Rebecca Mwenda worked as a cateress at Kaaga Boys High School in Meru before she ventured out to start Kendijoy Solutions, an outside catering company.
Now more established in Meru, Embu and Nairobi where she has amassed corporate and individual clients, she tells Phares Mutembei how she made it in a saturated industry
I was born in Embu County at Gitare village, Runyenjes. I am married in Meru County. After my primary and secondary education, I proceeded to Limuru School of Catering, Kiambu County and upon graduation worked in several hotels. Afterwards, I worked as a cateress at Thigingi Girls High School, Embu before moving to Kaaga Boys in North Imenti in the same capacity.
I formed the idea of starting my own outside catering company after looking around and identifying the demand. I discovered there were many social gatherings happening in Meru yet the number of top-notch service providers was wanting. I had amassed a great deal of experience catering for large numbers including Kaaga Boys where I was overseeing the feeding of over 800 students for them to study with full stomachs and on quality food. In addition, I was responsible for catering for the school’s board of management and other guests. I named the business KendiJoy after my daughter because she is my joy.
What happened next
Initially, I ran the outside catering business as a side hustle. Customers were very impressed with our cooking and service at weddings, birthday parties and burials. They brought their friends because they were satisfied by the quality of our food and service. At some point, the number of clients who wanted our services was so overwhelming that I made a decision to quit my job at Kaaga to concentrate on my catering business. I could not handle both jobs so I had to give one up.
The school administrators were supportive and recognised and respected my talent so I left with their blessings. I also started a hotel at Makutano where I sometimes prepare food for smaller groups of clients like under 100 guests.
When I am catering for large numbers, my workers and I prepare the food in a large kitchen area I have created in my compound at Kinoru in Meru.
Running a start-up
Our job entails planning for different types of events and offering catering services for families, companies, government and non-governmental organisations. For one to have a successful event, the guests have to be properly fed and that is my call. I derive a lot of satisfaction from seeing guests enjoying their meals and having a good time. But even at sombre events like burials, the people have to eat for energy.
Usually, before we start to prepare meals, I need to be provided with the number of expected guests, location, type of function and the menu required. As an expert in matters food, I also offer advice on the choice of menu for different types of guests and events. We need the information for effective catering services and for us to come up with the quotation, which we go through with the clients.
Every business has its challenges and if you meet someone who tells you they have none, they are lying. We still do not have enough vehicles to transport food and our staff to different destinations because the demand is huge. We only have two vans and one pick-up. I have teams in Meru and Nairobi who can prepare and deliver food to various events, though in Nairobi, we have to hire vans.
We also encounter clients who do not honour the signed agreement. We supply food but they do not pay or delay the payments. That type of clientele is small, but another type of challenge is when the clients give us the wrong number of expected guests. We end up with too many or fewer, which presents a challenge, but we are able to reach an agreement with them. I find it easy to estimate the number of guests at weddings or office parties.
But you cannot be too certain when you are charging for burial ceremonies. Sometimes, there is a challenge of time especially if you have large numbers of guests so we have to work extra hard to meet expectations and that all of them go home happy. When my staff and I deliver as expected, we go home happy, albeit tired.
Where I am now
We have had satisfactory growth in the last four years but there is always room for improvement, which we are working on. The general manager, Samuel Ndung’u and assistant manager, Virginia Wambui have done well to streamline the business and made it reach its current level. When all staff work as a team and are motivated, success is always assured. We now have hostels at Kinoru where we host some of our staff, most of them youths.
We have a total number of 88 staff members who include chefs, waiters, drivers, cleaners and stewards. We partner with Meru National Polytechnic and absorb interns doing the relevant catering courses. But because we sometimes have as many as six events a day, mostly Saturdays, we also hire many people on casual basis.
For the last few years, we have provided catering services to a private university during their annual major conferences which draw more than 3,000 participants. During the university’s annual women conference last year held in Mombasa County, we fed 8,000 guests for a week -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. We hope to be among the best catering companies in Kenya and serve all over the country, in the next five years. In that time, we aim to incorporate as many young people as possible so they can man the branches we will establish all over the country. And during this time, we will serve the people of God with dedication and respect, just as we have always done since we established the company.
People will always eat. People eat when children are born, at their weddings and when they die. You can say it is a business for all seasons. It is one of the business opportunities for the young generation to think about. It is about making work easier for others and to be at their service. At the happier events, you can also sit down with your guests and enjoy seeing them happy and well fed.