I recently had the opportunity to share at a business brunch a little bit about the journey that brought me to a Regional Business Achievers Award nomination. Unfortunately none of my close friends or family could be there on the day so I promised that I will share my story with them in the form of a blog post. It's been nearly a month since and I've stalled and used every excuse in the book not to! It is so very personal to me and I'm not sure if I really want it out there?! Until this morning when I saw these words: “Your story could be the key that unlocks someone else's prison, Don't be afraid to share it.” It reminded me of the people who came to me afterwards at the breakfast and said how it touched them and how they could identify. They encouraged me to look at the greater benefit that this journey will one day have on my kids, and to not only concentrate on my mommy-guilt right now. One lady in particular told me how she didn't want to get up that morning and how after hearing my talk she had new hope again...
So today I decided to take the leap and share my story with you, albeit an edited, and in some places censored, version.
I recently came across this quote by Haruki Murakami, author of 'Kafka on the Shore', and thought I would start with the first half, the rest I'll leave for later….
“And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive...”
Our storm started in February 2014 when Benji, on his birthday, found out that the company he was working for was closing down.
Life as I knew it changed that moment.
Something my dad always reminds me of whenever I feel a bit discouraged: “Things can change in a moment. One phone call, one encounter can change the course of your direction. You don't know what is waiting just around the corner. Don't give up.”
Such true words in life in general, but also in business. Looking back now there were so many of these moments. And every time they came just at the right time.
Can retrenchment ever come at the right time? I don't think so. But if it didn't happen at that time, I wonder if we would ever have had the guts to start something up where we could work together again like we did when we were students, starting our careers and when we were just married. Something we always dreamt of doing again one day.
“How many lasagnes do we need to make for me to quit my job….” A question Benji often asked me, in jest, in the years before. I was a stay-at-home-mom to our kids Leyla and Jamie at the time, earning a bit of extra income baking cakes and biscuits and making pies and lasagnes from home.
Benji's words were about to become a reality, but not by choice. We found ourselves at a crossroads, having to decide whether we are going to settle for a safer solution and find other employment or were we going to take the risk and find out (the hard way) just how many lasagnes it really takes to make up that much needed salary!
Evidently we chose the latter. Ginger&Co was born over many cups of coffee and more glasses of wine than we would admit to. At one of these planning sessions another one of those moments happened. A fellow Kidd's Beacher and friend, and now also mentor, happened to walk by our house (probably saw us sitting with hands in hair) and joined us for a drink on our deck. A few meetings, or rather coaching sessions later, and we were thinking big and dreaming even bigger. Ginger&Co would one day be the top national purveyor of authentically cooked meals for the discerning diner.
We were to combine my love for social media marketing and blogging with our passion for cooking, and establish an online presence that allows us to expand further afield easily in future. First we had to set up shop in East London and make it work there before we could take it anywhere else. We were based in Kidd's Beach and little else to fall back onto but the memory and good reputation our coffee shop in Kidd's Beach, The Mcantsi, had many years ago. Hopefully the people of East London would remember. And they did.
Whilst establishing our little commercial kitchen in a spare flat on Benji's parents' property in Kidd's Beach, we joined the newly formed Avalon Market on the smallholding next door, and committed to provide lunches and sweet treats at their monthly market. For two years we had a food stall every first Sunday of the month, not missing one. It was a great marketing exercise and it helped with much needed cash flow in the early months. The customers indeed remembered, they flocked there, and they loved our food.
We were starting to build our brand…small seemingly insignificant steps that later proved to be all part of the bigger picture.
Back to August 2014 and the launch of our website. Beautifully designed by an ex-East London girl with an incredible flair for branding and a very quick and easy grasp of her clients' needs. (See more of Claire Keet's awesome work here --> BorisHenry)
The coming together of our business idea and plan I remember as being one of the most exciting times of our lives! We were so proud and so well received. My dream came true of owning an online store! The orders started coming in. Slowly. Very very slowly.
We soon realised that the growth projected in our business plan was far from what it turned out to be in reality.
It was round about this time that we learned about the dreaded 1000 days it takes a start-up business to get off the ground. 1000 days? Doesn't sound like much? Wrong. It's a lifetime...and a half. I've aged about 10 years in this time, I haven't slept properly in for what feels like 4 years, we've missed family celebrations, good friends' weddings, holidays don't happen unless it's sponsored! We've had to sell property to pay the bills, furniture to pay school fees, and had Eskom pull the plug on us once...and it wasn't for loadshedding.
There were times in that first year when I had to fiercely guard my heart against resentment. Why me? Why us? We didn't ask for this? When ones kids start taking strain because they so easily pick up on our stress as parents, that is when moms often buckle under the pressure. I found it particularly hard to keep my kids from hating my job that 'took me away' in so many ways. Suddenly working 24/7 after always being around for them, changed their little lives as much as it did mine. Finding notes in my diary where my daughter wrote: 'Sit with Leyla' broke my heart. Time for sitting I didn't have. My dream was and still is that Ginger&Co will one day also provide a livelihood for them and their kids, and that they will be as passionate about it as we are. I cannot afford for them to hate what I do… You can imagine my relief when Leyla told me what she wants to be when she's big: "A surfer, a physiotherapist, and run Ginger&Co...duh!!" Despite the cheekiness, my heart was singing. Her little brother on the other hand still thinks Pronutro is a gourmet meal and two minute noodles fit for a king, so not too sure yet how we are going to instill a passion for authentic food there.
