Katia Scherf: Trust yourself and your abilities and your confidence will shine through

Katia Scherf opened up SMAK restaurant with her friend and work colleague Devin Hogan. She completed an 18 month Grande Diploma in Food and Wine Studies, did a six month pastry internship at The Test Kitchen and also studied in France at Ecole National de la Supérieure Patisserie (ENSP). SMAK is a coffee bar, restaurant, delicatessen and patisserie. Katia shares lessons she's learned about owning your business.

Tell us a bit about your business and what motivated you to start?

Smak is a restaurant, delicatessen, patisserie and coffee bar. We are located at 22 Bree Street in Cape Town. I have always known that I wanted to be in the restaurant industry. I thrive under high pressure and the environment in the industry is most certainly high pressure. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I decided to act on it sooner rather then later.

How did you raise your start up money? 

My father, Frank Scherf has loaned us money to start the business.

Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?

No, I didn’t write a business plan, however in order to rent our premises I needed to do a financial prediction for our landlords. This was basically the totality of paperwork that I did. I do not believe that a business plan should be the lifeline for a business. In order to make a business work, it is necessary to change and adapt to what your clientele want therefore a set plan going into a new business isn’t necessarily beneficial in the long run. I personally didn’t want to get stuck on one idea and ignore suggestions from customers. They are ultimately your lifeline – not a piece of paper.

Who did you hire to help you with your business - bookkeeper, an accountant, lawyer …? Would you suggest others do the same?

My dad definitely helped us the most. He guided us through the whole process and still to this day he helps us make the right decisions. He knows a lot about business and has a world of knowledge that we can feed off. If you don’t have any business experience (like me), I recommend that you find someone, be it a family member, friend, accountant who knows what he/she is doing. You definitely need someone to guide you in the beginning and with time, you will learn through experience and eventually you will have the confidence to make the right decisions on your own.

Have you outsourced any portion of your business? And has that worked for your business?

We have hired a bookkeeper and a marketing agent. These are two aspects that no one in the team is really comfortable with. It has definitely worked for us. All our financial records are in order and our business has been marketed successfully with the help of others.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

I believe that we have marketed our brand and business efficiently. This initially brings customers through our door, however providing consistently high quality food and service has brought customers back time and time again. Consistency is key. Devin and I are also very hands on. We are always at the shop to ensure that only quality food is produced. This is our baby and so we are treating it well which means that we treat our customers well. We have developed personal relationships with many of our customers which keeps them coming back and we are very flexible in order to satisfy their needs.

How do you effectively manage the finances of your company?

We have a “point of sales” system with a built in stock control system to help manage that. We also have a few debtors and I ensure that these customers pay on time to ensure cash flow.

Do you have rainy-day savings for your business?

Not necessarily but we are currently building up savings in our account. We are able to pay all expenses and overheads every month and have built up a cash flow over the past few months.

What's a financial mistake you made as a business owner in the beginning? And how did you bounce from it?

To be honest, I don’t recall making a financial mistake yet and I hope not to.

With the current economy slump, what cost saving tips would you share with new entrepreneurs?

It’s important to manage your wastage, especially in the food industry. Your employees need to be aware of the cost of things to truly appreciate value. We also manage our portion sizes to ensure that customers don’t waste food. I recommend that you don’t finance your stock as it will end up costing too much and don’t waste money on unnecessary items that will not benefit the business.

What advice can you offer female business owners on making sure they're being compensated fairly for their work?

Be confident. Do not under-estimate yourself and don’t let employees take advantage of you. In the beginning I was uncertain and found that a few male employees disrespected me. I let it get to me but with experience I have learnt how to hold my own. With this being said, it is also important to treat your staff well and manage properly. You have to lead by example.

Do you have business mentors, and if so, how have they helped you develop as an entrepreneur?

Yes, of course. My dad is my mentor, not only in business but in life as well. My family is full of entrepreneurs. My grandfather opened a business and both my father and uncle took over the business and grew a successful business. My dad has also financed my brother’s business and has guided him through the process. He has been by my side every step of the way and has taught me so much. He is retired now, but he still works very hard every day at the restaurant and helps me make informative decisions. He has taught me that only you can make a success of yourself and that you can’t rely on others to do so.

What have you learned from starting your company that might be useful to would-be entrepreneurs?

Don’t stress about the small stuff. You just have to believe in yourself and what you stand for. Don’t let others convince you that you are doing things wrong. There are a lot of people who will try bring you down. Listen to constructive criticism and act on it. Trust yourself and your abilities and your confidence will shine through. Confidence is the key to respect and a successful business.

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** Please note SMAK does not have a liquor license as yet, but patrons are welcome to bring their own alcohol