Cathy McConaghy launched ‘Lulabelle’s Lunches’ in May 2010 after having spent more than a decade in the bridal industry. She began serving home-made cakes and sandwiches to office workers from Luluabelle, the distinctive VW Camper, before spotting a gap in the market and branching out into weddings, children’s parties, corporate events, food shows and festivals for ‘Lulabelle’s Camperlicious Catering’. Cathy lives in Yorkshire with her young daughter.
Gut instincts are normally right so don’t listen to anyone telling you you’re mad; take the plunge… It’s better to say “I gave it my best shot,” rather than “I wonder what life would have been like…”
Please can you tell us a bit about your career to date?
I spent 15 years in the wedding industry organising Wedding Events and publishing a quarterly magazine. The business got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, the wedding industry was getting tougher and all I seemed to be doing was chasing people for information and money.
How long have you been baking?
I’ve always baked and always enjoyed hosting dinner parties, pushing myself to host more and more challenging dinner parties for friends and families so it was kind of a natural progression.
What made you decide to launch ‘Lulabelle’s Lunches’?
Too much wine! My friends thought I was mad when I told them my plans but they’ve all eaten their words now (and too much cake!)
How would you summarise your offer in one sentence?
Civilisation in a field!
Lulabelle is very distinctive. Please can you tell us a bit more about her?
She was built as a German fire engine in 1959. She came off active service and went to a collectors museum in LA but became bored of the bright city lights and modelling lifestyle so one day made a break for it and ended up in the UK.
I found her living unloved in a yard and we fell in love She was delivered to my friend’s work unit and we transformed her into the beauty she is today…
How do people react to her?
EVERYONE loves her: everyone smiles; everyone has their photo taken with her. She really smiles for the camera too, a flashback to her modelling days but much more fun.
What are the best bits of taking to the road?
Not knowing where you are going, who you are going to meet and whether you will get there without the help of roadside recovery!
And the worst?
Waiting for roadside recovery! Although once the breakdown has occurred there’s nothing you can do; I think it’s the unknown of whether we will make it or not. She can be a bit of a diva and likes to keep you on your toes now and then. You always have to give her a pat when you arrive otherwise there is no way she will start up next time.
Why do you think it is that people have such a fondess for vintage concepts nowadays?
I think today’s culture is so fast paced, grab, grab, grab, rush, rush, rush but when they meet Lulabelle they immediately say things like “it’s like my granny’s kitchen,” or “my mum has a teapot like that,” and it takes them back to a much simpler time in life. We can’t rush, we can’t get anywhere fast and we can’t make coffee or tea any faster than we already do so everyone needs to chill out a bit!
Are things getting any easier for entrepreneurs? What were your biggest challenges?
I believe there is much more help out there nowadays but I’ve never relied on anyone (apart from family and friends) to launch my ventures. I think the government and local councils need to recognise that entrepreneurs, however small, offer employment and opportunity and there should be more support for young people wanting to start up their own businesses.
How do you make use of social media to help promote the business?
Lulabelle has her own Twitter and Facebook pages and loves to tell everyone where she is and what adventures we have been on. Our website is practically defunct now, a total waste of money! It just shows how fast social media is working for business…
What would your advice be for women thinking of starting up their own business?
It’s not easy but is so very rewarding; make sure you have the support of family and friends, especially if you have children. Gut instincts are normally right so don’t listen to anyone telling you you’re mad; take the plunge… It’s better to say “I gave it my best shot,” rather than “I wonder what life would have been like…”
What is next for you, the business and Lulabelle?
Well Lulabelle is 55 this year and is feeling her age. She’s struggling with the workload so I’ve promised her that at the end of this season she can take it easy. I’m also struggling with the miles and the breakdowns so it’s time to settle down and get some premises.
I have been inspired by some amazing people on our adventures so would like to take everything we have learnt and put them into a foodie place in Harrogate.
We’ve also written a series of children’s books based on Lulabelle’s adventures, which we are trying to get published. It certainly won’t be the end for Lulabelle as she will be converted into a luxury holiday camper so she can go off on holidays instead of working all the time.