Schoolmates turn cooking date into thriving food business

Esmeralda De Souza and some of the Indian food that the company sells. Photo/Courtesy
Esmeralda De Souza and some of the Indian food that the company sells. Photo/Courtesy 

When one afternoon Esmeralda De Souza asked her schoolmate and trainee chef, Spencer Foundamiere to show her how to bake a black forest cake, it was just for the love of cooking.

But that single afternoon spent baking spawned a business idea, beginning with a one-off agreement to provide catering services to an annual general meeting.

A couple of months later, Esmeralda and Spencer started their first business together. Spez —an amalgamation of letters of their names—first specialised in cakes and pastries, but today it is an outside catering company based in Karen with a staff of 20.

Six years down the line they are running two businesses together in Nairobi’s cutting edge food industry.

Building on the success of this first business, which quickly secured a loyal clientele among Nairobi’s corporate sector, Esmeralda and Spencer joined hands with two food fans in Nairobi, Kiran Jethwa and Nawaz Meghji of Seven Seafood and Grill restaurant at Nairobi’s ABC Place.

Drawing on their diverse experience in gastronomy—the art or science of good eating— the four decided to customise the international Pret a Manger model to the Kenyan market having identified a need for healthy, wholesome food among the capital city’s multinationals and upper class consumers.

Mr Jethwa and Mr Foundamiere, the two chefs among the business owners, developed recipes cutting across a range of international cuisines including Asian, Oriental, Italian and Kenyan, and targeted the Nairobi lunch crowd with an offering of salads, sandwiches, wraps, bloomers (subs) and hot meals that are freshly prepared and well packaged.

The Pret a Manger concept was developed in London in 1983 when Jeffrey Hyman opened the first outlet. Coined from the fashion phrase Pret a Porter (ready to wear), Mr Hyman prepared gourmet meals in a ready-to-eat format.

The idea took the British consumer market by storm, and the original Pret a Manger chain today operates over 294 outlets globally.

The four directors of Kenya’s The Good Food Company invested Sh8 million in developing Pret a Manger in Kenya and after two years of strategising and brand development opened a 3,000 square feet industrial kitchen in Nairobi’s Industrial area last July.

Six months down the line, The Good Food Company produces 200 meals a day and has a monthly turnover of Sh2 million.

Food prices

By the end of the year, it hopes to reach its target of 5,000 meals a day, and intends to introduce breakfast options in addition to its current lunch offering, to cater to clients who want a quick but healthy mid morning snack.

They also plan to diversify from the delivery model and open kiosk-style outlets at key locations in the city centre which will offer the same freshly prepared meal at a closer location.

Items on the menu range from Sh400 (sandwiches) to Sh650 (for a hot meal) with bloomers and salads falling mid way.

Looking at the passion and efficiency with which the 26-year-old Esmeralda manages the two businesses, it would be easy to assume that working in the food industry was her first choice.

But when she enrolled at the University of Nairobi as an undergraduate student, Esmeralda was studying to be a petroleum geologist. Two years into her course, she and Spencer started Spez and she has never looked back.

“I had my son very early and I needed a way of supporting him so that’s how I started the cake business,” she said.