Food entrepreneur Simmone Logue had been running her business for 30 years, but her team thought she was exaggerating the “catastrophe” Covid would bring when she brought them together at the start of the pandemic in a “war room”.
But his intuition was correct. Qantas was a major customer, with its food served in business class, yet it lost $350,000 a week overnight when air travel ground to a halt.
The 58-year-old landed in Sydney after a holiday in Thailand as the virus began to spread across the world.
He went straight to his office from the airport, assembled his team, knowing it was “really big and bad” for business.
“I took a blackboard out of it and it was like a war room. I challenged my team to find a way to reduce overhead and turn around the business,” he told news.com.au.
“There was a huge positive transatlantic and quite often silver linings come with catastrophic situations if you have the right attitude.”
The changes included shutting down the catering arm of the business overnight, pulling out of retail, and focusing instead on groceries.
“We knew that people would stay home and restaurants and cafes would be closed, so my guts were right and we were definitely ahead of the curve,” added Ms Logue.
How it all began
Ms. Logue describes herself as a “crazy enthusiast,” but her first passion was actually ballet.
She left school at 16 to train to become a professional ballet dancer in Sydney, but soon realized she would never be a star.
Inspired by her grandmother’s “fantastic cooking,” she began dabbling in cooking, and her big break came 30 years ago when she sold a $20 honey walnut bun at a local cafe.
From there, things just “took off” with his supply of coffees in his local area until one day the door handle fell off the oven at his house.
From 500 sales a day to 35,000
He knew it was time to move house and set up a café in Balmain, originally a wholesaler.
But he said people were knocking on his door to buy his baked goods.
“This was back in the day when you couldn’t go to a Woolies or a servo and get dinner at home, so I thought, what am I doing just baking cakes? These people need more,” she explained.
“So I started making salads, cakes and casseroles and called it home therapy for people who are super busy professionals who wanted to feel nourished. Or for those who wanted home-cooked food for friends and family who didn’t have time.
“This whole home-dinner revolution escalated from that point on. I see myself as probably one of the original purveyors of comfort food.”
This move saw the store business at Balmain grow from a team of five employees and averaging sales of 500 cakes per week to now having 100 employees and an average of 35,000 cakes and quiches sold per day.
‘Bulldog at the door’
Ms. Logue doesn’t mince words either, describing herself as the “bulldog at the door” when it comes to protecting her brand.
“No matter what pressures there are, whether it’s inflation or butter soaring, I won’t compromise on quality. My team said, ‘Simmon consider margarine,’ and I said we might as well close the factory,” he revealed.
“I always want to differentiate myself and the brand I built is people trust it and the more you start to compromise on quality and brand values, that’s when you can lose a brand overnight.”
This has included ditching ideas for edibles as it won’t add artificial flavors or preservatives, he said.
“I’m a real ‘idea girl.’ There are lessons along the way that I’ve learned a lot about at the grocery store because I try to keep our rustic homemade hat all the time,” said Ms. Logue.
“The shelf life of something is really hard, the shelf life of a product, and I don’t like using artificial colors or preservatives, it’s a no-no.
“That is really complicated.
“I remember trying to throw a fishcake with mashed potato for two, but I couldn’t get the shelf life because I didn’t put any preservatives in it, so I was disappointed.”
People may be surprised to learn that she is also in charge of answering all customer emails.
“I still personally reply to every email that comes to the contact address within half an hour,” he said, adding that it is “very personal” when his name is on the brand.
Earning $400,000 a week
But difficult moves at the start of the pandemic have seen Ms Logue not only get her weekends back, but expand her partnership with Woolworths.
Simmone Logue soups are now stocked in 950 stores and its famous range of country-style slow-cooked pastries and meals has grown from 40 stores in NSW to 240 stores across Australia.
This nationwide launch is earning her $20 million a year for her cakes, pies, and home-cooked meals.
These include soups such as Roast Butternut Squash and Leek, Lamb and Vegetable and Potato and Leek that sell for $5.25, leg of lamb and pork lion porchetta for $18, along with slow-cooked brisket and chicken with tarragon and cream for $12.
There are also meat empanadas and chicken and leek empanadas for between $10 and $16 and quiches for $16. High-end convenience foods have seen a 700% increase in sales, totaling $400,000 per week for the business.
Mrs. Logue is still full of ideas too.
“I don’t see myself selling beautiful food. I think I’m selling time and joy as people juggle work, go to the gym, look fit, and take care of their kids,” she said. “We need a fairy godmother like me to come over and put dinner on the table.”
You’ve just submitted some slow-cooked vegetable ideas to Woolworths for Christmas, like beetroot with yoghurt sauce and a sprinkle of za’atar.
There are also slow cooker sauces and stir fry sauces in the works for next year, he revealed.
“You just need to pick up the massaman sauce and delicious chicken and vegetables and dinners done in 15 minutes,” he said.
The pandemic has also given him time to transform his farm in Oberon, NSW, with the former shearer’s shed currently being renovated to create a cooking school, accommodation and workspace.