What you need to know:
- "On January 29, we handled our first event for 2022 where we cooked breakfast and lunch for 1,000 people attending a meeting.
- "At that event, all of us had uniforms and we looked professional. Still, we hired utensils and everything else since we couldn’t afford to buy our own things.
- Our client was very happy with our services and that really encouraged us. The next month, we handled a wedding, and the company has kept growing," says John Njuki.
The leap from student life to entrepreneurship can be bold and challenging, but it is not impossible. This is the story of John Njuki, 26, who dipped his feet into the catering business armed with nothing but a desire to offer customers an affordable and stress-free dining experience.
“Starting a business is not easy because you need capital. In the hospitality industry, capital is particularly critical because you need to have a kitchen.
“In 2021, I spent most of my time marketing my cooking services and took small gigs such as cooking for people in their homes and in small events such as baby showers. Toward the end of 2021, a friend approached me with an offer to cook for 200 guests at his traditional wedding. At the time, I only had a set of knives which I had bought using my savings. I didn’t have any cooking pots, plates, spoons or even food warmers.
“Traditional weddings are big in Kenya. You don’t want to ruin such an event with poor food or guest services, particularly for a close friend,” says John.
John decided to bet on himself. He quickly came up with a quotation for the 200 guests and presented it to his friend. Luckily, his offer was approved.
“My friend paid a deposit, and I assembled a team of friends who studied hospitality and knew how to prepare and serve food. Since I did not own any utensils, we hired everything we needed using the money we had been paid as deposit. We spent hours planning and preparing, and on D-Day, we delivered to my friend’s satisfaction. That was in late 2021, and it was our first gig.
“From that event, I grew more confident in my catering skills. At the start of 2022, I registered Hotels Utamu Wa Africa(HUWA) as my catering business. I also used my savings to purchase uniforms for the company’s staff and we started marketing ourselves on social media aggressively.
On January 29, we handled our first event for 2022 where we cooked breakfast and lunch for 1,000 people attending a meeting. At that event, all of us had uniforms and we looked professional. Still, we hired utensils and everything else since we couldn’t afford to buy our own things. Our client was very happy with our services and that really encouraged us. The next month, we handled a wedding, and the company has kept growing.”
HUWA offers catering services in events such as birthdays, family gatherings, burials, meetings and conferences. They also deliver food to offices, and offer training on hospitality, cooking, accommodation, healthy eating and personalised cooking lessons. This is in addition to offering tents, decor and events management.
“After our second event, I saved enough to buy high-quality plates, spoons, cooking pots and other equipment we needed. The great services we offer have helped us grow as we regularly get repeat clients and referrals. In 2022, we invested heavily in marketing and buying equipment. In catering, buying your own equipment is beneficial as it allows you to minimise expenses. Our team and capacity have also grown. The team comprises 35 people and we are able to handle up to four events in a single day.”
According to John, the journey has been anything but smooth.
“Finance was initially a big challenge since it limited our access to the equipment we needed. The other serious challenge we face is competition. There are so many people and companies offering catering services, and some providers undercharge so that they can get more jobs.
Marketing ourselves has also been a challenge. We are still a small brand so our marketing efforts are limited by the amount we can spare for marketing. ”
The other challenge they face is transporting staff and utensils since they are yet to buy a car. They rely on car hire services.
John’s success in the catering business can be attributed to a number of factors. However, his experience and determination played a big role. While still a student, John worked in hotels such as Maiyan Luxury Villas in Nanyuki, Swatch hotel and NAS Servair banqueting.
While still in school, he used to bake and sell birthday cakes and also cook for people at their homes to make ends meet.
John has now set his eyes on growing his business and owning a chain of hotels and resorts in Kenya, Africa and beyond. His vision is to become a leading voice and expert in the hospitality industry. He also plans to start a schoolof hospitality.
In December 2022, John graduated with a First Class degree in hospitality and tourism management. This January, his first month outside campus, his business will mark its first anniversary.