Bramley’s Caroline Nardone has overcome personal eyesight health challenges to set up her own thriving food business: The Kitchen at Haley’s Yard, writes Josie Armitage.
Caroline officially opened The Kitchen on 1st June 2018, based at her home on the beautiful and historic Haley’s Yard in Bramley.
This was an unplanned change of direction for the chef following serious personal eyesight health challenges.
How did you overcome your eyesight challenges and come up with the idea for your business?
Caroline moved to Leeds from Liversedge to study almost 20 years ago. She had suffered from detached retinas since her 20s and undergone many operations and treatments.
Her professional life was going well and she had built a 10-year career as a HR Business Partner for Lloyds Bank “a truly tremendous employer”.
In 2007, Caroline again suffered from a detached retina firstly in her right eye and then in her left ‘seeing’ eye. Over a three-year period, she had 20 procedures and 10 major eye operations to try to save her eyesight.
In 2015, she began to lose her eyesight and was registered as partially sighted for a couple of years. This was a scary time for Caroline.
During this time, Caroline took some time off work to recover and reflect on what she should do going forward. She was able to take advantage of a redundancy opportunity and left Lloyd’s Bank.
With her redundancy money she had the advantage of being able to think about what she enjoyed doing and wanted to do something worthwhile. Caroline said:
“I have always enjoyed cooking and baking and found this both relaxing and therapeutic when I was struggling with my eyesight issues.”
In 2017, Caroline went to Dorset to do a fast-track course to re-train as a chef at the prestigious White Pepper Chef Academy where she also later did a Master Class in Patisserie under a fantastic Michelin star tutor, Mark Treasure. She qualified as a chef and returned home to Haley’s Yard.
In March 2018, a small miracle happened for Caroline. After her 10th eye surgery, she was finally able to get some glasses! She says:
“This was the best day ever! I went to the White Rose Centre with my mum and dad and picked up my glasses. I walked around the centre reading all the signs out loud just because I could read them.”
How did you start the business?
Caroline was at a decision point in her life. She could go out more as she could see and was growing in confidence. She thought about what she could do to fit with her changed lifestyle.
Could she do anything from home? She was unable to be employed as she didn’t know what was going to happen with her health.
She decided to trial her cookery skills with Take Home healthy gourmet takeaways. Caroline says:
“I wanted to provide chef prepared dishes which people could eat in the comfort of their homes.
“Customers would know the ingredients that had been used to prepare their meals. I wanted to help people who found it difficult to go out for a variety of reasons or those who wanted a takeaway but couldn’t afford to go out.”
Caroline carried out a lot of research with questionnaires to find out what potential customers might want and carried out an Indian Take Home trial.
She asked for 20 volunteers via Facebook who could choose dishes from a set menu for free in return for feedback on the food, what price they would be willing to pay, the packaging and which Take Home cuisines they would buy in future.
The trial was successful and many of the volunteers are now regular customers.
Caroline registered with the Environmental Health and using her redundancy money, transformed her domestic kitchen into a working kitchen. She says:
“The Kitchen was born on 1st June 2018 and has grown from strength to strength over the past 18 months. I have taken each stage at a time and evolved the business based on what my customers want and the local market.”
What are the main areas of your business?
Caroline started off doing regular Weekend Take Homes with set menus for customers to choose meals from different cuisines such as Thai, Oriental, Indian and pie with guest Take Homes such as Jamaican and American.
She enjoys cooking different cuisines and makes sure that when she goes on holiday, she does a local lesson. Her last holiday was in Singapore and on her return she provided a Singaporian guest Weekend Take Home.
She also caters for hot or cold buffets up to 100 people, dinner parties at home and business lunches. The most popular are hot buffets for parties at home for 20-40 people. Caroline says:
“In consultation with the customer, I find out what they want including dietary requirements, what their budget is and work with them to develop a menu.
“I usually go along to the party, set everything up, warm the food up and make sure everything is ready. I fill up the plates while guests are eating and then leave them to enjoy the party.”
