Sun on the Rock encourages Calgarians to eat healthy and local food

Imagine coming home to a warm, home-cooked meal after a long day of work; like red curry halibut with fresh bok choy or raisin bourbon beef tenderloin. Then imagine your fridge stocked with ready-to-eat meals made with local and organic ingredients, enough to last you for the next two weeks.

This is what Sun on the Rock, a personal chef service in Calgary, offers.

Started by Ashleigh Ahern this past March, Sun on the Rock offers Calgarians fresh, healthy meals straight to their homes.

“Our ideal client is a middle-income family that’s just really busy, eats out a lot, buys a lot of pre-packaged meals,” Ahern says.

Produced by Pauline Zulueta

The goal is to give Calgarians healthier food alternatives than pre-packaged foods and consume less preservatives, sugars, salts and fats, she says.

Sun on the Rock specializes in cooking for people with special dietary needs such as allergy sensitive cooking.

She says she has also been getting more requests for gluten-free or organic meals from her clients.

“Right from day one, I was already customizing menus for people,” Ahern says. “And having a daughter that’s celiac just makes it that much easier for me. I’m very comfortable with the process.”

Inspiration to cook

Ahern, 28, said her passion for cooking was sparked in 2006 after she met a customer at the hotel restaurant she was working in. The man, who Ahern estimated to be in his 50s, was carrying a cooler with his meal inside.

“He said, ‘I can’t order the food you have here, but I need a place to heat up my food,’” Ahern says.

The man could only eat organic foods as he previously experienced health issues before switching to organic.

From then on, Ahern was inspired to eat healthier. As a university student, Ahern says she had poor eating habits and experienced health issues as a result. She often suffered from chronic migraines and digestive issues.
“It was a journey,” she says. “I lost a lot of weight and I just got so much healthier in general. I haven’t looked back since.”

Ashleigh Ahern, 28, says she wants her clients to be healthier by eating fresh, local foods, as well as save money by reducing the need to buy pre-packaged foods.

Photo by Pauline Zulueta Ahern decided to start her own business after she realized she wasn’t satisfied working as a sales representative.

“I found that I was really good at it but there was something missing. It just wasn’t fulfilling,” she says. “I realized that what I really wanted to do was cook for people.”

Cost of food

Ahern says that she hopes to save Calgarians money with her business by reducing the need to go out for meals or to buy fast food.

The Calgary Food Committee estimates that the average household spends $8,544 on food per year, which is approximately $712 per month.

Ahern adds that the average family may throw out approximately $50 to $150 worth of food every month.

Sun on the Rock only purchases enough food for the amount of people they are servicing so that clients don’t spend money on food that may eventually go to waste.

Personal chef services in Calgary can cost more than $500 for a family of four, for two weeks. Sun on the Rock offers a similar meal package at less than $400.

“A lot of chefs in the city are awesome at what they do and they’ve developed a system that works for them, but they typically market themselves towards the higher-end, higher-earning clientele,” Ahern says.

“My idea was to be more for the middle-income family and (show) how anybody can afford a chef.”

Going for it

Ahern quickly built her clientele through social media and word of mouth. Within a few months of starting Sun on the Rock, Ahern was fully booked and doing double shifts. By July, she hired her first chef. Ahern currently contracts four employees.

But Ahern says the biggest challenge in starting her own business has been finding good people to work with.

“Finding other entrepreneurial people is not as easy as it sounds,” she says. “I’ve really struggled trying to find people that understand the business system and see the potential for (Sun on the Rock) to grow.”

Ahern says she looks for people who are motivated, eager to learn and have a good business mindset.

“It’s a special thing. Not everybody has it.”

Danielle Lepage, office manager at Sun on the Rock, says she believes in Sun on the Rock and its mission.Sun on the Rock uses fresh, organic foods in their meals. They also work with local food producers in order to reduce the environmental impact of food transport.

Photo by Pauline Zulueta

“I think it’s a good concept,” Lepage says. “I believe in Ashleigh as an entrepreneur and I see it going places.”

One of her regular clients and fellow entrepreneur, Pieter Boekhoff, says he believes Ahern is successful because she is passionate about her business and values customer service.

“She’s building relationships as opposed to being product-driven,” he says. “She’s passionate about organic food, about being a chef and about being a small business owner.”

Ahern says that seeing her business succeed has been really gratifying.

“To be able to have something that I’ve come up with completely on my own, that’s an inspiration deep within myself, and to see it progress to where it is today, is really, really satisfying.”

Ahern says she will continue to promote and grow her business for the time being but has big plans for the future. She plans to expand throughout Canada eventually.

She says, “I don’t see any reason why Sun on the Rock can’t be the household name for personal chef services.”

pzulueta@cjournal.ca 

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