I started my journey without any idea of how it would morph over time. I learned and started cooking at the age of 12 in Nigeria prior to my family and I migrating to the USA. The honest truth is, I never thought I would be into cooking since I was very much into fashion, I sewed and knitted a lot, and my dad supported my business ventures even though at the time I was not charging for the services rendered to people. When I moved to America, the plan was that my mom would buy me a sewing machine, so I could continue to perfect my sewing skills and make beautiful embroideries. I never got my sewing machine, so the dream died.
Igniting a forgotten passion by the wayside…
What next, since I considered myself a good cook (and others agreed) I started spending a lot of my spare time cooking and also taught myself how to bake. This was the birth of my catering business. Not only was I now cooking for family, I was also catering events throughout my teens. Fast forward to adulthood, a little over 3 yrs. ago, I decided to put myself out there as a budding business to friends and others.
Catering business like any other business requires passion, but growing the business takes a lot more than passion. It requires determination and sacrifice. A business is a labor of love; it’s like raising a child, you have to do the job regardless of whether or not you want to. Personally, I don’t subscribe to bandwagon followers’ approach. Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. The food business is labor intensive. If anything, I have gained a new-found respect for restaurateurs, chefs, food truck businesses and any sort of food business.
Being a passionate foodie also means making a great product that will keep customers coming back. Food is an experience and it is part of enjoying life. I care about the work I do for people and making sure my food is tasty plus happy customers is important. If you do good work, you never have to force your product on people, customers will reach out organically. With that, I started building and maintaining my clientele.
You do have to promote yourself, so people know you are in business. For me, although I knew a lot of people, nobody knew I cooked until I started catering friends’ events, people tasted my food and reached out to me to cater for them. Also, as a serious social media fanatic, I actively post my work on different social media outlets and engaged a lot with my social media (@TreatsbySade) followers/ audience. Marketing vigorously and well is important. Finally, gaining and keeping that credibility helps with referrals.
Continuing the long journey
You have proven you are passionate about starting a food business and can cook well. What next? Now you have to decide your pricing margin. Pricing is difficult because you want to be fair and also make sure you are profiting, if not why would you keep slaving in the kitchen after a full day at work??? Having a business model that works for you makes pricing easier. When I first started, I took whatever deal came my way. This is meant accepting catering orders that ranged from small vs. large scale, meal preps, random one-off small cook this or that requests, or whatever. But once I decided to focus and tailor my business to an area, I eliminated many stressors i.e. I preferred catering small scale events with a maximum number of 50-60 people to manage my time and resources especially with full time employment. So, I capped the number of people I would cook for based on the pot sizes I owned. I started shopping in bulk to keep cost low and, obtained and segmented pan sizes to match price point for different items. I decided that I preferred that customers ordered at a certain minimum $ amount so that it would be worth the effort of running around and the hours spent in the kitchen [being mindful of labor]- the cost effective ratio. My small scale business has narrowed even further to catering a single food item with options of different flavors / fillings.
Today, I am happy where I am with my business as well as with how much I have grown in the process. In spite of my smallish business engine, I try to practice and maintain good business ethics. This included being fiscally disciplined such that from day one, I always and still track all my sales and expenses, which helped to determine pricing. Now that the business is grown and profitable, I invested the earnings back into it. What this looked like for me was investing in small grade professional kitchen equipment that improved and streamlined the cooking process, I registered my business, and separated my business from personal $$ and started filing business taxes.
My learned Tips:
- In my line of business, customer is King: so, I always endeavor to provide good customer service
- Don’t compromise on a fair price valuation; your friends are not entitled to special discounts otherwise it slowly stops being a viable business model in time.
- Business is business, you can’t please everyone but have the right attitude and ethics.
- Understand cooking for a few people is different from cooking for a lot of people; the market or target customer is integral “the Who’
- Continue to hone your culinary skills; a business must grow and strive for excellence
- Support system is key; I was lucky to have a business mentor as soon as I started, plus friends/customers that constantly encouraged me.
- Take your business seriously; otherwise it is just a fad that dwindles or fade away