About a year into Ginger&Co another moment happened. I remember calling Benji with these words: You know how my dad always says one phone call could change everything? I think that call just happened. It was Cindy from LFD asking if we would be interested in renting space at her new design quarter. Huge change of direction, it certainly wasn't part of the plan, but she had me at 'design quarter'! Great was my disappointment when I found out the said design quarter was planned for Bowls Road. Why there??!! Anywhere else. But she convinced me to just go and have a look. We walked around the old Defy offices with their carpet tiles and low ceilings and thought she was mad. It was when she took us around the back to see the rafters and old high windows that I started to see what she was seeing. However hard it was to picture then, Benji and I both after that had a gut feeling that this would be a perfect fit for Ginger&Co.
3 short and exciting months and many coffee tastings later, on the 7th September 2015, Ginger&Co coffee bar opened in Bowls Road. Only afterwards did we hear what friends and family said about our Bowls Rd venture behind our backs… "What are they thinking? Bowls Road?"
Know what? We LOVE Bowls Road, it's been the best decision for us and we are so grateful to Cindy and LFD for giving us the opportunity to be part of it. Ginger&Co now had its very needed shopfront in town. All the loyal customers who we got to know over the many months at the Avalon Market, flocked to the coffee bar to enjoy what we had to offer. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Our new very busy, very popular coffee bar didn't come without its price tag.
With all hands on deck in town, the production of the frozen meals in Kidd's Beach slowed down. So did the marketing. So did the sales. Neither of us had the time to put into it what it still needed in this early stage. After a short break over Christmas and New Years I had to start up in Kidd's Beach almost from scratch. I had lost a key staff member due to illness and 2 others, whom I was so fond of, were found stealing. I was so disappointed and despondent. I closed our kitchen for a month to focus on getting the kids settled into the new schoolyear - Jamie starting Grade 1 and Leyla Grade 4 - and to try find new staff.
I re-opened our production kitchen again at the beginning of February 2016 with 3 new staff members. I was rested and motivated to train my 3 new team members who had never worked before, let alone be exposed to the cauldron that is a production kitchen!
2016 as a result started much slower than 2015 ended. With all my staff issues back home and trying to build up the production kitchen to where it was before, cooking and training every day, I didn't get to see the outside of Kidd's Beach very much. I buried myself in the many roles I needed to fulfil as cook, trainer, admin person and mom. I often found myself thinking how nice it would be if I too can drive off in the morning, spend the day at the coffee bar chatting to people and sipping coffee all day… ;) (Luckily Benji knows it's not really something I want to do, I can't do what he does nearly as well, he is amazing with our customers!!)
In that time I often got asked 'so what do you do with your days'? I've now stopped taking offence...my stock standard reply these days is 'not a heck of a lot'. How silly of me to get myself worked up over that. But I did feel like I was slaving away behind the scenes and no-one even knew…
How wrong was I? At the height of my self pity I got a call from the BWA East London to let me know I was nominated for an award for the work I do at Ginger&Co. If you don't know what they do, go check them out here ---> BWA East London, and seriously consider joining this dynamic organisation – it is incredible what they do for us gals!
That was of course another moment when everything changed. Just the recognition that came with their call, made me straighten my shoulders and walk a little taller. It focused my thoughts again to where we were heading with this dream. After being nominated, to start with, I had to present myself and our company to the BWA on paper. As the pages of my presentation pack came together, I felt almost re-introduced to the concept of Ginger&Co. I loved every moment of the journey with them since. It inspired me, it taught me so much about myself and my business, and every time we get together at a BWA function I stand in awe of these incredible ladies and what they've achieved.
In this time, having looked at Ginger&Co on paper, we discovered a few shortcomings in the business where our urgent attention was needed. But we also identified a few opportunities that needed to be grabbed sooner rather than later...hello sleepless nights again! But I've learnt to almost enjoy living on the edge a bit… Did I even say that? I've tasted a bit of what it takes to be an entrepeneur…
We've had nearly 800 days of Ginger&Co, yes I count every now again to check if we aren't maybe there yet. No we're not, but nearly. Certainly not out of the woods yet. We still have to beg, borrow or steal to make things happen. But behind us are as many days of incredible support from both sets of parents. From a big group of friends in our beautiful little village who were there for us every one of those days. Be it an ear when we needed someone to listen, a prayer when we needed it most, food when we were too tired to cook for ourselves, a home for our kids when we were out working late, or a glass of wine to just unwind. We were humbled by the amazing support we got and by just how much we relied on it. THANK YOU!
Half a year after starting with my new staff in Kidd's Beach and Zintle discovered a talent and a passion for cooking she never knew she had. Alicia's baking is just about competition ready….you thought I bake those brownies and glorious cakes? Haven't in a while... Siposethu prides herself in the perfect homemade pie...and her unfailing sense of humour! What a pleasure and a joy to work with these ladies every day. I dream big dreams for them in our company.
The team at the coffee bar are also nothing short of incredible. Chef Sive, as many of you have experienced, is an amazing artist and strives for perfection in every plate of food he produces. Asanda makes a killer flat white and although sometimes dead pan, she is the warmest loving person. Evaline's passion for her work is contagious and newbie Inga is a little ball of positive energy. Darling Thandi is as reliable and solid as can be and student chef Siyanda makes my day with his corny little jokes every time I go there. The coffee bar is running nicely with Benji steering the ship.
Through everything and up to this day Benj and I stuck together. We work together, pray together, plan together, panic together, dream together, sleep together...no we don't sleep much remember. ;) What a privilege to be in partnership with my best friend and husband.
Ginger&Co is here to stay. It scares me to think that we still have a year or so to go to reach that magic 3 year milestone… But having won this award has given us a new fire and renewed courage to go into our third year fearless and expectant. We cannot wait to see what the next 800 days bring.
Allow me to end with Murakami's quote, but the whole one this time.
“And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.
You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over.
But one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in.
And that is what this storm is all about.