A unique, family-run Thai ready meals business is venturing into the lucrative frozen food market after expanding its operation thanks to a council grant.
Llanferres-based Authentic Thai Cuisine, which is celebrating its 10th year in business, has made its name locally through an array of popular chilled meals.
But now Dtoi Harvey, who cooks her traditional and healthy cuisines from a converted lorry container at her home, is aiming to boost sales by also selling frozen dishes, with agreements already in place to supply a popular farm shop and a caravan park.
The 55 year old, who uses the cooking skills she learned from childhood in her native country, was not in a position to cover the full cost of the upgrade required to her operation, so she applied to Denbighshire County Council for a 50 per cent business grant and received £4,824 towards a brand new blast chiller and freezer room.
The new additions mean she can now begin supplying frozen meals on top of the 400 units she currently sells on a weekly basis.
Dtoi wanted to expand her operation after being approached by Rhug Estate Farm Shop in Corwen and Parc Farm Caravan Park in Llanarmon yn lal about providing them with frozen dishes.
She says the move would never have come to fruition had it not been for the help and support from Denbighshire County Council, as well as Business Wales.
Dtoi, who moved to North Wales 28 years ago, explained: “It’s all happened so quickly. I was eligible to apply for a grant and the council helped me to complete the form and to evaluate the costs.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise, it’s a lot of money. The advice from them and Business Wales has really helped me.
“My business is growing and I feel confident in taking this step.
“I currently sell 300-320 units a week as well as 80 trays of noodles. My target is 350 chilled units.”
Dtoi, who currently supplies garages and farm shops in Denbighshire and Flintshire, says entering the frozen food market means she will now be able to start selling her meals across the region.
She said: “I deliver the meals personally, I have to, so with frozen food it will last longer and go further. I can target bed and breakfasts and caravan parks as far as Betws y Coed.
“I don’t plan to go into big orders for a supermarket. I like to provide the area with authentic Thai food.
“I like to see the customer and shop owner to make sure they understand and know my food. I like talking to them.
“I’ve never done marketing or had a website. All my customers are through word of mouth.
“I don’t have time for that. I prefer to concentrate on my cooking. I’m confident in my food because it’s very special.
“I don’t use any additives or preservatives. They’re my selling points.”
The former nursery nurse, who runs her business with help from her husband Graham and her 20 year old son Tom, added: “I’m very proud of my food – I work with pride and joy. It’s hard work but I’m happy.
“I’m excited about the next step and that I’ve been able to make a proper base for it.”
Dtoi has also been working with the council through its Better Business for All (BBfA) project which brings together businesses and their planning and public protection department to improve how regulation is delivered to save businesses time and money.
The council, she said, now offered better coordination between services so a more holistic service could be provided to businesses during visits.
Dtoi added: “It was a very beneficial experience. The two officers I worked with were very kind and understanding.
“They were really helpful in helping me spot something that may be incorrect. It was a speedy service and it gave me confidence to progress further.
“If I have any problems I know I can phone the Council or e-mail them. They are very good at getting back in touch.”
Carolyn Brindle, Lead Officer for Local Growth, and part of the Economic and Business Development Team for Denbighshire County Council, said: “We’re delighted to be in a position to help Authentic Thai Cuisine expand its operation, increase production and start providing frozen ready meals for the first time in order to boost profitability.
“Dtoi provides a unique food offer for the county and is celebrating 10 years in business. With this grant her business can go from strength to strength.”
She added: “Our Small Business Grant Scheme provides businesses with a smoother journey to expansion, increasing access to vital equipment and resources that help firms to improve effectiveness and efficiency.
“Growth is vital to the health and welfare of our communities and we’re incredibly proud to help our businesses turn their ambitious plans into reality.”
To find out how to apply for a Business Development Grant go to Denbighshire.gov.uk/business or call 01824 706896.