Dixie Fingal-Rock Innes
Chef and Co-Founder of Aphrodite's
How did you get into the food industry?
My family is from South Wales. Since I was born, we had a delicatessen / wine shop and food was the focus of everything. I think for many years when I was growing up, I always pretended that I didn’t want to go into the food business. In school, I was embarrassed by my parents having this cheese shop that smelled like cheese and thought I wanted to do something different. But I always loved food.
I feel stupid for pretending all those years that I didn’t want to do food. I did art at first and went to school for ceramics, but then realized midway through the course that I should probably stop pretending now and do something in food.
How did you get your start in food in London?
I was in university in Cardiff and then I quit my degree in ceramics. I moved to London and thought I would do some kind of food thing - chef or something like that. I spent my first few years in London as a waitress and just getting adjusted to the big city life.
After a couple of years, I started applying to be a junior chef but didn’t get anywhere, so I did a course at Westminster Kingsway in Professional Cookery. While on the course, I emailed lots of places that I was doing a course in cookery and got an email back from Handmade Food in Blackheath. Turns out all their chefs came from Westminster and they were willing to take a chance on me, so that was my foot in the door.
How did you think about transitioning from Handmade Foods to E5 Bakehouse?
With Handmade Food, I decided that I wanted to focus on baking. At Handmade Foods, I would bake cakes and they called them Dixie’s Cakes, and I thought this was what I wanted to do full-time. I took a break for a couple of months (went to India) and when I came back, I got a job at E5 Bakehouse. I went in for a baker’s job initially, but on my CV it says chef, so they thought I came in for the chef job.
I was the helper chef during lunchtime service for my now good friend Despina and Ruth. Ruth left and they [E5 Bakehouse] asked me if I wanted to be one of the chefs for the lunch service. I said yes and before long, I was doing my own recipes.
How did you decide that you wanted to go into your own business from E5 Bakehouse?
I think it’s just a matter of wanting to do my own thing. It’s quite difficult / stressful to have your own business. If I didn’t have my partner, I don’t think I would have done it. He has more faith in me than I did. He also invested and is now my business partner.
How did you start Aphrodite’s (food truck now supper club)?
We started two years ago in June. The whole idea formed around the pomegranate ketchup product, which was quite popular. We stopped Phat Breads and took a few months off and started designing this new business.
How did you come up with pomegranate ketchup?
One morning, I was making a bacon and egg sandwich and wanted to put something on it that I wanted - something a bit sweet, a bit sour but not ketchup because I hate it. I made this sauce, pomegranate ketchup which was essentially lots of pomegranate molasses, tomato, some sugar and vinegar. I put it on my sandwich and it was delicious. Then I gave it to my friends who also found it delicious and encouraged me to sell it. We were doing Phat Breads at Maltby Street Market at the time so started selling it, unbranded, in little jars with just pomegranate ketchup written on it at the stall. People loved it as well and then we took it from there.
What was the most challenging part of planning for Aphrodites?
Generally learning about business was, for me, difficult. I’m a chef. I cook.
I started going to seminars and groups and also reading loads of books to try to get as much information as possible. The whole logistics of everything was quite difficult - doing all the designing from business cards to the overall concept. That was a huge part of it and cost lots of money.
We are primarily a business that makes products, so getting all the logistics sorted out around the product was also difficult. Pomegranate ketchup has pomegranate molasses, which took some time to find a good supplier. We ended up importing it from Lebanon. Finding the pomegranate molasses was difficult and getting it to London from Lebanon also took a long time.
How did you decide to go from street food to supper club?
We wanted Aphrodite’s to be a product company and make different products and the initial idea was to promote our products through street food. So we got an old vintage van and started selling street food with our ketchup in it.
Street food is really hard work and takes a lot of time and effort - you have to move around all the time so it’s really difficult. I was also exhausted; I didn’t have a day off for about six months. Waking up really early and going to bed really late, thinking about 150 different things including trying to get sales from the product as well as doing all the prep and organization for the street food. It wasn’t right. It was really cool doing the street food - I loved it, but it wasn’t really what we had set out to do.
