- Company: Sumting Fresh
- Players: Andrew Leeuw and Herzon Louw
- Launched: 2012
Herzon and I met twelve years ago on a taxi. He was studying to be an accountant, I was going to chef school. Whenever we met we’d talk about food.
In 2011 we bumped into each other again and I was trying to open my own restaurant. I had been demoted in my previous job, and I convinced my brother to bankroll my dream. The restaurant was a super expensive non-starter. We never even served a single meal.
At the same time, Herzon worked as an accountant and owned a food trailer that he paid people to run for him. He wasn’t making profits and I convinced him to come on board full-time.
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A Bumpy, Harsh Start
We branded the trailer, put in some more equipment and hit Arts on Main. We had no idea who we were, we were just going to bring restaurant food to the people, from a trailer. We didn’t last three months. We weren’t ready for a market and we didn’t have thick skins.
Licking our wounds we took to the streets of Midrand. For two years we persevered and slowly developed an identity, an offering and a following. Our first day, we had eight customers and walked away with – R480.
We realised offering restaurant food wasn’t working for us and we re-evaluated everything. Each week the numbers increased until we were serving 80 customers a day.
Another Fortuitous Meeting
A vendor at the Fourways Farmers’ Market asked us to help to redesign his boerewors rolls. It got us a foot in the door and we realised how special this market was.
We persisted for three months before getting in. Again, we had no idea what to serve because we couldn’t sell burgers, boerewors, sandwiches, pregos, chicken wings… what was left? We settled on goujon chicken (crispy fried chicken fillet strips) our least favourite because it was hard work, but everyone loved it.
With a small deep-fryer, we increased progressively from 120 portions, and when that doubled we bought bigger, better equipment. At the 400 meals mark we bought our 1992 double-decker Mercedes bus that was converted into a kitchen and dining area. We gained exposure in magazines and landed a spot on TV with Ultimate Braai Master.
Those winnings helped us fund our growth, but the market really changed our lives. It’s a spot where corporate decision-makers take their families and that’s how we’ve landed corporate catering.
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Learning Important Lessons
- Have your own identity and style. We started out selling expensive food and people at markets didn’t want that – they want delicious street food.
- We learnt to take criticism constructively and grow a thick skin.
- Be flexible. Introduce yourself to the market, but don’t wait for them to decide who you should be.
- Our core offering allowed us to grow a trusted following who were game to try other things like soft-shelled crab, trout and quail, because they knew the quality and they were curious.
- We now have a staff contingent of 18 people, seven permanent. We focus on spirit as much as qualifications when recruiting, because that makes as much of an impression on customers as the food.
- Preparation is important. We start prepping three days in advance so that we can deliver quickly and maintain quality in a small space.
- Don’t give up.
- Keep careful tabs on costs.