I was asked to write an article about what it meant to be a business owner in the Inner West and in the food industry. OK, sure. But what angle do I take? Harsh with brutal reality, warts and all? Or do I gild the lily and focus only on the positive? I might start by breaking it down into separate parts…
Being a business owner
A small business owner is someone who works 60 hours a week in order to only work 20 hours some day.
This saying pretty much sums up the lifestyle of most small business owners. Thankfully it is not always the case but I dare say that most self-employed people who sell you flowers, petrol, clothes and food, clean your house or fix your pipes would agree that it requires a lot of effort to get through a simple day.
Unless you employ just one person – and that person is yourself – you are always going to be dealing with unforeseen problems and expenses. Most likely, even if you are not your sole employee, you will have to learn a multitude of skills in order to be able to do your own marketing, book keeping, plumbing and general handyman work, not to mention brokering deals and controlling neverending crises!
In fact, this very article was sent to Ciao a day late because I had to completely re-write it after making a reference to a business deal that was perfectly fine a couple of weeks ago, then came close to disaster yesterday and is back to life today! It’s not that these little challenges are necessarily bad for business, often they actually turn out well, but they can be incredibly stressful and all-consuming.
Living (and eating) in the Inner West
Inner Westies rock!
There I said it, stated my claim and I’m backing it! When I first got to Australia I lived in Paddington and over the years I have slowly moved further west until finally landing in Marrickville. Why, you ask? Because it is so beautifully diverse here, the food is fantastic, restaurants are un-fussy, excellent and usually awesome value.
I love the fact that the coffee is starting to get pretty serious too. Cafés have gone up a notch with places like Double Roasters and the Cornersmith going strong. I love that my neighbourhood is full of just about every accent other than true blue Aussie – nothing against Australian-born people, I’m married to one and my sons are one of you lot too, but there is something rich and beautiful about the cultural diversity that I get to experience in the Inner West.
Furthermore, I enjoy the fact that there is but a scant handful of hipsters when I walk down Marrickville Road and that I am not confronted by shirtless bronze-bodied beautiful actors like I would be in Bondi. And the backpackers I encounter are also slightly more sober than those you would normally find in Coogee. I love the fact that the Inner West enjoys more than one Easter!
I also love the fact that my Greek neighbours cook a killer lamb on a spit, my Vietnamese neighbours have an awesome garden full of flavour and spice and my English neighbours are so very, very quiet. All in all, it’s a top place to reside and bring up kids but please don’t tell too many people – we don’t want it to become unnecessarily gentrified now, do we?
The food industry
Working in the food industry is HARD!
I am a chef by trade. It is my career and I know more about it than I do anything else. I have worked in a multitude of kitchens all over the world for the last 27 years. I have published three books, received many awards and accolades, and have even done the TV thing on and off for years. I have also consulted for industry on numerous occasions, worked with farmers, primary producers, scientists, non-government organisations and governments, and the one thing I know to be an absolute truth is that making a career in food is really hard.
Actually, the only thing that is harder than making a career for yourself in the food industry is if you want to be a chef and own your own restaurant. The chances of making a decent living are extremely low, you will spend all of your time working when others are not, and when others are working you will be trying to catch up on odd jobs and patch together some form of home life or social life… and that is only if you can be bothered getting off the sofa given how exhausted you will be.
No one will really understand the pressures you face, nor will they appreciate the fact that you swear like a Tourettes sufferer and find conversations not about food a complete waste of time. In fact, when you strip it all down and have a look at it, it is a job for mad people with no obvious desire to ever embrace normality!
Being a business owner, living in the Inner West and being in the food industry.
Worth every moment.
So now I look at the whole, considering the question of what it means to be a Inner West food business owner and I realise that I am so very fortunate to live where I live, so very proud to run my own business and so very blessed to be able to pursue my greatest passion – cooking!
I don’t regret any of the difficulty my decisions may have caused because I now know what it means to be able to stand by what I believe in and make my own way in the world.
My life in the Inner West is enriched by a diversity of culture, diet and thinking. I don’t regret one minute of living here or my 27 years of feeding people.
Words: Jared Ingersoll, Marrickville resident and the former owner and head chef of Danks Street Depot.