We already have premises in Forest Gate - two railway arches: one is a kitchen and the other is an office with storage space. We turned one of the railway arches into a supper club. It happens once a month, so instead of having the intense street food, we decided to transform the larger railway arch into a lovely supper club space. Now it’s not such an intense catering business. Once a month we do a nice, fine dining experience. It’s lovely and much more manageable for us.
Is this the final iteration of the brand / business? Have you thought about evolving it further?
At the moment, this is good. We started supper clubs this year. I did a pretend one for my friends in Feb 2017, and we have done a few official ones opened up to the public since. At the moment, it’s perfect because we can do them every so often like once a month, and it’s not too labor intensive. It’s also in our own space and we have a lot of time to promote the products as well
We are also trying to develop new products; we are actually making some vinegars to carry on with the condiment theme. We are making from scratch raw, live fruit vinegars.They will be unpasteurized so they will have all the good enzymes and bacteria that most companies take out. They are going to be delicious!
Is Aphrodite sufficient for full-time job?
It’s the hardest thing I have ever done - the whole package of starting one’s business. There’s a lot of stuff to think about. And then money wise, food business, margins are tight and we have a premises as well that we rent. We rent our kitchens out [to other food companies] as well so that helps with some additional income.
Describe your cooking style.
European / Mediterranean style. I grew up in a deli with lots of Spanish, Italian and Greek food; all of that is me. There’s a focus on Eastern Mediterranean / Levantine /Middle Eastern food with the food that I do now with Aphrodite’s and I love it.
How do you think about work/life balance in this industry?
You have to work a lot and put everything into it. And you want to, because there’s tons of stuff. At first, it’s really hard because you have to put everything into it and you can’t stop. You have lots of times that you wonder, ‘How am I going to do this?’ Persistence is the key. You just have to keep on going. I think everyone who owns a business has those moments where they doubt what they are doing. This happens every now and then but you get rewarded from doing well.
It starts to mellow out once you have got your business down and you are making a bit of money. Now I work six days a week. Every Saturday I do sampling, which means I go into shops where the product already is and get people to taste the product. And then Sunday is my own and I get to do what I want. It’s hard to separate from work sometimes because you do take it home with you, but it’s better now because it is not so relentless. You have to learn how to switch off.
It is manageable with just two people for now. Once the new products come out, we may have to employ a bit more people. It’s about to get busier; it’s the calm before the storm.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I like sampling and talk to my customers in the shops.
What is the one piece of advice that they would like to pass on?
Read up lots and do your research thoroughly before launching yourself into a business. You will find lots of twists and turns along the way that you won't have predicted so it’s good to be prepared as possible. Never stop reading and researching, knowledge and learning are key.
Where can I find pomegranate ketchup/more information on Aphrodite’s?
It’s in about 60 independent shops in London area and the UK including all the Selfridges locations. We also sell in our online shop.
By Katie Tu, Contributor
"Read up lots and do your research thoroughly before launching yourself into a business. You will find lots of twists and turns along the way that you won't have predicted so it’s good to be prepared as possible."
Shop Assistant - Fingal-Rock, South Wales
Waitress & Barista - Madame Fromage, Cardiff
Shop Assistant & Barista - Patisserie Valerie, Spitalfields
Waitress - Brindisa Tapas, Borough Market
Barmaid & Waitress - Mason & Taylor
Chef - Handmade Food, Blackheath
Chef - E5 Bakehouse, Hackney
Chef/Director, Phat Breads (woodfired flatbreaks market stall)
Chef/Director - Aphrodite's
Monmouth Comprehensive School
A-Levels: Philosophy & Ethics, Art and Sociology
UWIC (now Cardiff Metropolitan University):
Art Foundation course diploma
Degree: Ceramics (left after 1 year)
Westminster Kingsway College:
Level 2 Diploma - Professional Cookery