Chef and lifelong animal lover Elyse Vella decided to combine her 2 passions after losing her job during the first Covid-19 lockdown. She launched Cute AF Pets animal boutique, selling natural, handmade and ethical products for your much-loved pets, alongside Kindred Spirits Dog Café with a full dog menu and food and drinks for humans too! She wanted to create something unique that pet owners would really love. Here, she talks about the inspiration behind her business and her hopes and dreams for the future.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I have always been an animal lover. I grew up with large dogs and we had cats and even a goat at one point! I also volunteered at an elephant rescue centre in Thailand.
During the first lockdown in 2020, I lost my job as a chef so I started an online pet boutique. Then in early 2021, I took the leap to combine my two passions and opened Kindred Spirits Dog Café so that I could combine my two passions.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
I started on my laptop at home during lockdown 2020 and scoured Etsy for handmade, natural, Australian pet products. I had no money behind me.
I’m a single mum, had no idea what I was doing and a limited knowledge of the retail industry, but I learnt as much as I could and it ignited a fire in me.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
I think the biggest breakthrough for me with my business was doing a pop up in my local shopping center over Christmas. It was expensive and I didn’t know how it would go, but I was busy and had to hire staff and it really gave me the confidence that I was doing something that people really did love. This helped me be confident enough to open my café.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
This is a tough one as I’m a single parent and I’d still say that I am in the start-up stage at the shop.
I’ve been training staff to work on the weekends so that I can take those off with my son (6) in the future.
He comes to markets and events with me or hangs out at the shop after school (I usually give him $5 for being a ‘worker’ that day, so that makes him feel really proud to come along and be involved).
The drive: What challenges have you overcome?
There have been so many challenges so far, but I feel like it is just a normal part of owning a business.
I sold my block of land (on New Years Eve) so that I could put a deposit and bond down on the shop, as I had lost my job as a chef in the lockdown. I started doing markets in October, but we got rained out quite a lot over summer and even had my marquee leg snap in the wind one time!