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You call the party, we’ll bring the food and drinks

By Christine Odeph | Sep 26th 2018 | 5 min read
By Christine Odeph | September 26th 2018
Food and beverage business. [Photo:Courtesy]

Mark Ngari describes himself as a walking factory of ideas. Some, he admits, are otherworldly, while others are useful.

He started working as an independent ICT contractor and consultant in 2005. However, with projects few and far between, he knew he needed to turn one of his ideas into a business that would bring in more cash and with better consistency.

“Independent IT projects can be rewarding, but they can also be brutally punishing. One bad debt can set you back years. It’s also increasingly difficult to win large contracts, so I had to get creative,” says Mark, 38.

“However, I knew it would be difficult for me to get into a business I’m not passionate about. I needed to find something that interested me, that I could easily sell daily.”

Getting started

In June 2016, he finally found this something: a food and beverage business he called Cahoots Catering.

“We offer a variety of food and drinks for small and large events. We can get it done within two hours of an order, and we come with a whole mobile bar service. Cahoots goes where the client is: be it at home, office, rooftop or football field.”

Cahoots was a good fit for Mark: he loved food and loved cooking, but he knew an idea around the food business had to offer something unique.

“Obviously with food, the orders can be frequent once you establish a good customer base – people must eat. If I could deliver on the customer’s expectation, then I felt I would carve out a niche for myself. So we started out with presentation that’s different.

Mark uses wooden plates, custom-made hot buckets, offers an African fusion menu, and throws in fresh fruit smoothies that are blended on site as an alternative to the usual sodas. The business also makes cocktails.

“Our portable bar lights up at night. A host should enjoy his/ her party, so we endeavour to make that happen every time,” says Mark.

But how exactly did the business idea come together?

“A friend and I spontaneously decided to have a party. There wasn’t enough time to find a caterer. I ended up quickly arranging for a goat from a slaughterhouse, got a grill and drinks; within two hours, we had a nyama choma and ‘wet fry’ affair.

“Later I thought to myself: what if I could set up a catering business that can arrange food and drinks for customers within two hours of ordering? How would I deliver a great party experience in a short time? In that moment, a lot of imagination and a little whiskey went a long way in coming up with a good concept.”

The research

Mark embarked on carrying out research, looking at other catering businesses, their offerings, their prices, their successes and their challenges. Then he consulted friends and business associates, and did trial jobs that helped him refine the idea.

“They were very supportive. They were my first customers and continue to give me business and references. After the initial market research and refining the idea, I designed a logo and the brand concept, registered the business and began looking for good suppliers and establishing a relationship with them.”

Mark then drew on his savings to raise capital, put together a good team and eventually, Cahoots Catering took flight.

Initially, the cooking was done in Mark’s home kitchen as he searched for an ideal location.

“Starting out is never easy, as any businessperson will tell you. From my kitchen, we started developing our menu and signature dishes, as well as our presentation and service standards.” The business eventually found a space it could operate from along Nairobi’s Waiyaki Way.

“I worked with a crafts specialist to design and produce some of our unique tableware, then recruited a chef and an assistant, and identified a number of casual staff whom I could call on at short notice to assist.”

They then needed to establish a customer base.

“I took every opportunity to tell people I know about this new venture and what we were offering. Sharing photos on WhatsApp proved to be extremely effective. Soon, we were getting orders and being referred to customers. Our clients were impressed and they were happy to order again and share our information with their friends. It went better than expected.”

The challenges

Cahoots Catering has had success with small home parties and traditional functions, such as dowry negotiations. Mark shares that he looks at sales forecasts daily to see what can be improved.

“I am constantly looking to improve our menu, presentation and services; therefore, we meet almost on a daily basis to discuss and review recipes and ideas. We look at our weak areas and find solutions. We’re also trying to get into supplying packed lunches to offices and have been doing snacks and fast food deliveries within our location – Mountain View, Loresho and along Waiyaki Way in Nairobi.”

And when it comes to staffing?

“It’s always difficult finding a dedicated team, but I’m lucky to have a great group of people working tirelessly on this business. There were a few disappointments along the way, but I believe everyone has something good to offer given the right motivation. The main challenge is getting the team to buy into the vision and internalise what we’re really trying to provide for our customer.”

And the business has been recovering from a bad season in 2017.

“The cholera outbreak in Nairobi saw many customers avoid catering services, and then the extended election period meant that orders drastically reduced. This year started out well, but from May, the numbers have been dwindling. The financial crunch is biting.”

Still, this hasn’t stopped Mark from dreaming big. He has plans to open a restaurant in the future, and is looking to attract investors for it.

The team is also putting together a strong marketing plan, particularly to tap into social media, which it had previously not leveraged on.

“We also want to aggressively pursue our packed lunches and meal delivery services. We shall soon be launching an app for food and beverage deliveries. You could be hanging out at home with your friends and quickly place an order for a bucket of our wet fry, accompaniments and an assortment of drinks, and we’d be able to deliver.” 

Other complementary services Cahoots offers include a crew that cleans up your house after a party, a hangover brunch delivery, and a hangover smoothie with secret ingredients “guaranteed to cure you in 30 minutes”.

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