Sue Grant-Mar­shall

CityPress - - Business -

Life les­son:

Karen Short bursts into her Lin­bro Park, Sand­ton, of­fices straight off the plane from Lon­don, where she’s been re­search­ing frozen meals to en­sure that, when she launches her own brand here, it’ll daz­zle din­ner ta­bles.

The words ‘frozen’ and ‘By Word of Mouth’ (BWOM), noted for its fresh, exquisitely pre­sented and of­ten un­usual flavours, seem not to go to­gether some­how.

But Short will doubt­less rev­o­lu­tionise frozen food in the same in­no­va­tive man­ner that she be­gan chang­ing so­cial events, weddings and cor­po­rate func­tions in the mid-1990s.

She chuck­les as she re­calls soggy sand­wiches and sausage rolls, pre­sented on sil­ver-foiled trays, be­ing de rigueur back then. She changed all that with snacks on painted ce­ram­ics, dec­o­rated with flow­ers, petals and other fo­liage.

“You couldn’t get sun­dried to­ma­toes and pesto in SA back then,” she re­calls.

The food more than matched the sump­tu­ous dé­cor as Short, who grew up cook­ing along­side her fam­ily in the kitchen of their Kloof home in Dur­ban, de­vel­oped, tested and tasted new dishes.

Short, who had ma­jored in psy­chol­ogy, trained at Prue Leith’s School of Food and Wine in Lon­don, worked on yachts and in Europe, told her fam­ily she planned to re­turn “to open a cater­ing com­pany like no other”.

Short, then 23, de­clared she was mov­ing to Joburg. “There are no board­rooms in Dur­ban,” she quipped. There, draw­ing on ev­ery ounce of her for­mi­da­ble cre­ativ­ity and courage, she dived into Egoli’s culi­nary wa­ters. She be­gan cook­ing on her own, in a friend’s kitchen, strug­gling to buy petrol for de­liv­er­ies and cop­ing with cheques that bounced.

As her rep­u­ta­tion be­gan to flour­ish, Short, for whom the word ‘cre­ative’ might have been in­vented, branched out into event man­age­ment ser­vices.

These in­cluded flo­ral de­sign­ing, hir­ing and decor, bev­er­ages and pro­vid­ing front of house man­agers and wait­ers.

Her rapid ex­pan­sion was prob­lem­atic be­cause, in­stead of do­ing what she loved, she was run­ning a busi­ness, hir­ing, fir­ing and do­ing per­for­mance ap­praisals. “I wasn’t do­ing food and de­sign. I thought of sell­ing.”

In ad­di­tion, her book­keeper had been com­mit­ting fraud, steal­ing R500 000 over 18 months.

Her hus­band, Adrian Short, be­came a part­ner, “and han­dled the busi­ness side, leav­ing me free to in­no­vate”.

Her awards tell the story of her suc­cess be­cause BWOM has won in the Best of Joburg awards for 17 con­sec­u­tive years now. Fur­ther­more, last year it won the 2016 in­ter­na­tional Cater­source Achieve­ment in Cater­ing Ex­cel­lence award for cater­ing in ex­cess of $2 mil­lion. The event was held in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada, US, “and we were re­ally stunned by our amaz­ing win”, ex­claims Short. “We were up against the best in the world.”

To­day BWOM has a huge ware­house in Lin­bro Park filled with chairs, colour­ful glass­ware, table­cloths, cut­lery in sil­ver and gold, and crock­ery vari­a­tions.

“I’m al­ways on the look­out for new trends,” says Short. “Leeks, pies, ter­rines and pâtés are hot now, as well as pic­nic bas­kets,” adding that of­ten the old tried and tested foods are the best.

She has pro­duced frozen meals for six years now. “Some fam­i­lies take a full Christ­mas din­ner to Plet­ten­berg Bay ev­ery year.” Fran­chise owner Fa­mous Brands re­cently ap­proached BWOM and, in an un­usual step, it bought 49.9% of the com­pany; usu­ally it buys the con­trol­ling share. “To­gether with Fa­mous Brands we will launch a frozen meals range. It will help us with pack­ing, dis­tri­bu­tion and a na­tional foot­print.”

BWOM has long wanted to open in Cape Town and Dur­ban and this step will en­able it to do so. They are also look­ing for an out­let for frozen foods in Joburg’s north­ern sub­urbs.

Short en­vis­ages frozen meals be­ing avail­able on­line and in de­liv­er­ies to of­fices and some homes.

Her char­ity work in­volves sup­port­ing 2 000 child-headed house­holds, as well as or­gan­i­sa­tions that help women bat­tling breast can­cer.

“I never sit still,” says the mother of four sons aged be­tween 10 and 17, who runs marathons with her friends all over the world, from Tokyo to Lon­don and New York. Most days she’s up at 5am and her en­ergy, lively mind and rest­less cre­ativ­ity see her out of the start­ing blocks of what­ever it is she has set her mind on.

Wow! mo­ment:

The open­ing night of the 2010 World Cup, for which we catered.

I have learnt, the hard way, that I trust peo­ple too eas­ily.

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