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Alumna Story: Building a Empire in Culinary Arts

  Jun 3, 2016

Esmeralda De Souza, an Owner Manager Program alumna shares her journey in making a living off the culinary arts.

Here is Esmeralda’s story.

Esmeralda De Souza has come a long way from the young geology student who inadvertently started a lucrative career by baking cakes in her mother’s kitchen to provide for her new-born son.

That was eight years ago.

Today, the 30-year-old is running Spez, a fully-fledged catering company which serves an A-list of organisations including CFC Stanbic Bank, Citibank, Safaricom, IBM, G4S, DT Dobie and the Australian High Commission among several others.

When she started off, Ms De Souza’s returns were in the low thousands of shillings; today she says her annual turnover ranges between Sh20 million and Sh30 million.

“The idea was actually inspired by the birth of my son. I wanted a means of income to support him. After trying out a couple of other business ideas, I settled on baking, at first,” she told Business Daily in an interview.

The entrepreneur, who is assisted by her partner Spencer Fondaumiere, started off by banking cakes mostly for friends and family members. Through referrals, she slowly built up a client base, one that would later catapult her business out of her mom’s kitchen in Kilimani.

One of these clients, erroneously assuming De Souza was a fully-fledged caterer, recommended her for job with a company that was planning to hold its annual general meeting in Nairobi.

“It was an opportunity I could not pass up. That is when I roped in my partner at the time, Spencer Fondaumiere, who was studying culinary arts,” Ms De Souza told Enterprise.

Spencer, who has since moved to South Africa but remains a shareholder, would handle the food preparation while she is in charge of marketing and logistics — an arrangement that laid the foundation for their successful operation.

With a Sh100,000 loan from her parents, the enterprise was born and spread out both in size and offerings. Spez currently offers a mix of a variety of cuisines- Italian, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Continental and a few African dishes.

Although the company caters for private functions like weddings, the bulk of their business comes from corporates. Spez now has its own premises in Karen where 25 staff members cater to its growing client list.

“We cater to boardroom meetings, training sessions, product launches, company fun days, office lunches among others,” she said.

Spez charges at least Sh1,400 per person for a lunch event depending on the menu while the company’s cakes will cost customer banks at least Sh2,000 and per kilogram.

The cakes on which the company was started have maintained a special line in the business with Ms De Souza saying that they are baked to order and not mass produced.

To make them unique, some cakes are baked with different flavors within them in a way that every other slice tastes different from the last one, a concept the caterer says has caught on among customers especially the young.

Ms De Souza adds that besides ensuring they supply great food, part of their success is also based on paying attention to details like sending out customized non-repetitive menus and how their staff serve clients during a buffet.

Story courtesy of Business Daily

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