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Our 10 years running CanapéBox and what it’s taught me – by Christopher Messum, CanapéBox Director

Our 10 years running CanapeBox and what it’s taught me

It’s been 10 years since I first opened CanapéBox.

I decided to write this now because I feel, and I feel I deserve to feel, proud of where I have come with my business. People don’t do this enough! Running a small business isn’t always glamorous, and sometimes it’s great to stop and remind myself how far I’ve come, what I’ve achieved, and the things that used to be problems are now replaced by our unique and better way of doing things, which came from experience, mistakes, and practice!

I have a great core team, and we’ve gotten to the point where we’re smooth in our canapé production. We know things that others in the industry don’t know, for example:

  • Canapé recipes have to change if you’re creating volume - one batch of a recipe is one thing but making 500 is another thing. You need to be prepared for that.
  • It takes a lot of time and training to be able to make great canapés
  • As canapés are usually needed only when there is an event, if doesn’t make sense for our clients (venues and chefs and event planners) to have staff full time.

I have to also give some appreciation to the support the government gave us small businesses during the pandemic. It was a lifeline. Only people in the hospitality industry can know what we went through. As I was spending 10 days in a row cancelling all the orders in February 2020, I thought “that’s it” and I would have to close the business. Then when the government announced the furlough scheme and the bounce back loan, it gave us the safety net and that much needed reassurance for me as a business owner.

We used the time wisely (without “pivoting”)

At that crazy time, a lot of this wasn’t a conscious decision but it was a reaction to a rapidly changing scenario. Here’s a quick list of changes we did during this unusual time:

I slashed our overheads, streamlined our cashflow as much as we could, negotiated a new rental price with our landlords and told the team to hold tight!

And then we allowed ourselves to innovate – it was a creative time for many businesses.

We created The Bull Pen Kitchen

We created a new brand called 'Bull Pen Kitchen’ and a range of 5 amazing pasta sauces for farm shops and delis, as well as the chilli con carne used our own smoked chillies.

We made our own pasta sauces

We created the CanapéBox 'Dinner Box' - 3 course meals delivered to your door, with canapés of course! Find out more about this here

We bought a smoker machine to make bacon/chicken/ham We invested into an American style off set smoker and created a range of hot smoked chickens, our own smoked salmon and bacon. We also created the 'Smokey Apple Sauce’ and amazing sweet nutty apply coriander based sauce for pork and ribs!

We also relaxed and tested recipes and investigated new cooking ideas and techniques.

All this has led into what we do now, our canapés use these ingredients, we still sell the pasta sauces.

In many ways – for the business – it was a blessing in disguise.

During this time, things would open and shut, so we worked with events and clients when we were able to.

And luckily, we had some money to keep us going. Most business owners would agree that the furlough scheme and the bounce back loan scheme was just enough to keep many small businesses running - if they had some reserves. In my industry I don’t think there are many other small entrepreneurial businesses who had capital reserves, but we were amongst the stronger ones who did survive. And I am sure this is appreciated by those who attend dinners, brunches, lunches, parties, events, gatherings, conferences and festivals!

The 10 years gave us a head start

When the vaccine rollout came out, people were losing their marbles, lockdown had crucified most people’s mental health, we had to get back to business. Our 10 years in business (with year on year growth) gave us a head start when things opened up properly. This 10 years enabled us to fine tune the production process of our canapés - we’ve gotten really good at making them! So, getting back up and running is partly down to all the years of experience I’ve had before the lockdowns. With this incredible method for making canapés, perfected over the years, we have been able to “hit the ground running” and create at scale.

It takes six months to train a canapé alchemist and we’ve created a training programme and know how to hire and train the best “canapé alchemists” ourselves – they are part of us.

I am proud that I work with this team, they are uniquely talented, exceptional people – artists as well as chefs. We have clients who know to outsourced work to us for those times when people want canapés.

And – I have to add, when our canapés are served, people want them!

I’m looking forward to the next steps, I have more plans to refine and perfect elements of my business, just like the way we’ve done with our canapés.

I’m really looking forward to re-energising the business, getting back-into the swing of things and promoting what we love to do most, make canapés. It’s a real passion but it’s also a business and they must work together. It’s not going to be easy and were all going to have to work hard but the product speaks for itself and we take great reassurance from the number of our loyal customers still in the game and growing their order book with us

For me the look, taste and texture of our canapés is everything, it’s what we do and what I love, the final part is reading some of the wonderful messages from our clients, If you would like to know more about what we do, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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