As a child, Kate Wilson wanted to be a nuclear physicist. This was no pipe-dream – she even completed a Masters degree in physics in pursuit of this aim. For whatever reason, this didn’t work out, so at age 22 Wilson joined intellectual property firm James & Wells, where she stayed for 28 years.
It was her passion for food, wine and the arts which led her to leave James & Wells at the start of 2016 and start a hospitality business with her husband Allan – despite having no previous experience in the sector. “Allan and I love everything about food and hospitality from a consumer standpoint,” she explained. “When our children left home, we thought it would be a chance to leave our previous careers to work together on a project that reflected our mutual passion.”
The result of this passion was Prof’s at Woodlands, a café nestled within the Woodlands Estate in Gordonton, near Hamilton. “With no hospitality background we managed to double the turnover of the Woodlands café in just 18 months,” said Wilson, citing it as one of her major milestones. Another milestone came in April this year, with the opening of a second Prof’s in the Hamilton city centre. “It’s in the heart of Hamilton’s central business district, and we want to be part of revitalising the CBD.”
Wilson grew up in Hamilton, where her parents still live, and now lives on a 20-acre lifestyle block just outside the city. “Throughout the years our place has housed many pets, free-range chickens and quail plus an orchard, extensive herb, vegetable and flower gardens. Because of this, gardening and cooking became a counterpoint to my intellectual property work.”
Wilson has served as a board member of Waikato Food Inc., a non-profit group which works to develop and promote the Waikato food and beverage industry and has appeared as a contestant on TVNZ’s MasterChef. Unsurprisingly, given her scientific background, she is a fan of Heston Blumenthal. “He brings science and fantasy to cuisine.”
Not being bound by hospitality traditions is what Wilson believes give Prof’s the edge. “We analyse what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “We try different cooking techniques, flavour combinations as well as different business systems.”
Wilson wants every customer to become an advocate for Prof’s, be it because of the food, service and ambience – as long as they want to show Prof’s off to their friends and family and support the Prof’s team.
“I would like it if we could find the Holy Grail of having well-paid staff with a career path that makes them feel valued, plus customers who are happy to pay enough to support them for having a good experience.”