HK HUB Spotlight: Interview with Chef Shima Shimizu, Founder, Sesame Kitchen
We continue our series of profiles on entrepreneurs who’ve swapped a corporate role for the highs and lows of running their own business, and this week we speak to the very talented chef Shima Shimizu, founder of SesameKitchen.
Please tell us a little more about Sesame Kitchen
SS: We are a diet solution provider and cater to people who use food to live a healthy life, either through choosing to eat clean, or by following a specific diet, for example paleo, vegan, raw, gluten-free, GAPS etc. Our food is also ideal for those who are struggling with allergies.
Our specialty is to create food with limited ingredients but yet that still tastes as good as the ‘real’ thing. In addition, we also provide private labelling services and classes including corporate cooking classes.
What is your background? What industry did you work in and what was the catalyst to striking out alone?
SS: I have worked in customer service roles in a wide range of industries including logistics, airlines, telecoms and relocation. I used my language skills to connect English and Japanese speakers, both internally and externally in different companies, but the catalyst to starting Sesame Kitchen was the financial crises in 2008. There was no business happening in the company I was working for at that time and I was bored!
It was at this point that I started searching for what I really wanted to do and found it was in the area of health and nutrition.
I wasn’t really ready for the career change, but I decided I should go learn more about food and decided to ask for a two month no-pay leave. When I finally managed to ask for that leave in early 2009, I got an even longer leave – I was made redundant with a package! I had no choice but to grab that opportunity and flew straight to San Francisco to study about raw food. I must say chances often come in disguise.
What have been your biggest challenges?
SS: Challenges happen every day, but my biggest challenge is people. Even more, managing people’s expectations. People have very different concepts and understanding. Having a Japanese background, there is this thing of not being direct which is described as ‘beauty of silence’ and I was not used to talking about money or conditions. It took me a while to over come this, but its very important to talk about these issues, because if you don’t, they just grow and grow.
What do you love most about your job?
SS: Creating new recipes and designing new products as well as teaching classes and sharing my learning with people. Food is not just nutrients, it’s a tool to connect people and make life richer!
What do you miss, if anything, from your corporate role?
SS: That fact that everything was taken care of and I just had to do my job and got paid at the end of each month!
Now I have so many hats to wear including operations manager, sales director, accountant, IT manager, PR, marketing… Juggling all of that is certainly a challenge and a very steep learning curve.
Where do you see your business in five years time?
SS: We are working on a new concept that can support more and more people with dietary restrictions. I want to reach out to people who are in different stages in their journey. We will be a larger team that will be providing a wider range of services to individuals and corporates.
How do you retain a work/life balance?
Thanks to our wonderful helper! Without her there is NO way I can do this. At the moment, I must say my life is very work centred but I try to spend as much time as possible with my daughter by taking her to school in the morning and putting her to bed at night. One amazing tool is smart-phones with video call functions. I talk to my daughter on LINE everyday and that keeps me connected. But I do wish to spend more time at home eventually.
What are your go-to time saving resources?
SS: I’ve recently hired an amazing accountant that has all the solutions I need. She helps me with things that you would never think an accountant would deal with.
I’m happy to share her contact to whoever is ready to set up a business. A good accountant is what makes a huge difference to run a successful business.
What advice would you give other women who are considering striking out on their own?
SS: Passion. Passion. Passion.
It’s all about what your business means to you, but it’s also very important to be clear why you are doing this. It can be for a mission or for money or both, but you’ll need the drive to keep you going.