Interview - Jimmy Zeniou - Helen's European Cuisine
Not every business has a state-of-the-art kitchen that’s equipped to produce gourmet foods in the quantities required to sustain it. That’s where Helen’s European Cuisine comes in. Offering a huge range of gourmet savoury meals, finger foods and sweets, the company has what it takes to satisfy your most discerning customers. We spoke with Helen’s Managing Director, Jimmy Zeniou about the delectable range of foods and also about how they’re helping clients to create their own signature ranges.
FFW: How did Helen’s European Cuisine start and how did it become the business it is today?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: The story of Helen’s European Cuisine begins, quite simply, with the woman herself. Company founder Helen Zeniou began her journey creating unique lasagnes, quiches and filo pastries for the coffee shop she managed. Another café owner noticed and propositioned her about supplying savouries for their three-store chain, so Helen decided to take her work home. Demand grew, and so did Helen’s, with the Zeniou family leasing a takeaway shop selling Helen’s products to both retail and wholesale markets.
It wasn’t long before the Zeniou family had to make a choice to take their business to the next level, so in 1993 Helen and her crew invested in industrial equipment and a lease on a small commercial kitchen, and made the move to concentrate on/provide wholesale only. This was a pivotal moment in Helen’s history (and a very scary one) but we haven’t looked back. We’ve grown with the café market over the last 20 years to what we are today.
FFW: What were your first products?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: Helen’s signature round lasagnes – in Traditional Beef and Pumpkin & Spinach – a new innovation never seen before; plus Gourmet Filos in Chicken & Mushroom and Spinach & Fetta – still our best-sellers today.
FFW: Despite the ‘European Cuisine’ name, some of your products are distinctly modern Australian; how do you reconcile that with the name?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: Our products started with a distinctly European flavour, given Helen’s European heritage. But since the best interest of customers has always been at the forefront of our minds, we have diversified to meet customer demand. It’s always been our strength to make what customers want, as opposed to just what our name suggests. So we have a constantly evolving menu!
FFW: Tell us about the integrity of your production facility.
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: We live and breathe Quality Assurance, as we believe with quality systems, come quality products. Our systems go above and beyond the Australian Health and Food Safety requirements, which is a statement of our commitment to produce safe, quality food and continuously review and improve service to our customers.
We regularly invest in new technology including state-of-the-art commercial equipment, plus we have worked with an independent IT Programmer to custom-design our own computer software for order processing.
FFW: How do you help other businesses to be successful?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: We believe we are not simply selling products, but a system for success. Customers come back to us because of the quality of our products, so it’s simple really – we provide a high-quality product that people want more of, and in turn, keep coming back for.
FFW: What kind of support do you provide to your customers?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: We will provide any support our customers require. We have representation in every state across Australia, plus a team of helpful staff at head office. Our sales representatives have first-hand knowledge working in cafes and hospitality so can provide expert advice on selecting products to best fit each customer’s individual need.
Useful information such as heating instructions and storage/freezing tips are readily available through our website and catalogue, which also feature full-colour, glossy photographs of our products in a variety of serving situations.
As part of our quality assurance, we also have a tracking system connecting all our products back to their raw ingredient suppliers.
FFW: How does HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE make it easy for clients to do business with you?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: We have a national pricing structure, so customers with multiple stores across different states all have the simplicity of one price. The quality of our homemade products is the same standard of your own kitchen, but with consistency and no added costs of hiring labour, buying raw materials, etc. that go with doing it yourself.
Plus local registered customers can take advantage of our online ordering service, or elect to be on our call list – where we call customers on days of their choice to avoid them ever missing out on an order. Additional services like free freight on orders over a certain amount make life even easier.
FFW: Are you able to provide nutritional information for your wholesale gourmet foods?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: Nutritional information for all our products can be easily accessed by logging on to our website. Simply register as a user to access an abundance of information about us and our products.
FFW: How authentic are your European foods such as lasagne, cannelloni and traditional Greek sweets?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: As authentic as Helen! Her recipes have been inspired by her own European heritage using traditions handed down from generation to generation.
We never forget how we got to where we are, and will not compromise on Helen’s handmade quality – this is the core of our business.
FFW: You also offer a contract manufacturing service; tell us about that.
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: Here at Helen’s, we enjoy developing new products for our corporate clients - we’re always trialling new ideas to suit their needs. In an ever-changing market, we’re constantly trying to come up with different concepts that will set our clients apart from others, and we have the ability to be very diverse. We’ve got the knowledge and the know-how to do big production runs in short periods of time and get them up and running pretty quickly.
FFW: What are the big advantages of contract manufacturing for your clients?
HELEN’S EUROPEAN CUISINE: Clients get to work on their business, not in their business.
Contracts are taken on a case by case basis, upon individual consultation with each client to ensure confidentiality and the best products possible to suit their needs.
Clients get to utilise experienced personnel qualified in the food service industry working on their business, all taking place inside a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. Plus they get peace of mind knowing we have the highest Quality Assurance systems in place.