What the hell did I get myself into?

Sitting here in my room. My door is locked shut and I’m looking at my business diary with my palm firmly against my forehead. When I registered LesDaChef as an official company in January this year I honestly had no idea what would become of this crazy plan. Officially titled LesDaChef Culinary Solutions Pty (Ltd) {Don’t ask me why there are brackets around Ltd, it just makes it look more important methinks, kinda like seeing MD next to a Dr’s name…anyway, I digress}.

I’m sitting in my room because we recently lost my grandmother and the funeral will be happening here. So my place is full of people, my furniture has all been moved into strange positions and the living room/dining room now resembles a hall or AA meeting. Plastic chairs all against the walls and an empty vacuous space in the middle where choirs, Church groups and anybody who’d like to come pay condolences have been coming and filling up. My gran was 97years old when she left this world. She lived with me for the last year and a half of her life and it was a mix of jokes and frustrations. Sliding down the passage in her slippers and gown to come tell me to give her matches and then the debate we’d get into about why she needed matches in a house full of electric lights. In winter it was arguments about why she had a hot water bottle, an electric blanket and a heater on, when I’d show her how much I spent on electricity each month she’d shrug and say “buy more”. She was also very adamant about her routine and what she wanted and what she didn’t want. She didn’t want any salt in her food. I would boil chicken for hours without any seasoning and she’d still say I had put too much salt in her food! Meanwhile if anyone brought KFC for her she’d finish the lot. Questions about this would be met with a blank stare and silence. Another thing was tea, she refused to drink anything else but Milo (a chocolate drink) and breakfast had to be Kelloggs corn flakes everyday, with hot milk so the corn flakes were really soggy and resembled a porridge. Her favourite outings were to the Dr but heaven help any doctor who dared not send her home with a prescription or small container of pills. She’d go on about how useless the Dr was and sulk the whole day. When we’d tell the doctor how she was sulking because of the lack of drugs he would tell us she was fitter than he was! Eventually the Dr resorted to giving her vitamin pills and aspirin to appease her. She lived a full life full of personality til the very end. Asking for a sip of my “juice” whenever she saw us having beers or wine.

So here I sit, wondering how I’m going to manage this week with my house basically being a conference centre. I have a wedding cake order for this weekend and a few other orders. When I decided to quit my full time job which came with benefits and standard 8 hour days and weekends off I believed I was going to go make buckets of money and live the dream. Ha! Being a culinary entrepreneur is tough work. Any entrepreneur who makes money through using a skill and their hands can attest to this. Unlike a business based on selling a tangible product which you just have to make sure is in stock, you have to constantly be hustling and marketing your craft and making sure you are first in mind when people think of cakes, functions, food and anything else your business does. I did a B.Com in Marketing, so my mind is tuned to the importance of image and projecting your brand positively…its why I can at least look at this year and say I’ve achieved a bit, the marketing of what I do has allowed me to gain a bit of traction in a short time but its the other things that have come along on this journey that have been an experience and a half.

I catered a 350 person wedding early this year, a funeral a few weeks ago, a private 2 person dinner for a well known celebrity, catered small functions along the way and also made cakes till I actually started dreaming of cakes. I’ve been on 12 different radio stations, been in over 15 publications, been on a few tv shows and basically been a media hoe. Not by choice, I don’t call people and tell them to interview me or offer me a job, for some reason my outspoken madness is seen as different for a South African chef. I honestly don’t get it but I sure am going to milk it. The goal is to open my standalone restaurant towards the end of next year and every new restaurant needs patronage and bums on seats. So the science in my method is to build up the brand to a point where I can at least have a restaurant that people will frequent regularly just to see who this loud chef is.

Sounds easy written down like that but its been a baptism of fire. The first year of a business, if you start it like I have without a business loan or capital, basically means you’re a one man team. I designed my own logo, I built my own website, put this blog together, tweet regularly, attend every interview, take all the orders myself, invoice everyone myself, make the cakes, cook the food, do the marketing, do the banking and balancing of books, the shopping, the delivering etc etc etc. Such is the life of an entrepreneur. People see you tweeting and will send you a “I sent you an email, why haven’t you replied?” tweet. Or they go onto your instagram page and do the same. Comments such as “how much is this cake” are common on my instagram pictures. I often tell people I think I made an error by linking my business brand to my personal life…but then the reverse though kicks in, people support my brand because they see it as a person and not a random company. So its a catch 22. People demand the time of the person who the business is named after.

2015 has been a learning curve of note. The ups and downs, the tiredness and exhaustion, the struggles and successes. In 2 months time LesDaChef Culinary Solutions Pty (Ltd) will be one year old and I can actually look back and smile…which is rare for a small business. 2016 will be the year I start building my team and employing people and taking it to a new level. Step by step, the ladder on this crazy dream will be climbed.

Next time you see a chef at a food festival or a food stall or in his/her own restaurant or business, shake that man or woman’s hand! They’re probably running on 4hours sleep.


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