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Coho Q&A: How Hard is it to be a Chef and Parent?

Being a business owner can often feel like being a parent - both roles exist outside the standard 9-to-5 and both roles aren't truly 'jobs' per se.

In an industry notorious for its lack of work/life balance, this can be especially difficult. With the back-to-school season around the corner, we asked our members how they balance parenthood and entrepreneurship.

Owner of Joconde Pastries posing in front of a white background

At our commissary kitchen on Powell Street, Behnaz Shafiee is busy growing her award-winning bakery, Joconde Pastries. After studying Law and Criminology, Behnaz immigrated to Vancouver and took a leap of faith by enrolling in both culinary and pastry school. She paved her path from employee to business owner by working in some of Vancouver’s best restaurants and for various pastry chefs in Dubai, New York and San Francisco.

When you meet Behnaz, you can attribute her business success to her strong personality, but at the end of the day, her cakes and pastries are fundamentally delicious and staggeringly beautiful. However, raising a child and building a pastry empire is no easy task for anyone.

Coho: Can you pass on any practical tips from juggling a business and parenthood?

Behnaz: You cannot take days off from your kids. As a matter of fact, your days off are even more work when you have young kids! So you have to learn to set boundaries and say NO to work as much as it is responsibly possible.

Coho: Do you use any organizational tools or support to help manage your time?

Behnaz: "Ask for help. With kids, that’s hiring reliable babysitters, or being open to switching work times when it is needed. Sometimes I have to pick up my son early from daycare because he’s sick and sent home, so I have to come back after he falls asleep to finish my work. I use a delivery service to deliver products if it is not absolutely necessary for me to go, and I also use a nanny service at home!

Coho: What advice would you give to yourself when you first started?

Behnaz: “My biggest piece of advice relates to home life. If you have a partner that is understanding and can take on child care responsibilities as seriously as you do this will help manage a small, and mostly self-run, business easier.”

moving feeding mama branding and graphic

Down the street at our commissary kitchen in Strathcona, Mona Stillwell is placing the final touches on a custom meal for her meal prep company, Feeding Mama.

After giving birth to twins, Mona’s mother brought the Chinese tradition of postpartum care, 坐月子 (pronounced Zuò Yuè Zi) to her in the form of nourishing meals created by a private Taiwanese chef.

Throughout her first 30 days after giving birth, these meals were used to nourish her body at a time when it was at its most vulnerable. These meals were not only healing the nutritional deficit and restoring equilibrium, but also allowing her to focus on her newborns.

It was during this time, she began her year and a half long journey to build what Feeding Mama is today. Her recipes are designed to help birthing parents recover from pregnancy, childbirth and the early postpartum phase. And her meal kit services are a means to reinvent the nourishment she was given at her most vulnerable, but with ingredients that weren't accessible in ancient China.

Coho: Can you pass on any practical tips from juggling a business and parenthood?

Mona: The secret is getting help. Sure, we can do it all ourselves and then have a nervous breakdown. Ask your community for help. Don't let the guilt prevent you from accepting help even when it's from the other parent.

Coho: Do you use any services or technology to help manage this?

Mona: My partner and I use a shared shopping list (Notes on iOS) which saves a lot of time communicating about what needs to be picked up. Business wise, I use a combination of Google Docs (document storage), Trello (shopping lists, delivery lists) and Notes (templates, procedures).

Coho: Any words of wisdom, you wish you knew before you started?

Talk to other business owners in the same space. Most are happy to share what worked and what didn't work for them. Learn from their mistakes.

Owners and founders of LovinLunch

Liliya and Olga met in 2010 while playing the online game Mafia, and since then the two have been great friends. In 2013 when the future business partners both became mothers, online games turned into a kaleidoscope of responsibilities: daycare, primary school, full-time jobs, lunch, and every other daily demand many families face.

They knew there was more to life and desperately needed to stop the proverbial hamster wheel to enjoy this precious time with their families. Similar to so many parents today, they did not have a village to help them raise their families and looked for services to delegate simple tasks, but to no avail. They both saw this as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of every parent, and Lovinlunch was born.

Lovinlunch aims to help tackle kids’ meals whether it's daily school lunch packing ordeal, dinner or a weekend meal.

Coho: Are there any practical or actionable tips that you've learned from juggling both?

Try to spend quality time on both and always leave time for yourself.

Coho: Do you use any tools, tech, or services to help manage your time?

Household appliances like a dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer. Also online grocery shopping and meal delivery are all great. Grandmothers are super handy if they are available, and of course, Lovinlunch meal kit delivery service to take kids' nutrition while at school (or anytime) off your worry list.

Coho: What advice would you give to yourself, before starting a business?

Try to do your best and improve as you go. Lean on your community and don't forget humour.

Graphic explaining a LovinLunch meal detailing grilled cheese, treat, fruits, veggies and a note

To read more about our growing membership of food entrepreneurs starting and scaling in commissary kitchens, check out our articles below!


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