In Conversation: Kep Whitley
We had the lovely opportunity to speak to Elesha (Kep) Whitley, a bubbly pastry chef passionate about food and the joy it can bring to the people around her. Kep became a partner of Bring Me Home recently, and we sat down to chat to get to know more about her and her business! Have a read about her story, her process in making artisan chocolates and why she partnered with Bring Me Home.
How did you come to start up your business?
“I wanted to see if I could hack it in the kitchen.”
6 years ago, Kep was working with wholesale businesses and in the office. Hating the experience and miserable, she decided one day to pursue her passion for food instead. Leaving the corporate world, she took up a variety of internships overseas with other pastry and chocolate institutions.
When a pop-up space opportunity in Docklands opened up, she took the leap. Since founding her business, she has made a variety of artisan chocolates and ice creams and shared her passion with many Melbournians!
What were some challenges you faced when you started out?
“Making food is the easy bit!”
Starting her own business was not without its challenges, Kep mentioned. Marketing and self-promotion is difficult, especially when the “fine chocolate industry in Australia is quite small compared to other countries”. Fortunately, that it is changing!
Speaking about working for other companies in the past, she commented on how it was always easier to “to shout from the rooftops” for other people. But, “when you’re a creative and when it’s your own heart and soul on this tiny little plate, it’s so much harder!”
Despite these challenges, Kep was extremely positive, being well supported by her customers, friends and family. She mentioned becoming more comfortable about telling other people what she does, and developing strategies to build a community with people who loved food. We wish you all the best, Kep!
What inspires your craft?
“Inspiration can come from anywhere. I’m made fun of by my husband for having a handbag of scraps of paper or serviettes where I scribble down ideas for flavours!”
When asked about her sources of inspiration, Kep was extremely enthusiastic to explain their source:“Once, my sister’s rosemary bush was ‘overflowing’ and she asked me to take some.” Little opportunities like that resulted in recipes for yummy Dark Chocolate and Rosemary ice cream!
Besides that, she has hosted competitions in summer for customers to submit suggestions for flavours of soft serve ice cream. In return, customers received a free soft serve ice cream for it. One particularly fun flavour had been the salted caramel soft-serve, topped with ginger beer caramel and salted sweet potato chips.
People had either one of two reactions: “Ugh… what’s potato chips doing on ice cream?” or “Whaaat?! Chips on ice cream! Yeah!!!” according to Kep, laughing about how she herself was easily tempted to snacking on the chips in the kitchen.
Ultimately, being able to experiment and try out ideas was what she was most excited about with her own business.
Why did you decide to partner with Bring Me Home?
“I’d been giving ice cream away to my favourite customers, friends, family, and neighbours for the last year and a half. Everyone’s said ENOUGH!”
Kep explained the origins of the ice cream she offers on the app. At the end of the soft-serve making process, her machine’s chamber would contain product that was still good to eat but couldn’t be sold at full price. That chamber would be emptied into a bucket and frozen into ice cream.
“I was still incurring the food cost, so I couldn’t bear to throw it out.” She said, citing that she’d been eating it or giving it away to people but that the amount had been overwhelming. Now, in partnering with Bring Me Home, she’s still giving it away and covering the material cost for it.
Besides ice cream, Kep also offers chocolate seconds that can’t be reused in her craft. The product was not presentable enough to sell for full price, but fine to eat and thus a shame to throw away.
“At least with Bring Me Home I can now connect with customers who might not have bought my product at full price, such as students!” Mentioned Kep, bringing up the variety of new and regular customers she’s met and shared her product with. Her small pop-up in Docklands has since been visited by several Bring Me Home users new to her business.
Kep’s 3 pieces of advice:
(1) Research, research, research: When writing up your business plan you have to do a lot of research. Look it up online, reach out to like-minded people.
(2) Take calculated risks: Kep mentioned that her decision to start her business was a calculated one. Making small, progressive investments in assets such as equipment was important.
(3) Don’t take your highest too high, don’t take your lowest too low: Kep mentioned that being level-headed in business was critical. When it was good, she said she had felt like she could open 7 more new stores! But when she received her first bad google review: “I cried! I went ‘That’s it! I’m going to close the whole thing, I don’t deserve to be in business!’ ”
In closing, it was a pleasure speaking to Kep and learning more about her business, her creative spirit and how food waste could manifest in small businesses. We were extremely honoured to have been able to share how our partners are actively looking for ways to reduce food waste and be more sustainable!
For more on Kep’s artisan chocolates and ice creams, visit her website here.
Be sure to download the Bring Me Home app here to rescue Kep’s chocolates and ice creams!