Food glorious food. A passion for many and a pass time for others there can be no doubt that food is one of the most popular areas of business. And rightly so! As a food lover, it brings me great pleasure to see people taking up opportunities in the food space in Zimbabwe. A good example of this is today’s feature guest Blue Lemon catering who we got to know about from Chef Martha on Twitter. I caught up with Ephraim who handles the marketing for Blue Lemon and posed a few questions about their business journey.
What does your BlueLemon do?
We mainly exist to provide world-class meals for both private and corporate special events such as conferences, weddings, celebrations, seminars, family functions etc- small or large gatherings (no gathering is too big or too small for us).
How big is BlueLemon?
Our company has been growing ever since we launched it. We have four permanent employees and we hire most of our employees on a contract basis depending on the natural size of the job we are working on mainly informed by the number of guests for an event we are contracted to supply our services for.
We are dynamic in the sense that our menus and works of art with food are not limited to predetermined menus. We can always rely on our creativity as well trained, groomed and experienced Chefs to always try new things in our kitchen.
Our product portfolio has been growing. We started as a food platters only business, we moved to cater for private functions where we carved out relationships that opened doors for us in the corporate world. We are proud and so humbled to have one of the leading mobile telecoms companies in the country on our customer database. Furthermore, our Cake Business has been picking up since we launched it. We do cakes for all occasions and we have even started supplying ingredients for cakes.
We offer cooking classes to aspiring Chefs, housemaids, men & women with a passion to prepare delicious meals for their families and with a drive to occasionally try something new in the kitchen, kids passionate about playing the kitchen. The cake business also offers training to those interested in learning the art of making tasty, fluffy and out of this world cakes.
Events planning and management, catering equipment hire and wedding deco services are also part of various and vastly increasing offering.
Our business development initiatives are an ongoing process. We want to offer world-class services and to be as simple as possible because we have realized that truly “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and we are going to keep disrupting ourselves to remain relevant as we grow.
How long have you been operating and how is the environment?
When we started it was just a hobby for us, not as a business that could sustain us and that was 3 years ago. Along the way, we started picking up more and more orders. That is when we realized that we could actually run our hobby as a business and sustain ourselves as we go.
The business has been self-funding ever since we started to treat it as such. Initially, we funded it from our salaries. We would want more funding to keep up with world standards in terms of equipment and our marketing budget is still much smaller than we would want it to be, but we can’t dwell much on what we cannot do. We have not approached any potential financiers so far due to unsustainable interest rates currently obtaining in the banking sector.
Why did you start this business?
As a hobby. The passion for service to others comes naturally for us. Watching cooking reality shows and youtube videos have been an inspiration for our line of business. We have found so much happiness in providing our services to various functions. We have received incredible support from the corporate world and from private functions than we expected when we started and that has helped us a lot to take on bigger contracts than we would when we started, for example, when we started we would avoid weddings as much as we could but we have done wedding functions in areas as far as Chiredzi, Byo and Victoria Falls.
How receptive have Zimbabweans been to your business?
The support has been amazing and we see the hand of God in every one of the opportunities and jobs we have done. We are always inspired to improve on our performance with each job.
Challenges you’ve faced and face in running and growing your business thus far?
We need to keep improving and improvements costs. The inflationary environment currently obtaining in the economy has not spared us just like most businesses. We find it tricky to invoice for a job which is like 5 months away because by the time we deliver on our side of the contract, so much would have changed but we respect our contracts and that means sometimes you take a financial hit, but as professionals, we now understand that risks are a part of running a business.
Catering as an industry was affected by COVID 19, how has that impacted your business? How do you plan to overcome this?
The catering side of the business was adversely affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. The pandemic has kept business in homes for as long as people were placed under lockdown. The knockdown effect of the pandemic on disposable incomes is an open secret to everyone. The catering sector was one of the hardest hit. However, by the grace of God, our cake business picked up and sustained us during the most difficult period for everyone. We are always grateful to our customers for their support. Weddings are back on the map again and so our order book has been steadily picking up ever since the hard lockdown was lifted. The corporate world is also hosting a lot of functions which require our services and business has started to grow again.
What type of food have you found the market is receptive to?
Our platters, snacks, finger foods, our tasty cakes have been received really well in the market. The feedback we have received about our food, cakes and service at private functions like weddings has been amazing and motivating. We have also realized that our customers have a healthy appetite for organic food. No GMOs.
Any words you would like me to add for others who aspire to be like you.
Believe in God and trust the process and what you do. Deliver on your promises and always be professional in your contact.
What are your plans for the future of this business in 5 -10 years?
We are going to create our own recipes based on the feedback of our customers as we go. We do not want to do anything that is not market-driven and research-informed. Opening restaurants in the country and regional countries is what we are working on in the long term. Food is a multi-billion dollar business and we want a bigger chunk of that pie on our plate.
They started the business as a hobby and we used to post our works on personal social media handles like @Martha_theChef Twitter handle. Recently they have moved to BlueLemon social media handles on Twitter (@bluelemonevents) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BlueLemonFunctions). They are working on an Instagram page as well as a YouTube Channel.