Enjoying 'good honest food' enterprise

Gordon McKenzie prepares trays of chicken pasta bake ready to be frozen and dispatched to...
Gordon McKenzie prepares trays of chicken pasta bake ready to be frozen and dispatched to customers. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Running a catering business in Dunedin may be a far cry from being executive chef in a swanky hotel in the Maldives, but Gordon McKenzie could not be happier.

Not only was he busy catering for everything from weddings to corporate events, but he recently diversified into the frozen meal market.

He believed the delivery of ''good honest food'' to customers' doors had nationwide - and even possibly export - potential.

After 23 years working in hotels overseas, including having 70 staff working under him, Mr McKenzie (54) returned to New Zealand in 2010 with his wife Fia and young son Qwenton (now 8) and settled in Dunedin.

Originally from the small rural settlement of Dipton in Southland, he took an apprenticeship at the Kelvin Hotel in Invercargill in 1977 and also did courses at Otago Polytechnic, later returning to the hotel as head chef.

By 1987, Mr McKenzie realised he needed to ''get out into the big world'' and he headed overseas, working in Australia, Malaysia, Vanuatu, the Maldives and American Samoa, encountering two tsunamis along the way.

He became the first New Zealander or Australian to be executive chef of a Sheraton Hotel in Australia, which was in Alice Springs.

After more than two decades overseas, and the need for schooling for Qwenton, the decision was made to return to New Zealand.

He believed the couple ''just got lucky'' when the opportunity arose to buy bbcatering, in partnership with another couple, Tim Mackie and Tara Namana, from Bede Beaumont.

He preferred catering to working in restaurants and the business specialised in ''going anywhere'' for catering jobs.

It was not unusual to cater for three weddings in a weekend during the wedding season - or occasionally even four - which was managed by having good casual staff, he said.

They decided they needed to diversify, giving them something to do in the off-season, and that was where the idea of frozen meals stemmed from.

Mrs McKenzie initially thought about tertiary students - with so many in the city, they pondered what they could do for them that was not expensive.

They trialled frozen meals with students, and others ''cottoned on'' to it, particularly older people, and he realised there was potential, not just in Dunedin but throughout the South Island and even nationwide.

The North Island market was something that they would tackle ''later on'' and, long-term, there was even the possibility of export, he said.

He described the meals as ''good honest food'' with the menu comprising the likes of chicken pasta bake, roast beef with roast vegetables, which was very popular, corn beef with mustard sauce, and shepherd's pie.

They could make anything, depending on requests. At the moment, they were selling between 160 and 200 meals a week. While they ''haven't quite cracked'' the student market, they were optimistic about the future.

The meals were delivered to the door, by themselves in the city and by courier further afield, and they kept frozen, he said.

Mr McKenzie enjoyed a challenge and also building up towards a target. While the frozen meal side was a good challenge, nothing was sacrificed in the business and catering for the likes of weddings remained a very important part.

''I like to keep busy. At this stage in my life, I couldn't be happier. I don't think about retirement, I'll still be doing this when I'm 90,'' he said.

Ms Namana looked after the service and administration side of the business, while Mr and Mrs McKenzie were in the kitchen of their Hocken St premises.

They had the flexibility of working around their personal life and, if he wanted to duck out to attend assembly at his son's school, he was able to, something he would not have been able to do when working in the big overseas hotels, he said.

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