Smart50 Resilience Award winner: Charlie’s Fine Food Co.

Smart50 Resilience Award

Founded in 1995, Charlie’s Fine Food Co. once primarily catered to airlines and hospitality businesses. In 2019, it was recording annual revenues of $8 million.

In March 2020, that dropped to zero. Co-owners and husband and wife team Jacky Magid and Ken Mahlab were forced to pivot, and fast, or see their business crumble — and it was this pivot that has won their business the Smart50 Resilience Award for 2021.

With the support of JobKeeper, the management team used the downtime of the lockdown to strategise, ultimately securing a multimillion-dollar deal to export to a large retailer in China. Then, the full team was able to get to work building a retail presence.

Today Charlie’s has products in both Woolworths and Coles, and a retail pipeline the founders say is “overflowing”.

Pivoting to sell into new markets means Charlie’s is now sustainable and financially viable. It has also allowed the business to adapt as the hospitality and airline industries have yo-yoed between reopening and shutting down again.

But perhaps more importantly, Charlie’s has been able to support its community throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

The business has contributed food to not-for-profit FareShare and provided care packages to local cafe owners and frontline workers.

When the vaccines became available, the owners went to great lengths to educate their employees — many of whom speak English as a second language — on the benefits of vaccination.

They worked with a local GP to chat with team members and answer any questions, helped them book their appointments, and offered paid time off for jabs.

Without any force or mandates, the entire workforce was soon vaccinated, along with their families, the founders say.

The businesses’ core values are: communication, appreciation, respect, excellence and safety. Those values have been “central to the way in which we have pivoted, recovered and cared for our staff”.

Our judges were impressed by the owners’ ability to pivot to meet ever-changing challenges, when facing a genuinely existential threat.

They also noted their ability to zero in on their strengths to forge new partnerships, all while staying true to their core values and caring for their community and staff — even when dealing with a divisive topic.

“Charlie’s 25-year journey showcases resilience in the business’ and its owners’ DNA,” one judge said.

View Award Information