Nadine Hughes

Owner, Dinner At Home Meals

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Lianna Harrington

Who is Nadine Hughes, could you please introduce yourself?

My name is Nadine Hughes and I am a mom, wife, entrepreneur, business owner, friend, daughter, sister, goofball and foodie – not always in that order! I have lived in Oakville for the past 25 years (with a 6 year stint in Australia) with my husband and 2 sons aged 16 and 20 and Bernese Mountain dog, Koda. I have worked in small businesses, large global companies and have owned my own business for the last 10+ years.

What is your business and when did you start?

I own and operate Dinner At Home Meals which is located in Oakville.  Our primary business is made from scratch meals that are designed to go from the freezer to the oven or stove top without thawing.  Our menu is available for pick up from our 2000 sqft Oakville production facility and we also deliver next business day to over 90 cities/towns in Ontario. I started Dinner At Home Meals over 10 years ago from my home kitchen although the business has evolved and changed over the years to its current model.

What inspired you to start your business?

After living in Australia for 6 years and having my first child there, my husband and I moved back to Oakville.  We had sold our business in Australia and I had just had my second child back in Canada.  Not wanting to go back to a corporate role with a baby and toddler, the idea of starting a business that focused on my love for cooking and entertaining was percolating.  I wrote a business plan, contacted a friend who owned a local restaurant on Kerr St and asked him if I could use his restaurant on Sunday and Monday when he was closed to hold cooking classes.  I started this way and although I always filled the classes I quickly realized I could only grow so much with a limited number of guests for 2 days a week.  My cooking class clients constantly joked that they wished I could cook for them every night.  Although I knew that wasn’t physically possible, I did realize I could cook meals in small batches that they could then reheat at home.  I started Dinner At Home Meals in my home kitchen offering a few menu items in bulk.  After one year I took the leap of faith (and my family was tired of coming home to the smell of pulled pork and butter chicken everyday) and rented the commercial building I am still in today 10 years on. Throughout those 10 years I expanded the business to include private and corporate catering which was very successful.  At the beginning of lockdowns and the pandemic I made the difficult decision to close the catering side of our business and focus solely on our prepared meals revenue model with expanded home delivery as the market demand was high and continues to be 18 months on. I also own and operate a seasonal cafe in cottage country for the past 6 years (www.thrivefoodscafe.ca) but that’s another story for another time!  All because a friend of mine wanted a good cup of coffee and a place to shop in Honey Harbour 🙂

What were the challenges in the initial stages of your business and how did you overcome them?

Getting the word out about my business with zero marketing dollars.  I had to come up with ways to market my business that did not cost any money but would reach my target market – which at that time was primarily moms.  This was 10+ years ago and social media was not as prominent as it is today.  I  contacted every mother’s group and online parenting resource in my area and offered content for exposure.  I wrote blogs, articles, recipes, tips etc in exchange for free promotion.  I backed those up with free personal appearances at mothers’ groups to talk everything and anything to do with food, family, cooking etc.  It took a lot of my time during the early days but it was an investment that paid off with new clients and major word of mouth advertising from those moms – some of whom are still my clients today.

What motivates you about your business?

Seeing something I started in my home kitchen grow to be a successful business that I still own and operate.  Periodically I take the time to reflect where the business started and where it is today and where it is headed tomorrow.  That’s a thrill for me!

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Understand the finances of your business.  It’s so important to understand and track the true costs of your business (including your own time costs if you are not paying yourself a salary).  Once you understand what it costs to produce your item or execute your service then it’s much easier to assign a value to it.  Having confidence in what you charge for your product or service (knowing your worth) is important for business growth and gives you the confidence to sell more effectively.

Interesting fact most of the people do not know about you?

I’m actually quite to shy to meet new people.  My personality can be considered larger than life but it’s a coping mechanism to combat my shyness.

The best business advice I ever received was…

There is no such thing as failure.  Everything we do has a lesson in it somewhere to help you get better and to grow.  So don’t view yourself as failing, view it as a lesson on how to get better/stronger.

My definition of success is…

My family is healthy and happy. My kids in their 20’s still think it’s cool to hang out with mom and dad. I can sleep at night knowing I’m a good person and doing my best.

If I could go back in time when I started my business, I would tell myself…

Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Stop obsessing over tiny details that in the end does not move your business forward.

Three books I recommend for entrepreneurs are…

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Becoming by Michelle Obama

My personal tagline is…

“It’s all good…we’ll figure it out.” (It’s taken me a long time to get to the state of mind that I don’t stress about mistakes or situations that might not be ideal.  Take a deep breath, take a moment to think and then act.)

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