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MY HUSTLE: Bringing the 'PR charm' to outside catering

Thursday February 28 2019

Dianah Njoroge is the owner of a catering company called Dee's Dishes.

Dianah Njoroge is the owner of a catering company called Dee's Dishes. PHOTO | COURTESY 

WANJIKU MAINA
By WANJIKU MAINA
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When Dianah Njoroge graduated with a degree in public relations, she was excited about the future. She envisioned landing a job at some big shot corporate where she would work on exciting projects and apply the “PR charm” she had learnt in class to make an impact in the organisation.

For the first few months, she enthusiastically sent out one job application after the other, eagerly waiting for a favourable outcome. Sadly, none was forthcoming.

After enduring a fair share of frustrations, she had a reality check. She needed to find something to do because clearly, the prospects of scoring a PR job was fast proving to be a mirage.

The 25-year-old caterer shares how she rose above her job–hunting woes to create her own outside catering company, Dee’s Dishes.

What made you decide to venture into the food and catering industry?

The frustrations of not getting the PR job of my dreams really weighed down on me and I needed to rid myself of that misery.

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As I thought of what next, one thing was very clear in my mind; I had to do something that I loved. I have always loved food—cooking and eating it. I am what they call a certified foodie.

This is a passion I share with my mother. In fact, my mother and I always ended up cooking during events at church or friends’ homes.

One day as we were chatting with mum, the conversation took a turn to business. We realised there was need for professional catering services in our area and that was our niche!

We developed a business plan, I poured all my strategic communication knowledge into it and the business idea firmed up. And in August 2018, Dee’s Dishes became fully operational.

Dianah Njoroge's mother Lydia Njoroge during one of their outside catering events.

Dianah Njoroge's mother Lydia Njoroge during one of their outside catering events. PHOTO | COURTESY

You mention that you have always been a foodie, did you ever imagine that you would one day run a food-based enterprise?

Oddly, yes. Even when I was knocking on those corporate doors looking for a job I knew that at some point in life I would run my own business. I fantasised about owning a food truck, or a restaurant; I hadn’t thought of outside catering though.

Besides your love for food, what else fuels your passion for catering?

The satisfaction of seeing people eat and enjoy food I have prepared; nothing beats that feeling.

The other thing I like about my job is that the effort I put in making these dishes is directly proportional to the reward I get -- be it the money it brings, the customer satisfaction it generates, you name it.

Simple things like garnishing cooked rice will get you at the very least, customer satisfaction…a nod here, a smile there, extra flavour to your food. Thanks to the lessons I learnt on aesthetics and appeal in PR class, these efforts are always rewarded.

Important to note is that the money I get with each event continues to motivate me. To this end, my business is promising and I am very excited to see where we will be five years from now.

Rice garnished with coriander, a Dee's Dishes recipe.

Rice garnished with coriander, a Dee's Dishes recipe. PHOTO | COURTESY

Take us through the activities of an average day at work.

There is a lot of planning that takes place before the material day, which includes getting in touch with the client, discussing the menu they wish to have for their event, the number of people to cater for (pax) and agreeing on the working budget.

Some clients will opt to shop for food and hire us for the labour, others will just leave us to do everything -- it depends on clients’ preferences.

Once we agree with the client, we set about to get everything ready before the material day. The idea of outside catering is to make hosting as convenient as possible so we bring our own utensils along with the food.

On the day before the event we pack all the utensils, draping and anything else needed to serve the food. Then on the material day, we prepare the food as per the menu agreed upon and deliver it to the client.

We are available to serve the food and also clean up after the event, but this again depends on the client’s wishes.

Roasted plantain with rosemary, one of the delicacies on Dee's Dishes menu.

Roasted plantain with rosemary, one of the delicacies on Dee's Dishes menu. PHOTO | COURTESY

Do you have a signature dish?

Yes, just like any other caterer worth their salt. Our mandazis and our Maryland chicken dish have earned us generous referrals. The recipe for these two is, of course, a zealously guarded secret.

Secret recipe aside, what else do you think keeps you on top of your game?

Giving each catering event my all. For me, it is such an honour to have someone trust you with the responsibility of providing food at their event. I mean, food is the pulse of any social gathering and a good caterer should keep that pulse throbbing right?

Also, my mother and I are women of great faith. We believe that God has granted us favour, which in turn continues to pen up more opportunities for us.

Share with us the vision for your enterprise.

For now, I want to cook more -- new recipes, new markets and so forth -- and also learn much more from more experienced caterers.

At a time like this next year, I wish to see Dee’s Dishes catering for diverse markets including corporate conferences and executive parties. I also wish to have a more diversified menu, including Moroccan and Italian cuisines. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be grilling snails in a Chinese tea party very soon.

Chicken Maryland by Dee's Dishes.

Chicken Maryland by Dee's Dishes. PHOTO | COURTESY

What’s the greatest lesson you have learnt so far?

Dreams are personal and you have to believe in yourself before others can believe in you. I always remind myself how much I love to cook and how good I am at it so that I never stop believing in myself.

Surround yourself with the right team. If it were not for my mother, this company would be only but a dream. She is the financier, manager, mtu wa mkono...she does it all and tops it up with passionate commitment and love for the venture.

My best friend Gerald believed in this company way before it was established. When my ideas are all fuzzy, he helps shape them into actionable points.

A word of encouragement for aspiring entrepreneurs?

There will never be a perfect day, time or age to start, you just have to start and watch God reward your faith.

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