A staple of The Kitchen are Caroline’s freezer meals. She says:
“These are delicious and nutritious diet plan freezer meals using only the best fresh fruit and vegetables from Sutcliffe’s of Farsley, finest meats from Bentley’s of Pudsey and milk, eggs and cream from Aiden, the local milkman. It’s important to me to use local quality produce.
“I work closely with all three of these local businesses who all deliver which I am grateful for as I am unable to drive. We all promote each other’s businesses and recommend each other to new customers.”
Caroline produces freezer meals to cover a variety of diets, intolerances and customer requirements. These include:
Keto Kitchen – low to zero carb, high protein and fat, gluten free – suitable for those following a ketogenic lifestyle and for diabetics.
Slimmer’s Kitchen – low calorie and low fat, cooked with fry light, all visible fat removed, packed with veggies, counted as ‘zero naughtiness’ on the UK’s most popular diet plan
Vegan Kitchen – as above with zero animal products, perfect for those taking on the Veganuary Challenge.
Caroline herself follows a ketogenic lifestyle. She says:
“I personally eat the Keto Kitchen meals! My favourite is the cauliflower, pepperoni and jalapeno pizza casserole. Along with regular exercise, these keep my mind and body feeling tip top!”
The Keto Kitchen is the most popular. Caroline works with her customers to make meals that meet their dietary requirements and will advise and make meals specifically for customers with different needs. She says:
“I love helping people to be able to eat home cooked meals that work around their intolerances and advise them as to what alternatives they can eat. Customers are appreciative of the advice and the meals that I specifically prepare for them.”
What are the highs and lows of running your own business?
“I can honestly say that I have never worked as hard at a job in my entire life as I do in this one.
“It is definitely worth it as it is my business and I am my own boss. I love being responsible for everything – cooking food, marketing and social media, designing menus, researching and buying in season produce and of course helping my lovely customers. I believe in using leftovers and minimising waste as I believe that this is important. I am especially proud of my 5* Hygiene rating.
“I love seeing everything come to fruition, everything is cooked and ready for delivery or pick up. I am proud when customers put positive comments and reviews on my Facebook page.”
A benefit to Caroline is being able to work from home. She added:
“I love being able to work from my home in Haley’s Yard. This is a great place to live and most of my neighbours are customers and some of them help me to deliver meals.”
Caroline is unable to drive any more due to her eyesight issues but has a network of neighbours, family and friends who help her deliver meals to customers who need this.
Who are your main customers?
Regular customers for my frozen meals are people who find it hard to get out for a variety of health reasons, those following specific dietary plans and lifestyles and those who are too busy to cook healthy and nutritious meals.
My Weekend Take Homes are popular with people who want to enjoy a healthy takeaway where they are confident of the ingredients and know what has been used to prepare it. Caroline says:
“These meals are popular with couples who have children at home, as they can put the kids to bed and still enjoy a special restaurant quality meal.”
When Caroline has time she likes to help charities. This includes donating cakes or gift vouchers. On occasion, she has donated cooked food to Helping Hands and Homeless Street Angels.
As a Take Home, she cooked 44 Christmas dinners for paid customers. She was able to provide 3 x 4 course Christmas dinners which were surplus requirements to a local family who were struggling to provide a Christmas dinner.
What’s next for you and The Kitchen?
“My main focus for January and February is my healthy frozen meals as customers are on diets or trying to eat healthily. Customers can order these from my menus by contacting The Kitchen at Haley’s Yard Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hayleysyardkitchen/“
I can recommend the Lamb Dhansak from the Slimmer’s Kitchen and the Hungarian Beef Goulash from the Keto Kitchen. Caroline kindly gave me these to try and these are delicious. Knowing they are healthy will encourage me to order and try further meals.
Caroline will be providing one Weekend Take Home each month after that with the next one being Chef’s Bistro for Valentine’s Day.
The Take Homes will then start back up from the first week in March with Caroline’s most popular, Indian. Caroline has buffet, dinner party and business lunch bookings already throughout the year. Contact the Facebook page for more information.