In 2002, when Jan Nash first tasted pastilla, she had no idea that she would start a business and sell this unique product to the world.
Since starting, Jan has turned her one-person business into a thriving enterprise exporting to Asia, North America and beyond.
I've always worked in the food industry but it wasn't until 2002, when I happened to sit next to an elderly lady at a dinner, that I came across pastilla. Zina offered me some and I loved it so much, I asked her for the recipe.
One thing led to another and I met Leo Schofield, the food writer and critic, who immediately loved it and said 'you have to put this on the market'.
Then Simon Johnson, the renowned food purveyor, tasted it and said, 'I have to have it for my stores'. So I made it for him and that was the real start of my business.
It was such a success that I launched the Pastilla Nash label. Basically, I had found a brilliant product that was totally marketable. I believe I am the first person making pastilla commercially anywhere in the world.
It's a prune and walnut log that is made from organic prunes and all natural products. It is a perfect complement to cheese or as a petit four.
No I didn't. I just started making pastilla and I didn't know whether it would be a success. A caterer who had a commercial kitchen allowed me to use his kitchen when he wasn't using it. This helped keep my overheads as low as possible.
When I realised that I could turn this into a good business, I got my own premises.
In the beginning, I didn't even know that you could get government assistance for setting up a business so I did it on my own. I was really cautious; I took premises that were not very expensive and worked myself to death so that I never had to go into debt.
Since then, the government has helped me a lot. The Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD) here in New South Wales and Austrade have been invaluable. Without Austrade, I could not have succeeded in the overseas markets the way I have.
FYI Austrade is a federal government initiative that helps Australian businesses find export markets.
When I first found the DSRD, they asked me to participate in a food fair in Melbourne. That was really the launch of Pastilla Nash. Austrade saw my product at the fair, absolutely loved it and introduced me to two overseas buyers who took it straight away. So, within the first month of launching my label, I had two overseas buyers.
Within the first 12 months, the Austrade representative in Nagoya Japan came to Sydney with an importer who took it on. Since then, Japan has become a big export market for me.
Straight away. That's partly because I started small and made sure that I didn't incur debts. I stayed focused on what I was doing, avoiding fancy overheads, finding small, inexpensive premises and making sure that all my costs were kept to a minimum.
For Christmas 2004, we launched a fruit and nut cake that is free of animal products, wheat and gluten. It was a huge success and sold out in Australia immediately.
Since then, I have taken over adjoining premises and now have six staff – three full time and three part time. The business is growing every day and we continue to get great interest from overseas. I'm developing new markets all the time. At the moment, we have two companies in Korea interested in importing Pastilla Nash.
It is and I get a lot of hits on the website from people researching the product and having a look at what we do. I would like to eventually sell from the website. I think staying up with current trends on the Internet is important and we will be revamping the site shortly.
Branding is important so making the name Pastilla Nash well known is something I am very conscious of. I have been fortunate that people have wanted to review the product in the press. That has helped spread the word.
It's been hard letting go of the cooking and allowing my staff do that side of things. But I had to. The first thing my mentor in the Breakthrough Program said to me was 'you have get out of the business and work on it not in it'. That was the best advice for me. My staff are great and they maintain the high standard of production that we need.
Watching the business grow. When I walk into an overseas store such as Fortnum and Mason and see Pastilla Nash on the shelves, it's a great thrill.
The business has also helped me support endangered species and local dog and cat homes here in Australia. My driving force is to help look after animals.
Being totally focused on my product, not having too many irons in the fire and having good people around me. I have really excellent staff. Also, being on top of the financial situation and knowing that we are profitable at all times.
Since I have been part of the Breakthrough Program, for the first time I have found a balance and that's because I am not cooking and doing everything else. I'm just focusing on running the business and I can fit that into a normal work day.
The DSRD asked me if I would like to participate and I did. This is the first time the program has been run. There are 16 New South Wales companies involved and the program runs over about four months. A mentor meets with us in five group sessions. There are also one-on-one meetings and the mentor comes to the business to talk to staff.
I believe that the program has taken me from being a chef to being a businesswoman. From talking to the other participants, I'd say we've all had some great breakthroughs.
I think it's important to find really good staff and treat them well. That involves communicating with your staff so everyone knows what is happening. I have five-minute meetings every day and 45-minute meetings once a week. You have to let your people know that they are appreciated.