Viola Slodzinska, owner of the small business Viola’s Food, a food caterer based in North London, gave us the opportunity to talk with her about her story and how UENI helped her business grow online.
Hi Viola, can tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve been a journalist for nearly 20 years and a home cook caterer for the last four years. During Poland’s political transformation in the early 90s I was hired by the first private TV network in Eastern Europe and later on I moved to another local station in New York. I’ve always loved cooking, but it was while I was in New York that I fell in love with international foods. Thanks to my job I had the opportunity of being invited to high-end parties, events and dinners and what better place than New York in the 90s to learn the art of cuisine? From the Cotton Club to a Robert de Niro local in Tribeca or lunch with Roger Moore or the Placido Domingo in Midtown Manhattan, each day was different. This was the connection between journalism and food and helped me grow.
So how did you get into the catering business?
When I moved to London in 2013, I couldn’t find a job as a journalist so I started to write a book about my journey through the many countries I’ve been to and about my love of different recipes – which I am still working on. I cooked and sold traditional Polish recipes to a Polish shop in East Finchley. After being featured in the Archer, a local newspaper, new opportunities began to open up. Tony’s Continental, a small grocers in East Finchley asked to sell my products. I sold dumplings, croquettes, pates, chutneys and even jams, all of which became very popular with the customers.
What are your clients like? What occasions do you normally get asked to cater for?
They really do vary. I get asked to cater for holy communions, dinner parties and family gatherings. My most recent booking was for an Indian family who were vegetarian. I was so nervous! A Polish woman cooking Indian food for an Indian family is not the norm, shall we say. I was so worried they wouldn’t like my food but they absolutely loved it!
What are your favourite dishes to make?
I love making lamb dishes. So Lamb Shish Karahi, Lamb Shish and slow cooked lamb. I posted a picture of a lamb dish online which was so popular, it reached over 1,300 people and I got 3 booking enquiries from it! I also love making Brazilian food, Coxinha especially. Tanginini for Italian dishes and wonton soup for Vietnamese cuisine. I also love cooking salmon dishes. My grilled salmon with champagne sauce, zucchini and king prawns is a crowd-pleaser!
You participated in UNICEF’s #CookForSyria campaign and raised over £600 how did that come about?
I’m a big UNICEF supporter and donate regularly to the causes. I was on their website and saw the campaign and signed up immediately!
During December I planned a dinner party and invited my neighbors round and posted on Next Door [a social networking site for local communities] to get as many guests as possible. People paid in cash on the day and others to the JustGiving site I set up. The day went so well, I dressed up my dining room table with decorations and prepared different dishes including a Syrian dish.
I raised exactly £663.75 and received a letter from UNICEF thanking me for my efforts. Strangers approached me in the street, congratulating me and it felt great to be giving back. A journalist from The Archer reached out to me and I was featured in the newspaper again! It was such a confidence boost which left me feeling so inspired.
How did UENI help your business?
Before I signed up to the service I was relying too much on word of mouth and the local Polish community for business. I already had a website, but it was not optimised for search engines and my potential customers were not able to find me. Now, thanks to UENI, since April 2018 I received more than 370 visits to my web page by people interested in my service. If I had came to you guys first, I would probably have more clients now!
How important would you say social media is to your business?
It’s extremely important and has boosted my business so much. I cook, post the dishes online and it reaches on average 400 people, sometimes over 1,000! The engagement is really solid and often I will have people calling up to ask about a dish I posted on my Facebook business page. There’s so much potential for you to capitalise on and gain plenty of traction.
What is the best part about owning your own business?
People recognising my food is definitely up there. I get to do what I love every day and immerse myself in different cultures and mix with people from different backgrounds. Running my own business has also boosted my confidence so much, I started out playing it safe with polish food and desserts now I push myself to do fusion dishes, so Chinese with Polish, Indian and English etc and my customers love it!
I guess the worst is being a one-man band! I do everything myself and it can be quite overwhelming, especially during busy periods. I do have an accountant who helps me with my finances and taxes so that eases some of the burdens off.
Any advice for other small business owners out there?
I would strongly advise small businesses to get online and be active on social media. I reckon I wasted around 2 years not having a strong online presence. I definitely recommend UENI though! They do all the leg work for you.