Nokuthula Sikakana runs her catering business, Bheka Ukuthula Catering & Functions, from a small office at the Pinetown Railway Station. From humble beginnings, she has built a successful enterprise which can now boast having catered jobs for numerous high-profile clients and government departments.
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the building is the buzz of activity. There are people cooking, cleaning and transporting catering equipment all over. When I interviewed her, Ms Sikakana had just completed a two-day catering job for the Department of Transport and there was much sorting out to be done. But she was warm and friendly despite her obviously full schedule.
Ms Sikakana has always had an interest in cooking: she used to cook for her family, friends and church congregation. She began catering small functions in the early 1990s and operated out of her garage. But after a few bigger projects, she realised that she didn’t have the knowledge or specific skills needed to run her business properly. She then undertook a course at Cato Manor Technical College, where she acquired the necessary business expertise. Her initiative was relocated to the current premises in 1997 and has been doing well ever since.
Ms Sikakana started her business with a minimal amount of money and has gradually worked her way up, buying equipment and hiring employees as she is able. Her operation handles everything from the food to the decoration required for an event. She presently has a permanent staff of 10 people, but hires additional helpers on a casual basis when there is a big function to attend to.
One of the biggest challenges of her job is meeting the expectations of her clients and developing a menu and decor style especially suited to their needs. Advertising for the business is largely word of mouth and Ms Sikakana says she likes to make everything perfect so that the event goes off without any hitches. One of the perks is meeting new people on a daily basis, even some as high-profile as government ministers and other officials.
Because competition in the catering industry is so intense, Ms Sikakana explains that providing a value-added service is vital to keep clients happy. “Competition is necessary to keep businesses on their toes,” she says. She maintains that “going the extra mile” is the best way to ensure that her clients are satisfied and keep coming back to her business.
Ms Sikakana believes that certain personal qualities are necessary to run your own business. She advocates determination, perseverance, a strong heart, good communication skills, flexibility and friendliness as imperative to success. She also says that the support of family and friends makes a big difference when things aren’t going your way or sometimes when you just need a little encouragement. She advises potential young entrepreneurs to be prepared to work hard. She also recommends investing money for future business requirements and being realistic about business goals. From the catering side, she says that good food at reasonable prices has been her key to success. Despite the Zulu name of the venture – Bheka Ukuthula, which means “look for peace” – Ms Sikakana’s business provides a variety of different kinds of culinary delights and isn’t culture-specific. This ensures a broad spectrum of clientele and a wider appeal.
It seems as though Ms Sikakana has a winning formula. With catering events like the World Veterans’ Athletic Launch (1996), the Non-Aligned Movement Media Bash (1998) and the Commonwealth Media Bash (1999) to her credit, things look promising for the future. She and her staff are currently preparing for the World Conference on Racism – they have been asked by the National Land Affairs Department to provide three meals a day to approximately 4000 people. Definitely an unenviable task, but one which will undoubtedly be handled in the professional and caring manner which is epitomised by this charming lady.
- This profile piece was originally published in Career Counsel in August 2001.