helping people build a positive connection between food and wellbeing.

They also collaborate with other like-minded businesses from around Nelson. “We work with the Inner Strength Performance Centre along with Functional Health to run workshops at The Kitchen with an aim to bring together health educators from around the region,” Grant says.

“Partnerships support our business vision, provide us with inspiration, and help us to reach more people.”

“Partnerships support our business vision, provide us with inspiration, and help us to reach more people.”

Grant and Sherilyn recognised repeat customers were not only good for business, but also good for keeping connected to people as they go through their own health and wellbeing journey.

"When it comes to setting up and maintaining a successful loyalty programme, ease is key," Grant says. For The Kitchen, this means using a digital scheme set up by another small business — Collect based in Wellington, which offers cloud-based marketing software.

“The digital system is so easy for our staff and customers. All a customer needs to do is tell us their name and their points are logged,” Grant says.

“We’ve seen a whole range of uptake, from young to old. And we’ve seen an increase in regulars which is what we dreamed of, being connected to our community and being a big part of their food journey.”

Growing and managing staff

As the business grows, so does the number of staff. The Kitchen now employs twelve people, with newly created roles being filled regularly.

“We can’t do it without the best staff. While you’re likely to be the most passionate about the business overall, you can get great people that are passionate about particular aspects of the business and harness that energy. Our team genuinely care about the health of our community which is shown in how they all interact.”

Women at the coffee machine

Advice for pursuing your passion as a business

“If there’s a problem deal with it straight away – don’t let it fester," says Grant.

“If you’re not sure how to tackle it, look to your business networks – they’ll have the advice you need to work through the problem. When your business is something you’re also hugely passionate about, you’ve got an extra level of pressure to make it work.

"We want everyone to be as healthy as possible and that means not letting business stress affect us too. Lean into your support, and most importantly look after your health and have fun doing it!”