Izzies Catering Success
When Isabel Roper left school and completed a six-month intensive Cordon Bleu cookery course at the Tante Marie School in Woking, she had no idea that it would provide the necessary inspiration for a thriving catering business in later life.
Isabel and husband Nigel farm 1500 acres of mixed arable crops at Home Farm, Pencraig, near Ross on Wye and since leaving the dairy industry two years ago they have expanded into higher value, more specialist produce. Isabel worked in various hotels in Herefordshire and a subsequent five-year stint organising a busy directors dining room provided a solid foundation on which to develop her culinary skills and knowledge.
“When the company later folded it was just the incentive I needed to set up on my own,” explained Isabel. “By then I was married and didn’t want the long hotel hours. With lots of contacts in farming circles I thought catering for special occasions would give me the chance to combine a business with family life.”
Izzies was established in 1990. Although business was slow for the first couple of years, gradually by word of mouth the venture has grown.
“It was hard work in the beginning. I had two small children and I was producing all this food from our own family kitchen. It used to take three days to clear up from an on-site wedding because we just didn’t have the equipment,” she said. Much of the encouragement and belief in her abilities came from her husband.
“Nigel was very supportive from the start. I had him behind me – pushing me. He gave me the support and confidence I needed to develop the business. I couldn’t have done it on my own.”
In 1996 Isabel realised that she had reached the stage where some days she would be catering for up to 500 people. She decided to invest in a purpose built kitchen, which would be a long-term investment but would make life a lot easier.
She continued: “Having the catering kitchen takes a lot of the hard work out of preparation and cooking, particularly when we’re catering for large numbers. There’s more time for actual cooking, managing and being with my family.” They now have four daughters under ten. As business has increased Isabel employs four full time staff and has a pool of 35 people to call on to help her with the many weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays that she caters for throughout the year. The business has also invested in three trailers, (one is refrigerated for chilling food and drinks,) which again has improved the service to customers and also streamlined the efficiency of catering for large numbers.
One of Isabel’s most recent ventures is catering for shoots. Because the shooting season runs from October to February, this extends her term of catering through the winter months - at a time when there are fewer weddings and marquee celebrations. This latest enterprise is finding favour with Nigel as recently he has had the opportunity to buy the woodland and shooting rights at Home Farm. When they first bought the farm in 1983 this was not an option.
“We are in the very early days of shooting here,” explained Nigel. “So we are still working at linking up to Isabel’s catering and looking to fit in with her regular shooting venues.”
Nigel is finding that a lot of clients from the corporate days are wanting accommodation as well as shooting facilities. This is not available at the moment but is something that the couple may look at in the future.
Nigel pointed out: “There are buildings out there that we could convert, but it can’t be done all at once. We would like to look at the redundant farm building grants and see what opportunities and help is available. “With farming being the way it is, you’ve got to look at all your assets and make the most of every possibility.”
A regular income for Izzies comes from organising the daily catering for a large German company that has their Headquarters in Ross on Wye. This has led to catering for their business meetings and any other functions that are held at the offices. Isabel’s plans include holding small special occasion parties at Home Farm and also catering for dinner parties in people’s own homes.
The role of farming wives has had to change. Isabel concluded: “The way farming is now we all have to pull our weight. We have risen to the challenge of supporting our husbands and have often led the way in looking at new ways of bringing income onto the farm. Our income is vital to the business – never before has our contribution been so crucial.”
To Contact Izzie
tel: 01600 890 506