Business, like life, has no rehearsals

It has been a tough call to charter the waters for smaller players. Mainly focusing on home functions, Ms Leja is fighting hard in a bid to grow Heri Recipes, a venture she started in 2014

BY victor adar

The rush to embark on business without enough capital has left a majority of entrepreneurs broke. Try to picture starting a business from scratch and join the dots. You may never save enough to start one, and with highly priced loans, uncertainty looms, so finding the right combination of specific needs is crucial. Unfortunately, business, like life, seems to have no rehearsals. 

Well, it has been a tough call for tiny players to charter the waters. But for Imani Leja, 33, a loan of Sh350, 000 that she obtained from a SACCO was a reprieve. Mainly focusing on home functions, Ms Leja is fighting hard in a bid to grow Heri Recipes, a catering venture that started operations in earnest in 2014. 

At the time, the investment wasn’t as intensive but as the functions grew larger, the overheads started going up. The bulk of the loan, she says, was spent on purchasing of equipment from an established individual who was leaving the country. 

“It was cheaper for us, a brand new equipment would have cost us a lot more,” she says. “Besides, I also supply offices so we needed money to buy packaging materials… The good thing about this business is that it is self-sufficient. The business pays for it self. We go to sites, and cook there. This particular business requires on site presence but for pre packed food and cakes, my home does well.”

A stint in the hospitality industry as a manager in various hotels and restaurants helped Ms Leja pick up some secrets of trade such as time management, successful business networking, customer service and even how to avoid making financial mistakes. Hers is a story that began with a sneer and little did she know that few years down the line a move to start a business of catering would open a new page. 

Her parents were the traditional type who would not allow their children to pursue courses deemed not proper. Memories of how her dad said, “you can cook at home. Go to school, do a proper course” is still fresh in her mind. But that was just the beginning of good tidings. She is now recording success after success. 

“It is a nice business,” she says. “It has its challenges anyway; you are dealing with people, some are ‘wow’ while some especially from large functions would throw harsh words.”

Although she studied Business Administration at Zetech University, what is incredibly rewarding to her now is catering. “I cook because it calms me. Seeing people enjoy my food makes it all worth it,” she says. “It is a business I would advice Kenyans to consider. But if you go in solely for the money then you are missing out on the joy of it.”

Ms Leja terms Heri Recipes as a “company created to bring home to you”. In order to stand out, Heri offers different services that include cakes and pastry, outside catering and full home “chefing” services as well as ready meals targeting chama meetings and offices. Though currently working from home, which is along Waiyaki Way, she has identified a station in Ngara that will be largely for the bakery division. 

“I cater for Westlands, ABC area, some offices in Kikuyu and a few in Hurlingham. I do have corporate clients, and so far the ones that have daily lunches are along Westlands, ABC and one in Kikuyu, the others are individuals… I have a list of 14 clients which I believe are mine,” she explains.Key customers, who are mainly employers, pay as low as Sh50, 000 a month for meals delivered to the office. A company with 10 employees might consider a meal plan whereby each staff is entitled to Sh250 per day. This translates to about Sh50, 000 for the usual 21 working days. Normally, she offers two carbohydrates, two or three proteins, vegetable, and a salad. That is a basic menu, which is complimented with starter; soup, and accompaniments. Other things to consider include transport costs.

“We give you all those options,” she says. “With good costing there’s a good return. For showers and weddings we work with the client’s budget. Based on the menu suggested we do a costing, offer our suggestions and always agree on the price.”

I have two great chefs and two amazing service crew. They are the most dependable persons I could hope for. We do business together, and we have our own strengths. If the food is good and the customer service is great then yes, catering business is definitely a succes

Challenges abound, definitely. In an industry of too many unknowns, you may meet arrogant clients, you may forget to carry an important equipment to an event and realise when it is a little too late, suppliers might fail to fulfil their part of the bargain, and so forth. But for the years she has been winging it, the rest is falling into place. Ms Leja says that if you think about pouring money in this kind of venture for the purpose of making quick profits, think again. 

“You will run it to the ground if you do not have passion for it. There are times when things are slow. There are times we handle big events and there are times you don’t have that. So if you are doing it for money you might have to move on to other moneymaking projects. You need to meet expectations of different people; if one tells you they want a cake, make sure it is a cake, not bread,” she explains, adding that partnering with the right people is crucial. 

In the spirit of a “leave no client behind” philosophy, Leja co-runs a sister company called Kayjiko with Sarah Karanja. Kayjiko is based in Thika but does joint functions with Heri Recipes once in a while. The two companies always handle events of, say, more than 400 to 500 people, as one team. 

“I have a great support system. I have two great chefs and two amazing service crew. They are the most dependable persons I could hope for. We do business together, and we have our own strengths. If the food is good and the customer service is great then yes, catering business is definitely a success. I believe there’s a lot of growth potential for entrepreneurs like me. My mentors are successful chefs who run huge businesses,” she says.   

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