Patricia’s Cooking Classes for Children offers in-person and online cooking classes for kids of all abilities aged three to 18 years old. Participants learn how to cook, bake, clean and read recipes. The classes help them develop their communication skills, confidence and self-esteem. Patricia Downs launched the business in 2019, just before COVID – 19 hit.
Canada Post sat down with Downs to talk about teaching kids online and giving back in difficult times – one of the reasons her company was named a finalist in the Doing Good category for the 2020 Tales of Triumph Contest. The following is an excerpt from that discussion.
Did you always know that you wanted to own your own small business?
Actually, no. With my children’s complex medical needs, I honestly didn’t think I would be starting a business any time soon. But my children wanted to join some cooking classes and I couldn’t find any that could accommodate their needs and that were affordable. So, I thought, well, I need a new hobby.
I figured I would volunteer to teach a couple classes to other students, so at least my kids could have the experience. Then parents were pleading with me to continue the classes. And the next thing I knew, I went from a mom volunteering to a business owner.
What were your first steps when you were getting started?
I decided to kind of call around and find a kitchen that I could rent from a community centre. And then I posted it all over Facebook that I was just a homeschool mom who wanted to provide this service. I was charging just enough, like right down to the penny, to cover all expenses for the kitchen rental, the groceries and any supplies needed for the class.
So, I was strictly volunteering at first. I thought maybe we would have enough for three classes. But it’s just been non-stop since then.
Want to get more information about Patricia’s Cooking Classes for Children?Visit her website
How did you go about trying to grow your business?
With a lot of time and a lot of hard work, I was very lucky. My kids, Josh and Anna, 13 and 15 years old, they’ve been very supportive and helping. They told me what they wanted to learn and what they thought would be cool, and I was getting feedback from other kids and parents. I just kind of swung it and made it work every class. Each time, I made little improvements and did things a little bit different.
Then COVID hit. What happened?
So, when Covid hit, it was huge. Everything kind of came to a halt and I didn’t know what I was going to do about it. But my biggest concern was the kids. Everything was taken away from those kids: their friends, their grandparents and they had to stay at home. I figured, let’s try to move online and see how that does.
What was the response to making the switch and offering online cooking classes?
I had such supportive parents and children taking part that they just followed me online. It’s actually pretty remarkable because I think it says a lot about the kind of the impact we had already made in the community.
It’s not easy to pivot to online. What were some of the challenges you faced?
I had no idea how to work Zoom. I did a lot of research trying to figure that out and thankfully I’ve had a lot of kids helping me during the process.
And my biggest concern was safety, because when you’re cooking you are working with sharp objects, with a hot stove, boiling water. So, for the first little bit we did a lot of slow cooker meals with parent supervision and participation. But it was a lot easier than I initially thought.
The way I work the class, we do it together, I show them, I demonstrate, I explain how to hold a knife properly, or how to be careful with a burner and, you know, kids are extremely smart. And if given the chance, they’ll figure it out. No problem.
How did you manage the financial impact COVID was having on your customers?
Because we were in a shutdown, it meant there were a lot of parents not working. There was a lot of financial difficulty. I knew not everybody would be able to afford cooking classes. So, I decided for about two months to offer the classes for free.
It was actually a very easy decision for me to make. Like I said before, I started the classes volunteering. It was never meant to be a business. And my priority has always been the kids. So, when this came along, all I was thinking about was their mental health, how they’re feeling. It was tough, but the support from the parents was just amazing. They were all so grateful.
I’ve had so many parents and children thank me now about the fact that the classes were one thing every week that they could look forward to when everything else was taken away. And that, to me, was huge. And it saved my mental health, as well, because I was sitting at home on lockdown as well. So, it gave me something to look forward to and new faces to talk to.
Will you continue to offer online cooking classes for kids going forward?
We had a lot of children from different provinces all over Canada during COVID. So, I decided to permanently offer classes online and I also decided to offer a pay what-you-can-afford rate.
I’m also considering making my biggest leap and subletting a commercial property so that I can expand the classes but do so in a manner that is safe for everybody involved and the slow pace that works for us and that I’m comfortable with.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about starting a business?
My advice would be to be passionate about what you’re doing. Be flexible and be prepared to work very hard. A lot of unexpected things can happen. And if you’re creative and resilient, the best that can result from that could be absolutely wonderful and life changing and so worth it.
Meet the finalists of our 2021 contest
Discover all the incredible finalists of the 2021 Tales of Triumph Contest.Meet the finalists