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Chef grad to small business success: Meet Leah

This article appears in: Tourism and Hospitality, Vocational Education and Training
CDU student Leah Sloane in front of her pub

Someone called Leah a mature-age student. To which she exclaimed, “I’m not mature!” All joking aside, Leah Sloan’s journey to success has taken many turns. She’s been an airline lounge manager, a chef—and most recently—an employer of over a dozen staff in her tavern.

But how did Leah go from being a Vocational Education (VET) graduate at CDU to running a small business empire? Or for that matter, how did she win a stack of awards for her achievements?

CDU student Leah Sloane and her kitchen team

Part of the answer can be attributed to the bold moves Leah made as a married mother of two. When she and her husband Ian found themselves owners of a tavern in Darwin’s rural area, she decided to enrol in a Commercial Cookery course at CDU. For Leah, deciding to go back to school was a big decision.

“It was particularly hard to manage as I was working shifts at Qantas and running the tavern and raising two children, so it was critical I had work and study flexibility and the support of my employer, family and CDU lecturers,” said Leah.

“The teachers at CDU were amazing! They were very passionate and knowledgeable and worked hard to meet both the learning and personal needs of students. Their care and individual attention meant that students like me received additional one-on-one training when I missed classes due to family or work commitments. The facilities were great too, and accessible outside of lessons if required.”

The next thing you know, Leah had not only completed a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, she’d also earned CDU VET’s Most Outstanding Student Award and the Vice-Chancellor’s Award.

Fast forward and Leah is finding her rhythm as a publican and small business owner. She’s also proud to have mentored seven apprentice chefs, five of whom are talented women. Her apprentices have represented the Northern Territory in the Nestle Golden Chefs competition three times in four years and won Apprentice of the Year in 2016 and again in 2019.

Leah herself was recently awarded the 2019 NT Telstra Business Woman of the Year-Small Business—and for good reason.

CDU student Leah Sloane with her Telstra Business Women's certificate


“I’m keen to pass along my knowledge, and to support others to grow and learn. I do this by working closely with my apprentices and maintaining a good relationship with them, my head chef, and their lecturers at CDU. I mentor others, particularly women, by regularly participating in events as a guest speaker and panellist,” Leah added.

There’s a way to describe what Leah has been doing by nurturing her apprentices.

It’s called paying it forward.

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