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Why This Couple Gave Away Their Successful Business for Free

By Vania Chew 4 min read

They had a business valued at $200,000, but they decided to give it all away—for free.

Every mum understands it’s a struggle between wanting to be a mum and wanting to follow your passions,” says Laura McNamara, former business owner and mum of two children.

When her first child Frankie was born, Laura decided it was time to leave her job in the corporate world. During her maternity leave, she began thinking about her love of raw treats and whole foods. Now that she had left the corporate world, she wondered if it was time to pursue that passion.

“When Frankie was six months old, I started making products for my first market at the Mornington Peninsula [south of Melbourne],” says Laura. “I had so much self-doubt about the products and how they would be received. But they sold within the first few hours.”

This early success boosted Laura’s confidence and she continued to make and sell healthy whole food treats at various markets. Eventually she started thinking about running a café.

Just before Frankie turned one, in 2015, Laura found a property on Phillip Island, a popular day trip destination from Melbourne, that had originally belonged to a butcher. With financial assistance from her grandparents, she signed a lease on that property.

Laura was really passionate and had studied good nutrition and healthy eating. Her main goal wasto nourish the community by providing healthy food for them. The result was a café called Island Whole Foods. After she and her husband Matt decided to go vegan, they turned the café vegan as well.

“I came from a business background but I had to learn on the go how to manage staff,” admits Laura. “I had to learn how to train people and do everything in the business.”

A year-and-a-half later, Matt left his retail business to manage the café when Laura gave birth to their son Myles.

“When I had my second [child], the seed had been planted that I really wanted to be a mum,” confesses Laura. “I’m so proud to have started a business where I could overcome judgements, vulnerability and follow my heart. By example, I’ve shown my kids that they can do this too.”

Laura and Matt always had a goal of someday travelling around Australia—whether it would be just them or travelling with their children. Believing that the first seven years of their kids’ lives would shape the people they would become, they were keen to take the time to start travelling with them.

“We had so much pressure and stress over mortgages and business and our main focus was on financial issues,” says Laura. “It didn’t seem right that we had these two beautiful children who we wanted to spend time with as a family but our focus was on our money.”

After a conversation, Matt and Laura decided to make their goal of travelling around Australia as a family come true. When discussing their dreams with a friend, the friend told Matt and Laura of a resort in Panama that had essentially been given away and suggested they do the same. (Island Whole Foods is rated number one on TripAdvisor for restaurants on Phillip Island out of a total of 80 and has more than 9000 followers on Facebook and Instagram.)

We don’t want to be in 9–5 jobs and only see [our kids] at nights or on weekends.

The couple had a lot of initial questions and spent around eight weeks investigating how this could work. Once they became convinced that it was viable, they loved the idea. They had been able to develop the business with the help of a loan from Laura’s grandparents and they liked the idea that they could potentially help someone else by passing the business on.

Tax and legal complications meant they couldn’t just give the café away and so a competition was devised, with the prize being the business, $10,000 cash, $4000 in stock, and rent, body corporate fees and council rates paid until March 2019, fixtures and business assets valued around $100,000, and all applicable taxes, duties and costs to transfer the business and lease.

Entries into the competition were with the purchase of a $15 Raw Golden Chocolate Bar from their café. Matt and Laura also took the opportunity to raise awareness for charities that are meaningful to them through the competition, including environmental organisations such as Take 3 For The Sea, Plastic-Free Phillip Island and Boomerang Bags. With every purchase, Matt and Laura split a donation of $2 between Take 3 For The Sea and the other local charities and raised $13,000 by the end of the competition.

Allison Goldie from Ferntree Gully in Victoria was the winner of Matt and Laura’s unique giveaway, but according to Laura, they have impacted many other lives.

“People contacted and told us they were hoping to change their lives,” says Laura. “Even if they didn’t win the business, they’d realise that what they were currently doing was not what they wanted to do forever. They’re thankful for the inspiration and the encouragement for them to find out what they’re passionate about.”

It’s still hard to understand why Matt and Laura were willing to give up a business that they’d poured their heart and soul into—a business that had been valued at almost $200,000.

“Our children are now four and two,” says Laura. “We want to spend more time with them. Our café has always been closed on Tuesday. Frankie knows that Tuesday is family day. Now every day will be family day.

“When we first discussed travelling around Australia, there was a part of us that just wanted to go and run and be together. But we’ve made lots of personal changes over the past six months. We transitioned from a three-bedroom house to a yoga studio and we’ll soon be living in a caravan. We’ve gone plant-based and we are careful about waste consumption. So we’re going to start a blog called The Avocado Tribe [going live this month] where we can share our challenges on the road and the journey.”

Laura is keen to spend more time with extended family during this adventure as well.

“We only have my mum close by. All of my family and Matt’s family live a couple of hours away. We’ll spend more time with my sister and we have expressed our desire to have friends and family join us on this journey if we get to a location where they can fly, drive or camp with us.”

The McNamaras plan to spend more time surfing, visiting beaches and going to the skate park. They also want to learn more about Indigenous culture—the foods and the land.

“There are no set goals,” says Laura. “We might only be on the road for one year and find a community that we love. Being confined as a family without a community can have its challenges. However we do want to make sure we spend these years with our kids. We don’t want to be in 9–5 jobs and only see them at nights or on weekends. We’re excited to start the next journey—every day being family day, travelling Australia in a caravan, and sharing our plant-based and zero-waste lifestyle.”   

Vania Chew is producer of At The Table TV show and also writes for At The Table magazine.


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