One half of New York based boutique-catering company M&G Foodstuff, Samantha Hannaford is testament to the belief that hard work and passion form a domino effect to success. With her long-term boyfriend, Chef and Creative Director Johnathon Garvey, this dynamic Australian duo is taking the New York foodie scene by storm with their unique vision of a drop-off style of catering. Creating quality, uncomplicated, produce-driven food is at the core of everything they do and in the short time they’ve been around they’ve managed to get a string of big names under their client belt, including Armani, Victoria’s Secret, Diane Von Furstenberg and Alexander Wang. In this interview, we speak to Samantha about her business, starting a company with her partner and making it big in the concrete jungle…
HOW DID YOU COME TO FOUND M&G FOODSTUFF?
Johnathon and I are big foodies and have both worked in the food and events world for a long time. We have always wanted to combine forces and do something together – the dream was to do this in New York.
We were drawn to the excitement and opportunities that New York had to offer, so in 2012 we took the plunge and moved here. After working for other caterers and event companies for a year, we were both itching to do our own thing. We wanted to offer something different to the cookie-cutter style of catering, and liked the idea of seasonally driven food with a sustainable and eco conscious approach. Along with full serviced catering, we wanted to offer something diverse; that led us to develop the concept of our M&G Box, a drop off style of catering where we have a daily menu based on the best seasonal & quality produce we can get our hands on. The menu is delivered and served family style inside the M&G Box, with all materials and accompanying utensils being recyclable and biodegradable. With some serious blood, sweat and tears the idea really took off and we found it resonated well with people. From there the business just grew organically through word of mouth – and now we have just opened our very own catering kitchen in Manhattan!
HOW DO YOU AND JOHNATHON BREAK-UP THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE BUSINESS?
This came quite naturally for us. I generally handle client side, accounts, staffing etc, and Jonathan handles the food creative and the actual day-to-day running in the kitchen. There is cross-over but I think our strengths/weaknesses compliment each other well. We would always love to have more time for actual recipe testing in the kitchen together as that’s the fun part, but generally our inspiration comes from our travels and from other foodies who share the same ethos. We try not to over complicate the process, it’s always about creating food that we would want to eat ourselves.
M&G FOODSTUFF HAS BEEN WORKING ON SOME REALLY COOL CATERING PROJECTS THIS LAST YEAR, CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THESE?
We’ve had the opportunity to work with some really awesome clientele over the last year or so. We worked with Blake Lively and her lifestyle site ‘Preserve’ late last year, where we curated and styled the menu for her baby shower shoot. This was a lot of fun and a very different from the day to day! We have also been lucky enough to develop some really solid relationships with amazing brands, producers and photographers in NYC – we have catered for shoots & campaigns for Victorias Secret, Armani, Michael Kors, Diane Von Furstenberg, Bergdorf Goodmans and Alexander Wang, to name a few.
CO-FOUNDING A BUSINESS WITH A BOYFRIEND MUST COME WITH CHALLENGES – CAN YOU SHARE ANY ADVICE FOR THOSE LOOKING TO START A COMPANY WITH A LOVED ONE?
Yes it definitely has it’s share of challenges, but at the risk of sounding cheesy there is no one else in the world I would rather be in business with. I think you definitely need to have the same vision for where you see the business heading and generally be on the same wavelength as it will make the tough decisions that much easier. Your strengths and weaknesses also definitely need to compliment each others. The last thing I’d say is to make sure you reserve time for your relationship and don’t get in a pattern where the business consumes every facet of your lives 24hrs a day.
ANY ADVICE FOR BUSINESS OWNERS LOOKING TO MAKE A MOVE TO THE U.S.?
Be prepared for plenty of set backs. Things are definitely a lot more complicated, primarily because it is a different country. If you are planning on New York be prepared for another layer of difficulty on top of that, things are done a certain way in this city and a lot of the time there is no rhyme or reason to it. Develop a thick skin and have a real passion for what it is you are planning on doing as people will sense that and buy into it.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE NEW YORK TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER BEEN?
New York to me is an overload of the senses. It is all consuming, full of nomads wanting to find themselves, there is always something new and exciting happening and it is never dull. It can be your best friend and your worst enemy. It can bring you many highs and can also chew you up and spit you back out when it wants to.
IF YOU GAVE SOMEONE A ONE-DAY ITINERARY FOR NEW YORK, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
Definitely start with breakfast and coffee at either Five Leaves in Brooklyn or Dimes in Lower East Side. Bike ride over the Brooklyn bridge, catch the subway Uptown for some museum hopping and a stroll through Central Park and maybe a picnic if its Spring or Fall. Hop over to the west side for late lunch at Buvette, a little French eatery for some charcuterie and a vino, then wander down to Soho for afternoon shopping. I would then recommend dinner at Acme in Noho, the food there is outstanding and then perhaps onto a show after. I would finish at the Library Bar in the Nomad hotel, which is one of my favorite bars and kick back with a whisky or a glass of red and recap on the day.
BEST THING ABOUT LIVING ABROAD?
One of the best things for me is it inspires you to open your mind and become fearless. There are so many opportunities to be had living abroad; in New York especially, people are constantly doing such daring and exciting things – it inspires you to step out of your comfort zone and take the plunge.
MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT LIVING ABROAD?
Most definitely being away from your best mates and family, and not having them there for the day-to-day. It’s tough not having your nearest and dearest close to you when you’re starting a new business in a big and foreign city, although I guess it makes it a lot easier having my partner in crime with me!
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT HOME?
Besides being around friends and family, I miss nature and the ocean! After a while, being in the concrete jungle can get a little all consuming and you just crave fresh air and to be able to dive into the sea at the drop of a hat.
MOST UNFORGETTABLE TRAVEL MEMORY?
There are so many! I definitely have a most unforgettable trip, which was my 2008 trip with Johnathon. We did a whirlwind world tour – started off in the states doing LA, Vegas, down to Mexico for a few weeks then onto Miami & New York, then moved onto Europe where we travelled through London, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Spain and then finished it off with Tokyo, Hong Kong and back to Sydney. All in all, we were backpacking together for about 9 months straight. It was such a freeing feeling being a nomad and having your life packed in a backpack, I don’t think I could do that again now but in my early twenties it was perfect.