From a curry to tasty success
Ex-teacher’s Richards Bay start-up now employs more than 135
A START-UP Richards Bay catering company has set its eyes on bigger targets – which includes international sports events and other events that draw bigger crowds.
Simiso Investments owner Mamiza Makhathini says her company is a step closer to pulling off this feat. She says they have experimented with on-day and preprepared foods to ensure that they serve food to order for the crowds.
She says Simiso wants to be known for quality and good service to its clients.
“Currently, with the assistance of SEDA, we went through certain audits, which we passed. Now we await experts from the Netherlands to check our facility and take us through this process of realising this dream,” she says. “This excites me so much.”
Makhathini, who is originally from Mthunzini, is a qualified teacher who was almost medically boarded because of a voice failure.
The prospect of being boarded prompted her resignation from teaching to explore a business that she had been running in her leisure time. Her breakthrough came in 2006, when she cooked curry for the provincial treasury department.
She said there was a request to meet the person behind the dish.
“She (the official) advised me to submit a quotation, which led to my first job, where I catered for 150 people at a department event held in the Umhlathuze municipal offices.”
This event drew many people, and included several local municipality officials. Another municipality official requested food samples, which led to her being called in, interviewed and subsequently offered a contract to cook for councillors.
Makhathini says that landing the jobs made her the first black African to be part of catering service providers who cooked for the city’s councillors in that pre-procurement era.
She says it also led to Simiso becoming the first black catering service providers for various companies, including, among others, Foskor, Sappi in Mandeni and Stanger, Richards Bay Coal Terminal, Gledhow Sugar Mills and Mfolozi Sugar Mills. Even though Makhathini never went to a culinary school, her passion to explore different foods and cooking styles served her well. But the growth of the company meant that she needed to hire professional chefs. She says her job now is to supervise and make sure they cater to changing tastes.
Makhathini says Simiso developed its unique recipes from all the client order specifications they have received, ranging from Western, Eastern, Moroccan dishes and Kwazulu-natal traditional foods.
She says the journey has had its challenges, as she had to contend, like many small businesses, with lack of funding and loan sharks to keep going. She managed, however, and today the business employs more than 135 staff. “The growth of the business has been very inorganic
– in that it grew so fast I could not manage it,” she said. “Having been a teacher, having to go into business was something else altogether.”
She has also improved on her business management skills, enrolling for a 3-year incubation programme with mining and metals company South32.
“The programme taught the requisite skills, like not having to take anything and everything that came my way. They taught me to do correct costing, so that I could have money remaining to grow further.”