‘My husband almost died’: Kim Antoniou founded Kafoodle after her partner’s near escape from death over a sesame allergy

Launched in 2014, Kafoodle aims to create a safer and more transparent food environment helping both businesses and their consumers

“New regulations were going to knock the hospitality industry and it was clear that they were unprepared to deal with it,” the founder of Kafoodle, Kim Antoniou tells me. “Chefs are not necessarily tech-savvy and the lack of allergen information was killing people. We began by talking to chefs and hospitality owners, building our software from chefs upwards. It became successful quickly, as it was easy to use. Our mission statement is to ‘make food transparent’.” 

Kim was born in Wood Green and grew up in Tottenham, North London with her two parents and brother. Kim attended an all-girls school and worked at a dress shop on Saturdays to earn some extra money on the side. The owner of the shop was a hardworking single mother – and she gave young Kim a taste on the ins and outs of business. Kim learnt valuable skills which she brought with her into her career – and her entrepreneurial streak began.

Kim enrolled in nursing school but later switched to accounting to pursue her passion in business. Kim’s boss at her Saturday job sold her North London business and moved to Folkestone, Kent. 17-year-old Kim saw her boss as her mentor and didn’t want to leave her side, so she signed up for an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) business studies course in Folkestone and continued to work at her new shop while living above the premises. 

After tying the knot, Kim started a property and construction business with her husband, using her knowledge and skills to supervise the office management and rental portfolios. The pair then set up a property and construction firm, moving from North London to Chingford. However, Kim and her partner eventually split up – and the savvy entrepreneur decided to take up the opportunity to run the company on her own. One day, Kim decided to buy herself a computer and learn about computing and software language – and that was when her love for tech developed. She later set up a creative services company, called Perfect Fish Advertising, with her brother, but the business later went into liquidation. However, Kim never let her entrepreneurial spirit die. When a friend suggested starting an app for food allergen information, Kim dived right in, knowing she could put her software knowledge into good use. 

“It was when I went to buy a new golf-ball typewriter that my direction changed,” Kim tells me. “I had the option to buy the typewriter or a computer and I chose the latter. The shop wanted to arrange for someone to do the set-up for me but I was sure I could do it myself. Well, it took some 24 hours but I did it! I quickly learnt about computing and software language leaving property behind for tech. 

“With my brother, we set up Perfect Fish Advertising, a creative services business. He managed the traditional advertising side and I specialised in all things digital. Web design and programming moved into web software development, culminating in us building the benchmark system, Ontrack, for the Road Reinstatement Industry; revolutionary at the time. When we lost the contract, our business went into liquidation, despite having poured our own money into it, in order to try to keep afloat. I was adamant that I would not establish another business – ever! But, when a friend had the idea for an app regarding food allergen information, I was so intrigued that I couldn’t help but go for it.” 

In 2013, Kim witnessed the horrific moment her husband was resuscitated on the floor of a restaurant in Mykonos. He had a serious sesame allergy and nearly died after consuming a food product. From that moment on, Kim made it her life mission to educate busy restaurant staff and help diners make informed decisions – so her idea for Kafoodle was born. 

Kafoodle aims to help the foodservice industry manage and communicate their food allergens, calculate nutrition and control costs, leading to a safer and more transparent food environment that benefits both the business and the consumer. The app has two functions – one allows chefs to manage the ingredients, cost and make-up of their menus (for a fee) while the other gives consumers free information on which establishments they can eat at safely. 

“Kafoodle works extensively with commercial kitchens and food providers in the UK & The UAE helping them to manage everything around the food they serve including their allergen compliance, nutritional information and supply chain,” Kim said. “We work with some great clients in Healthcare and Education, hospitality, retail and more recently extensively in the food delivery space. Kafoodle has become a well-respected and market-leading set of compliance/menu management and communications tools and the combined product suite offering real-time information and filterable menus to allow a completely personalised and safe food experience to its diners, customers, residents and patients.” 

Kim faced several hurdles in the early days of launching Kafoodle. Having to convince chefs to try out the new and innovate software was no easy feat. “It was definitely trying to get the chefs to buy into the concept and make the time to do it,” Kim said. “I think they understood that, in long run, it would save time, but it did require a lot of effort. Then, there was the difficulty that many of them refused to believe that there was a problem surrounding allergens. However, legislation has since been introduced and now, of course, food and hospitality businesses are forced to confront the issue.” 

To overcome this problem, Kim built relationships with her clients first and introduced software that was similar to previous ones that had used, which made it easier for them to jump onto the platform and adopt the software easily. “We built relationships with the chef’s and business owners and developed software that was closely aligned to those they already worked with,” Kim said. “We were fortunate to have some very good press coverage and so the brand became known for trying to help hospitality businesses, making kitchens compliant and, saving lives. We always hoped that we were going to take over the world! There were about 600 kitchens at the time and it didn’t enter our heads that we would not be going to get through to them all, that’s optimism for you! The reality was rather different. Today however, allergen control is a fact of life, businesses have to face it head on, if they hope to build a decent market share.” 

The pandemic caused the hospitality industry to shut down completely, and thousands of workers have lost their jobs as a result. As a result, Kafoodle lost a large number of clients – but with strategic thinking, Kim managed to redirect sales to a new ‘click and collect system’ and also worked closely with other institutions such as schools, hospitals, the care industry and businesses that were still open during the lockdown. “We have been saved by our click and collect system and by our fund round in 2020,” Kim said. “Whilst the funds were to be used for growth, we were able to redirect them and concentrate on click and collect and pre-order areas of our business. We also work closely with the Care Industry, hospitals and schools. Businesses that were not shut down, infact becoming more needy. 

“Whilst Kafoodle started with allergens, we realised that it was only one part of the story and that nutrition was equally as important. Food is a very personal choice for a number of reasons. Nutrition for patients in hospitals, residents in care homes and pupils in schools is vitally important so we also have solutions specifically for the Health & Care and Education sectors where a person’s requirements can be matched against menus to create personalised meal plans.” 

In a few words of advice to struggling SMEs, Kim said: “You know, if you have a product or a proposition that can easily pivot, take advantage of that fact, be agile and flexible where possible. Knowing when to stop is important. There is no shame in self-preservation. Understand that the situation we are in is temporary, if you can ‘keep the lights on’ better times will come back and businesses will thrive again.”