From the February 1998 issue of Startups

Parents of small children want their kids to eat a tasty, nutritious lunch each day, but many day-care centers don't offer much more than graham crackers.

Calling itself "a catering service for busy parents," The Children's Chef was begun in 1996 by sisters Kathy Newberry and Martha Dolan, who discarded their plans to open a party catering company after finding the market for catering services in the Boston area was flooded.

They shifted their focus to catering to children in day-care centers, but first they decided to test the waters. "We contacted local day-care centers and told them that we were here and cooking," says Newberry, who set up sample tables at day-care centers so parents and day-care providers could taste the food for themselves.

Soon Dolan and Newberry were serving Animal Pasta Salad and Pinwheel Sandwiches for 700 children at 12 day-care centers. Now they work with federally funded Head Start day-care centers, providing daily breakfasts, snacks and lunches to 250 children. Word of their wholesome meals and consistently good service has gotten around; in the past year, their sales have reached more than $300,000.

Play It Safe

Safes are supposed to keep your valuables secure, but if a burglar is determined to get inside, he can pick the lock or force you to give up the combination. But what if the thief doesn't even know the safe is in the house?

B. Perkins, a Memphis, Tennessee, gun collector, hid his household safe after two friends had their safes emptied by professional crooks. Once the friends learned about Perkins' secret hiding place, they asked him to build them hidden safes of their own. Seventeen years later, Perkins' company, Custom Security Inc., has fitted thousands of homes with hidden safes, ranging in size from cigar boxes to bedrooms. Perkins prides himself on his perfect record: Of the 249 Custom Security customers who have been robbed, not one had a safe discovered and opened by a burglar.

Custom Security even offers an "anti-terrorist" safe: a large, walk-in safe with a door that locks from the inside, a ventilation system, a backup power supply and a cellular phone, so in the event of a home-invasion robbery, residents can hide inside.

Custom Security employees have installed safes nationwide; prices depend on the size of the safe and the difficulty of the installation. Perkins plans to open showrooms in other U.S. cities within two years.

Lap Of Luxury

Most people associate stretch limousines with movie stars and political dignitaries, but Bill Lowry, a cab driver for California Yellow Cab in Newport Beach, California, has made this status symbol available to just about anyone who calls.

Lowry started out driving a run-of-the-mill Ford Crown Victoria cab but found it painful to fold his 6-foot-7-inch frame into the driver's seat. After six months of contortions, he bought an old Lincoln limousine, painted it bright yellow, added lights, a radio, a fare meter and logos, and took his "cabousine" to the streets, where he began to attract a great deal of attention. "Driving the limo has doubled my business," says Lowry. "When people see me, they seem really impressed."

More impressive, though, is the price of a ride in the TV-, stereo- and moonroof-equipped vehicle. Lowry may charge only the standard government-regulated fare for a ride in the cabousine, but he certainly doesn't refuse a tip. "This limo costs more to maintain than a regular cab, and the gas mileage isn't very good," he says. "But the people who call the cab company and get me tip a lot better. It really balances out."

Lowry plans to buy several more limos and start his own cabousine company.

Contact Sources

The Children's Chef, 117 Montclair Ave., Quincy, MA 02171, (617) 472-0604

Custom Security Inc., 4794 Summer Ave., #4, Memphis, TN 38122, (901) 685-1500

Bill Lowry, (714) 335-5984