Nala’s Kitchen Executive Chef and Co-Owner Rebeca Tuinei “Chef Beca” is ambitious, creative, and amenable to change. In 2017, she spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about launching her business and some of her future goals (read: West Hartford Entrepreneur Launches Food Delivery Startup).
A lot has changed since then. Most notably, Beca brought in Partner Vanessa Sena to help run the business in late 2019. Nan checked in learn more and find out how the business has grown and weathered the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAN PRICE: How your business evolved since we last met?
BECA TUINEI: It’s evolved in many ways. One of the big, important pieces that has created growth is Vanessa. When she joined Nala’s Kitchen, we talked about our goals and we thought it would be smart to change the model. We decided to allocate more money into a bigger kitchen where we didn’t have to spend on front of the house staff or pay extra footage for a storefront. It made better sense to do just delivery and have a bigger kitchen where we can grow.
NAN: Chef Beca, why did you decide to bring Vanessa into the business?
BECA: I was being pulled too many directions with the business and my daughters and I knew I couldn’t do it all. I wasn’t sleeping and I wasn’t allocating my time correctly. I wasn’t being as creative as I know I can be.
Several people wanted to create partnerships and I was getting a lot of unsolicited advice about what I should do—which just made me feel more overwhelmed. Vanessa and I have been friends for 20 years. I remember venting to her, telling her I was so stressed out. She would always provide some guidance, but in the back of my mind, I thought: She really needs to help me!
Vanessa is really great at maintaining the integrity of Nala’s Kitchen. And, since she’s come on board, she’s helped the business thrive. Even during the pandemic we’re continuing to grow.
VANESSA: Our strategy is to continue to create delicious food. We want to keep Chef Beca in the kitchen cooking her recipes and making her meals. My part is to ensure our clients are getting the easiest, most convenient way to order and get their food delivered.
NAN: Vanessa, how does your experience help Nala’s Kitchen?
VANESSA: I had my own successful startup, which I ran for 10 years, so I understand what it’s like trying to do everything on your own. I saw that Chef Beca was in a position where she couldn’t do it all. And I got it.
When I joined Nala’s Kitchen, although our long-term plan was obviously to grow, the first thing we thought of was to scale back and figure out where we wanted to focus. We reallocated our funds, so instead of spending on a bigger storefront, we put money into redoing the website and building more of a brand. We decided Beca isn’t going to just be “Beca” anymore. She’s “Chef Beca.” She’s an executive chef with tons of years. She’s a brand in and of herself.
BECA: I loved that Vanessa observed the operation for a while before making those recommendations. It was a little frustrating at first, but then it all made sense and I’m thankful we made those changes.
NAN: How do you manage your relationship as longtime friends and business partners?
VANESSA: I was fortunate enough in my last business to come across a leadership coach who helped my managers and me all get in sync. Around April, Beca and I were at the point where we were butting heads and having communication issues. I brought up my leadership coach and I asked if we could start meeting with her once a week. She’s helped us tremendously because Beca and I work and communicate completely different with each other. If it weren’t for our leadership coach, we would probably be a lot more stubborn and resentful toward each other.
BECA: You said it perfectly.
NAN: As a small business, you’re continuing to thrive and grow—even amidst the pandemic.
VANESSA: We actually implemented those changes in January. So, when COVID-19 hit it really helped us because, if we had kept the original model and put money into a storefront instead of rebuilding the website, we probably would have been done.
With strategy, it’s all about figuring out what can we accomplish with the resources we have and what we can do with limited funds. When COVID-19 hit, we applied for the Paycheck Protection Program. We were able to get a small grant and a small loan. That helped us get into a bigger kitchen.
Everything happened just in time. We were at the point where we were trying to figure out our next steps. When we got the grant, it was go time. Then we put more money into some digital advertising. The extra funding helped plus we were growing already. We just reinvested our funds.
Now we’re at a point where we’re operating and delivering to more than just Hartford County. We’re in New Haven County, Middlesex, and New London. And, in the next couple of months, you’ll see the new direction of Nala’s Kitchen.