Qualification gets the wheels in motion for family food business

New Zealand Certificate in Business (Small Business) (Level 4) graduate Sabine Lang’s new Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga qualification has not only helped her set up a food business in the Waikato, but also provided her family with the opportunity to gain valuable work experience.

Sabine’s daughters aged 21 and 17 have health issues, including one having coeliac disease, so in 2022, instead of renewing her contract as an English Teacher, Sabine decided to set up a gluten-free bakery business, Lang’s Little Bakery, with her family.  

“Both our daughters’ high health needs led to the conclusion that the best way to support them would be to run our own business,” Sabine says.  

Why Sabine enrolled with Open Polytechnic 

Despite running her translation business both in Germany where Sabine is from and New Zealand for almost 30 years and being an English Teacher from 2021 until early 2022, Sabine did not feel equipped for “such a huge task” and responsibility of running a food business. 

“I had never before dealt with payroll, GST, food business registration and the like,” Sabine says.  

Also, it wasn’t going to be just Sabine working alone in the business, like her previous ventures. The business would have to work out for both her daughters as well.  

“There was a lot at stake. I am not naturally very entrepreneurial and felt I needed guidance and upskilling,” Sabine says.  

“Pulling this off from scratch straight away was too daunting, so I decided to upskill first through Open Polytechnic.”  

Sabine enrolled in online study in the New Zealand Certificate in Business (Small Business) (Level 4) at Open Polytechnic in 2022 so she could upskill in order to set up the new business. 

“Open Polytechnic happened to offer a study programme that’s content was a perfect fit for me, and fees free, too, which was a bonus,” Sabine says. 

“I welcomed the opportunity to study entirely online, as I was still needed at home to support both my daughters and couldn’t take on any commitments.” 

When life gives you lemons you make delicious lemon meringue eclairs 

In April 2022, Sabine’s eldest daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with coeliac disease four weeks into her pastry cheffing degree. 

“She was devastated to have to abandon her studies, and her health had been and continued to be very poor,” Sabine says. 

Hannah was offered an apprenticeship at a Hamilton gluten-free café, but the business went bankrupt shortly after.  

“Working in a kitchen where regular flour is handled was impossible for her, as flour stays airborne for a long time, and even the tiniest amounts can trigger her autoimmune response,” Sabine says.  

Sabine’s other daughter, Eva, who is 17, has other health needs that also prevent her from working a “regular” job or attending school.  

“So, one day, my husband and I simply decided to do our own thing to help both our girls gain employment and learn skills that will enable them to make a living in their futures,” Sabine says. 

“We are kind of providing them with a stepping-stone into working life.” 

Entering the gluten-free market 

Kids Health NZ says that an estimated 1 in 70 or approximately 70,000 New Zealanders may have coeliac disease. These people require a gluten-free diet, free from the risk of being contaminated by wheat, barley, oats or rye.   

According to Sabine, the market for delicious gluten-free baking products is “huge”. 

“We have always loved to bake in our family, including baking celebration cakes for friends and friends of friends for many years, so the decision didn’t seem too out of character for us,” Sabine says. 

They started looking for suitable premises for Lang’s Little Bakery, but with lease rates expensive in Cambridge in the Waikato, they decided it would be more viable to buy a food trailer.  

They initially looked for a used trailer, but it wasn’t practical, especially with them requiring gluten-free premises, so they ended up having a trailer custom-made for them.  

“We are beyond excited to have moved into our beautiful trailer recently,” Sabine says.  

“We had been test-baking in our home kitchen for over a year, and to now bake in our actual commercial trailer kitchen for all our new customers feels great!“` 

How is the business going?  

“It's such a privilege to be able to work with both my awesome and talented girls in this business, that we are all so very passionate about,” Sabine says. 

The Lang family has been working hard to find and modify recipes that produce cookies, cupcakes, cakes and other baked treats that are so delicious, people won’t even know they are gluten-free.  

Sabine is the director of Lang’s Little Bakery, which includes marketing, accounting, baking, human resources, cleaning and sales. Hannah is the head baker, with extensive baking experience. She is also in charge of the social media marketing. 

Eva has also baked from a young age and is learning accounting skills, while also helping out in the kitchen. 

Sabine’s husband Oliver works as a Structural Engineer during the week but is keen to help out with Lang’s Little Bakery when he can, including when they go to Saturday markets. 

“It’s our ultimate joy when we put smiles on people’s faces with our baking,” Sabine says.  

Lang’s Little Bakery managed to make someone very happy by serving them a piece of gluten-free custard square.  

“She hadn’t had one in the 20 years since she’d been diagnosed with coeliac disease,” Sabine says.  

“Those little moments are priceless, and we can’t wait to create more of those.” 

Sabine’s career from Germany to New Zealand 

Sabine, who is originally from Germany, has always worked as a Freelance Translator. She is a polyglot (speaker of multiple languages) and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Translation Studies (German, English, Spanish and French) from the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne back in 1995. 

She moved to New Zealand in 2006 with her husband and two young children, and continued as a Freelance Translator until late 2019, when she decided that translations weren’t providing a viable business for her. She became an English as a Second Language (ESOL) teacher, before completing the New Zealand Certificate in Business (Small Business) (Level 4) at Open Polytechnic in 2023. 

“My entire professional trajectory in life has changed. I am going from being a translator and ESOL teacher to being a small business owner of Lang’s Little Bakery,” Sabine says.  

“This is our way of making lemonade out of the lemons life has thrown at our family, and Open Polytechnic enabled me to lead the way.”  

“Although I’m a little sad to see my language-based professional life go, I’m excited for our new business and the future it will hopefully provide to our daughters.” 

New Zealand Certificate in Business (Small Business) (Level 4) offers practical skills 

The first course in the New Zealand Certificate in Business (Small Business), called “Starting your  Business”, was the most enjoyable and helpful for Sabine.  

“Learning to write my own business plan and what to look out for when starting up was the main reason I enrolled in this certificate,” Sabine says. 

“Participants are encouraged to think very strategically about their businesses, and the process of starting a business is tackled from a few different angles.” 

“This gave me confidence when writing my own business plan for Lang’s Little Bakery. I referred back to my course material to check I hadn’t forgotten any important details.” 

How did Sabine find studying with Open Polytechnic? 

The flexibility of learning online helped Sabine, especially when she had to time off to help her daughters with their health issues. 

Starting back up after one of these forced breaks was always the hardest,” Sabine says. 

“The flexibility I had was priceless. I did manage to hand in all my assignments in time, but it was still great to know I could always ask for extensions.” 

Sabine was appreciative of her tutor, Senior Academic Staff Member, Steve Devlin who was very helpful. 

“Whenever I had any questions, I knew I could contact him, and I would always hear back super-fast,” Sabine says. 

Sabine also found that most of the study materials were presented in a very visual, structured and appealing way, which very much suited her learning style.  

Encouraging others to study with Open Polytechnic   

Sabine would’ve never been able to start her business without going through the New Zealand Certificate in Business study programme.  

“It has given me both the skills and the confidence to make this dream a reality,” Sabine says. 

“Studying is incredibly rewarding, and there are countless courses out there waiting for you.” 

This is our way of making lemonade out of the lemons life has thrown at our family, and Open Polytechnic enabled me to lead the way.