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Friday Nights In: Maddie Gleeson from I AM BOARD Melbourne

As guest host of our first FRIDAY NIGHTS IN, we had a chat with the Queen of platters and all round legend, Maddie Gleeson, about life in lockdown and the impact it has had on her business. 

Based in Melbourne I AM BOARD began as a passion project that grew a pulse of its own. Redefining cheese boards, Girls Nights, Board Meetings and private events with boards chock-a-block full of fresh, market-sourced, local produce, I AM BOARD aims to make life easy, bring people together, accompany conversations and create memories that will last long after the board has been devoured. 

Maddie is a savvy business owner who has achieved so much at such a young age, and a great inspiration and support for not only us here at BATU, but many other businesses. 

Tell us a little bit about how you started IAB.

It was a bit of an accident to be honest - I made a platter for a friend then posted it on Instagram and a few people messaged me asking if I could make one for them. I had just turned 23 and was working in Marketing so I played to my strengths early and created an Instagram page and built a website. A few of my friends jumped on board early, but it wasn't until a complete stranger ordered a platter that I really thought I had a good idea up my sleeve. My Dad suggested that I write down a list of 500 businesses that may need a cheese board, so I did! I called hairdressers, real estate agents, lawyers, schools and anyone else I could think of. Almost no one understood what I was trying to sell them and I had a few hang ups BUT for the ones who were happy to give me their email address, I sent a brochure filled with photos of the BOARDs I had made for friends and they were sold! One of the PR agencies I called was so impressed with the idea that she contacted a friend at the Herald Sun who got in touch and wrote about BOARD in the Sunday Paper on Stakes Day.  

How's lockdown life going? What's a typical day look like for you?    

Lockdown life is officially hard. The first round of iso felt like a holiday after working non stop since starting BOARD in 2017. I got to take a few breaths, enjoy some sleep-ins and get back into some of my favourite hobbies like cooking every meal and reading! This lockdown feels way less defined with no confirmed end in sight and that's triggering a lot of anxiety for me (and I'm sure all of the other control-freaks out there!) I wake up in the mornings and try to avoid my phone for as long as possible because I know I can get sucked into spending hours on Instagram or reading news sites if I'm not careful. I have a bath then usually go for a walk. For lunch I'll whip up some fig, prosciutto and goats cheese toast before settling in for a real housewives binge or a few chapters of whatever book I'm reading. I try to get out for another walk around sunset if my mind is up for it, I'm not pressuring myself to do things that feel overwhelming or exhausting at the moment. I'll then cook dinner (pasta / salads / veggie bowls) and usually facetime a friend during this time for a catch up. After dinner I have been trying a variation of things after a few sleepless weeks, I've been unsuccessfully attempting to meditate using the Insight Timer app or watching a slow movie or reading a book to wear myself out.  

How have the double lockdowns in Victoria affected your business?

I think it's been hard for most businesses, but it's been really hard for the entire events/hospo industries. We were able to open for a few weeks between lockdowns, but the emotional rollercoaster of opening and then having to shut again has been devastating. We've been really lucky to have qualified for state and federal government grants as well as JobKeeper, but the financial impact has still been felt. We had our most successful January and February yet this year so to have every future order cancelled within 48 hours in March was devastating. I'm not sure what the future of grazing tables / shared platters is in a world post 'rona, but I'm trying to instead focus on new ideas and ways forward despite what hurdles we may face.  

What are your favourite places to source produce for your platters?  

We source almost all of our produce from the South Melbourne Market. I spent my entire childhood in the market with my Mum and her Best Friend who had a catering company based in the food court there. I know almost everyone - it's a joke in our team that the market shop each morning takes everyone 20 minutes, except me, who takes 3 hours by the time I've stopped and had a chat to everyone! We get our deli foods from both Vangeli's Deli and Pickadeli, our fresh fruit and veggies all come from Rods, our nuts and dried fruit are sourced from the Nutshoppe and we source our flowers and greenery from Azalea Flowers. 

What are some tips to keep on top of your mental health during this time?

 I'm not sure I'm the best person to give advice on this right now but all I can say is go easy on yourself. I'm in a podcast club with a few mates where we listen to a poddy then have a drink and talk about it via Zoom on Saturdays and that gives me something to look forward to each week. I also have a friend that I share 2 things I'm grateful for each day (one thing in general and one thing about myself), that reminds me to keep looking for positives. All I can suggest is to keep talking to your friends, as much as you can, keep in contact with people. If you're struggling, let the people around you know so that they can provide support. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself further. I also have regular sessions with my psychologist and kinesiologist to ensure I'm getting professional support as well.  

Your drink of choice for a night in?

Right now, soda water! But usually I'll have a Summerfield Wines Rosé or Merlot in hand. On a Friday I might treat myself to one of the cocktail recipes that my team have been creating for the BOARD journal.  

If you could have a Friday Night In with any celebrity, who would it be?

John Krasinski for personal reasons. 

Kris Jenner for professional reasons. 

Any advice for other small business owners struggling at the moment?

It's not your fault. Keep going. You don't have to achieve anything during this time. 

You can find Maddie on Instagram here or I AM BOARD here.

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