GROVE CITY, PA – Eight years ago, Emily and Camm Mochrie arrived in the U.S. from their native Australia with a small sum of money and a fondness for food and farming. With assistance from the Gannon University Small Business Development Center [SBDC], the duo now owns two successful catering businesses: Red Roo Catering and the Tuckerbox Grills.
“Margaret Horne, now the Gannon University SBDC director, not only helped us with a business and marketing plan, but, also helped us interpret the local culinary styles and language of American food, Camm Mochrie said. “She became our local tour guide.”
The SBDCs are made up of a unique collaboration of the U.S. Small Business Administration, state and local governments, and private sector resources and provide a vast array of technical assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. As a result of the no cost, extensive, one-on-one, long-term professional business advising, low-cost training and other specialized services SBDC clients receive, the program remains one of the nation’s largest small business assistance programs in the federal government.
Under Horne’s wing, they took a unique business approach – defining and creating untapped markets to sell their homemade goods. With a loan from the Northwest Commission, the Mochrie cooks created a full-sized commercial kitchen in the basement of their home. “For years, we delivered meals to about 50 Grove City businesses a day,” Mochrie said. “We also added a Wednesday night dinner club where customers signed up via email and came to our house to pick up their dinner, freshly prepared, in take-out boxes.”
The Marcellus Shale areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia provided yet another untapped market for the Mochrie family. Utilizing loans, the Mochries purchased the Tuckerbox Grills – mobile commercial kitchens that are self-contained rigs complete with propane, water, stoves, grills and coolers.
Today, Camm Mochrie routinely travels throughout the region in his roving restaurant, serving meals to workers at Marcellus Shale sites. The rig is set up for the duration of the job, often weeks at a time.
"I was approached by a representative from the fracking industry who had heard about us,” he explained. “They [the shale industry] were looking for consistency, someone to prepare two meals each day for the day shift and two meals for the night shift meeting a demanding 24-hour schedule. The menu had to be healthy, diverse and meet food code requirements regardless of the location.”
The schedule required coordination to bring home-cooked meals to crews that Mochrie believes face weather and work conditions most people wouldn’t tolerate. “We worked it out so the morning crew preps for the night shift, and the night shift prepares meals for the new day,” he added.
He even tries to accommodate culinary cravings. "I can't change the weather, but, I do try to create meals they request and if someone has a birthday, we try to make it special by baking cakes."
While he's adapted his cooking skills to meet the needs of a shale site filled with a hungry and captive audience, Mochrie also realized that logistics and mobility were as important as his culinary skills. "I have a good relationship with my suppliers. They ship the order from their base and truck it to the different sites where I then pick up," he stated. "I've added chains to my truck and haven't missed a meal."
Mochrie, a trained chef from Australia, stated both food preparation and cost differs down under. "Americans accept processed food more so than their Australian counterparts," he explained. "I am used to working with less than a 30 percent cost of a meal for ingredients; here it's often up to 40-50 percent."
Mochrie cuts down on overhead by preparing homemade stock for soups versus paying for labor and packaging to purchase canned stock. The same holds true for cakes and muffins, with Mochrie mixing sugar, flour and butter versus buying a premixed box.
He doesn't even own a microwave.
The name Tuckerbox also boasts Aussie roots, said Mochrie. "In Australian, the word tucker is slang for food and box represents a lunch box," he added. "So, Tuckerbox Grill is a good place to get a good meal."
According to SBA Western Pennsylvania Acting District Director Kevin White, Mochrie exemplifies the American Dream of small business ownership. “It’s truly amazing the Mochrie family arrived in the United States a dream and a small amount of savings and thanks to local SBA assistance they now own two successful catering businesses,” he said. “Our resource partners at Gannon University became their sous chefs teaching them learn the lay of the land and helping them define untapped markets for their unique cuisine.”