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Interview: “Good food is the driving force behind our family businesses”, says Manchester father of one.

Interview: “Good food is the driving force behind our family businesses”, says Manchester father of one.

Chris Grunwell, Mancunian and father of one, always dreamed of launching his own business, but it was the birth of his daughter Frankie, that finally made him take the leap of faith. Here he talks to ParentFolk about leaving his job to follow his dream, and how he ended up launching two businesses simultaneously.

‘As with most people, my life completely changed when my daughter, Frankie, was born. I’d always been a foodie from a young age and was raised in a household of people who appreciated good food but having a child made me realise how much I wanted to pass that on to her. When we began weaning her in late 2015, I became acutely aware of the limitations it brought in terms of the convenience factor not to mention the desire for healthy eating, so I set about designing the Itsy Blitz – a portable weaning gadget.’

‘Was I out of my depth? Perhaps a little’, laughs Chris. ‘I had no experience in product design or manufacturing, but research showed nothing on the market could do what I wanted my innovative on-the-go baby weaning gadget, Itsy Blitz to do.’

‘As a parent myself I knew what it needed to do. The Itsy Blitz is for parents who don’t want to be resigned to staying at home or missing out on family meals because they’re worried there won’t be anything for their baby to eat. It lets you blend food anywhere so it’s fresh. It was vital for it to be fully portable so it’s rechargeable and comes in a smart case with its own bowl and spoon so you can feed babies on the go, no matter where you are – a festival, the zoo, or even the beach. It gives you freedom from processed pouches, which we’ve all used at times but are ridiculously expensive and most babies find them too smooth after about seven or eight months, too. Plus as a busy parent, I hate fuss, so it had to be dishwasher safe too!’

(Above) Itsy Blitz launches this summer

‘Getting out there wasn’t easy in the first stages’ says Chris, ‘Armed with the faith in my idea and a determination to succeed I set about turning my dream into a reality. I’d always wanted to have my own business, so I grabbed this opportunity and went for it. I started Itsy with a personal loan while still in my IT job, which funded a prototype and professional support to search IP (intellectual property) to make sure it was as unique as I thought. If I was to make this happen then I realised it would need a substantial investment behind it, so I applied for and won the Startup Series December competition. After that, things picked up pace rapidly… where planning was concerned any way.’

‘It wasn’t all plain sailing though’, said Chris. ‘I soon learned that the way to go was to manufacture it in China, but finding and securing a deal with the right factory was tricky, to put it lightly. The plan almost came to a complete standstill at numerous points last year when a deal with a well-known manufacturer fell through, but to cut a long story short I went back to China before Christmas and the finished products are due here in July. It feels great to be able to say that at long last.’

‘The second half of last year was full of uncertainty and waiting. We did a lot of waiting. As things grew stagnant with Itsy, my partner, Jasmin, and I talked about how much we’d love to have a café or shop in our village. We’d always wanted a place of our own to share our passion for food and had a vision of a café that would become a hub for families in the local community. We’d travelled around places like Menorca, Paris and Amsterdam and loved their approach to family time. Eateries that truly welcomed kids, so we wanted to bring a piece of that home, with a strong focus on nutrition and food, and so Bambino was born.’

‘Is it a family affair? Yes, absolutely’, smiles Chris. ‘My brother and mum were fed up in their jobs too, so we put our heads together and came up with Bambino. We eventually found the right property and renovated it ourselves in just four weeks (it’s amazing what you can achieve when you put your mind to a project!). Bambino opened in October last year, so whilst it’s still very early days for us, we’re loving it. We’ve created a place that families love to come to, we’ve curated Bambino understanding what it’s like to try have a coffee or meal with kids in tow. Children don’t want to sit at the table for an hour or be quiet, or navigate an unfamiliar menu, so Bambino was designed around the dedicated kids’ area. Everything from the table layout to the counter were set out to accommodate parents who want to keep on an eye on their kids while they enjoy a hot coffee for a change!’

(Above) Childs play at Bambino

‘What’s different about Bambino? I guess you could say the atmosphere, we’ve designed the whole venue with family’s needs first’, says Chris. ‘We’ve got chalkboard walls and toys including a play kitchen, play till, books, abacus and play food so little’uns can role play and have a good time. The menu my brother, Mike, and I created, has been designed with little appetites in mind – a popular dish is the Kid’s Tasting Platter. It’s healthy as well as being quick and fun to eat, and parents choose ingredients they know their children actually like. We bring kid’s food out first as we appreciate they hate waiting and we make sure the food feels familiar to avoid waste – we know how frustrating that can be for parents and it’s not great for the environment either.’

‘Bambino has become an integral part of the community offering free or very affordable line-up of kids’ activities. Bringing with her 20 years’ experience of working with special needs children, my mum designs and runs most of these and Frankie acts as chief tester. Her story times are ever so popular as she brings them to life with interactive play. We’ve also started running sessions for adults too around wellbeing, business workshops and even maker’s market events in order to further support local business enterprise.’

(Above) Café culture at Bambino

‘It’s being in a position to give something back that’s our real motivator, as well as being all about family and community, we care about giving something back so source all our suppliers either locally or to support good causes. Our coffee comes from Redemption Roasters, which is roasted by inmates at Young Offenders Institute HMP Aylesbury. The prison has its own roastery and trains certain inmates to become roasters and baristas through a rigorous scheme that goes on to help secure jobs in the coffee industry when they leave the prison. In addition to this all of our tips go to the local food bank in Salford and we’re working with them to see how we can help more. We think it’s these small things that can make the biggest differences.’

(Above) Chris with daughter, Frankie

“Was it worth the leap from employee to entrepreneur?” we ask. ‘It’s been a really challenging time’ says Chris, ‘but yes it’s been totally worth it. Bambino and Itsy Blitz will work in harmony in the long term, and the possibilities are endless. We want our own expertise to add value to both businesses, which is why I’m studying for an OFQUAL Level 3 certificate in Nutrition for Young Children, so I can speak with a deeper knowledge and authority on babies and kids nutrition. As much as I’m loving studying again, with two new ventures on the go and a growing family it makes for some busy days, but family is at the heart of everything I do and I’m not sure there’s any greater motivation.’

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