Romu and Liz Oudeyer have a private catering business based in Melbourne, with a simple but important goal to create food that celebrates organic produce, and helps people to create lasting memories with their loved ones as they share a meal together. Their specialty was special occasions, until COVID-19 where they had to pivot to try and cater to every-day home delivery. So how does a potato & Jerusalem artichoke mille-feuille with anchovy and black garlic cream travel in a takeaway container? We briefly touched base with Romu in May, to see how things were going for their business.
Going out on your own after working as a chef in restaurants around the world, this isn't your first 'pivot'. What made you shift from working in a restaurant to starting your own food business?
Like William Wallace said, FREEDOM. Basically, I wanted to be able to create my own cuisine and explore my creativity rather than pumping out someone else's menu. I can change my menu as often as I like so I am constantly trying new dishes, cooking techniques and evolving. I love it.
What did your weekly schedule usually look like pre-COVID?
I normally have my weekend on Sunday & Monday, and hang with my baby girl, Hazel, on Monday while Liz goes to work.
And what does it look like now? I am minding our daughter Hazel Monday to Friday, then work on our take-home meals over the weekend, which means I start prep from 4 pm on Friday, then all day Sat (7 am-8 pm) and am out delivering the meals across Melbourne on Sunday!
Has your pivot to home-delivered meals changed and/or expanded your customer base? To what extent?
It has been more exposed to the local community thanks to a kind lady from the council who posted one of my menu's in a local inner west community group. It's been great connecting with more local people to my house and kitchen who hadn't heard of my service before.
How has COVID-19 changed your relationships with your suppliers? Have you had to work harder to support one another?
I think we have worked harder at selling meals to order my suppliers produce. Each menu I have also tagged and mentioned each supplier to try to help them get some more exposure. I've also become a hub for my veggie supplier to sell their products, and any sales can be picked up from my house in the west. We're doing our bit to work together as best we can.
What has been the biggest challenge in communicating your pivoted business model? What has the response been like from your audience and customer-base?
Take away meals is a completely different beast so there have been a lot of errors! It has been hard for me to find the right menu and portions - I've found it to be a difficult adjustment to put fine dining in a box, so I have had to simplify and change my normal style a little. The community and our audience have been very kind and understanding with the errors I made which was really great.
Upon reflection, how has it been working with your spouse during COVID-19? Have you found there are more added stresses or more benefits to living and working together during a pandemic? After losing all of my jobs, Liz went up to 5 days per week with her construction job (normally was 3 days) so that added a bit of pressure on both of us. It was really nice to be together during the day, even though Liz was working full time we could still enjoy lunch together and go for a walk in the afternoons.
How do you think your business model will change when things return to (some form of) normal?
I think my business will go back to as it was, I am hoping everyone is keen to throw a dinner party when we are allowed to again!
Have you learnt anything that you'll be taking with you into your future business model once you return to private catering?
That I'd like to avoid take away meals where possible! It's not been overly enjoyable for me, just a way to get by. I am lucky I had another option.
What's been your go-to comfort food/drink during this crisis?
Red wine and take away pizza from my local favourite Harley & Rose.
Check out Romu Catering here, and follow them on Instagram at @romu_melbourne