Hatma Nalugwa Ssekaya finds money in cooking

Sunday November 10 2019

Hatma Nalugwa (right) points her workers to

Hatma Nalugwa (right) points her workers to serve customers. PHOTOS BY JOAN SALMON 

By Joan Salmon

She is not only a mother, a wife, but also weaves magic in the kitchen with so much finesse as to start a catering company.
Hatma Nalugwa Ssekaya looks back to her childhood and recollects memories of being in the kitchen without a qualm.
“Even in my games, it was all about cooking.” However, childhood play was not enough to curve out a cooking career and she attributes that to the wife of her paternal uncle who played a great role in inspiring her to join the catering business as she was already in the field. But inspiration and passion were yet to be put to the test.

Starting out
It started as a side hustle in August 2015. “A friend working downtown got wind of someone selling off their restaurant business and she called me up knowing that I am passionate about cooking. “Hatma, this is your chance, come and buy this restaurant, I know you will make it work,” she said over the phone. I paid Shs1.3m which I had borrowed from a workmate since I did not have it then,” she shares about her genesis.

However, it did not last for more than three months owing to issues such as lack of supervision, “I had a full time job that did not allow me time enough to look at its running. Even when I tried, I was too tired to make a commendable impact. But more to that, with the business, came the former owner’s workers who were never straight with me hence ‘cut corners’ that cost me a lot. But that is not forgetting the fact that I had not taken time to study the environment. For example, I learned that people ate food on credit which was very unsustainable as some never paid or amassed huge debts and paid at their own pace.”

She closed up and took whatever assets there were home awaiting for the day they would be put to good use.
In the meantime, when Nalugwa got business, she referred the clients to her aunt. However, that was only until her young sister introduced her to someone who had been in the business for a while, and had worked in various places such as Café Javas.

“With her, we formed a partnership where I did the cooking side and my partner concentrated on drinks and beverages,” says Hatma. That was how Hatma’s Kitchen and Café was birthed.
“We looked for a place in Mengo in Kabaka’s market in March 2016. But business wound up because it was slow as clientele really wanted low cost services with which we could not break even,” she shares about her trials. From then, Nalugwa settled for outside catering.


Getting business
After what seemed like eternity, Nalugwa got her first gig. “My first outside catering job was on Idd Day in September 2016 when someone called me to cook for them.”
While it was a function of 80 people, Nalugwa only had 12 plates and a small pan. “But as luck would have it, my husband is a people person, inviting people from time to time to share a meal. With that, there were several huge pans and dishes that I made use of. I supplemented my assets with an extra five dozens of plates and other accessories to make the day possible which cost me Shs500,000,” she says. At the moment, Nalugwa had one person working with her and through the night they prepared the meals. Talk of a start that tests one’s creativity and ability to improvise. It also speaks of the power of support for any victory to be achieved because her husband was that silent supporter.

Hatma’s Kitchen offers her clients two packages:
There are times when the client buys the food, sauces, and the necessary spices which they give to them to cook.
“Then there are times when we deliver to the client a finished product,” she says.

While the packages cause a variation in cost, there is also the issue of the number of people to be served because that determines the number of people Nalugwa will work with. That aside, with the ever changing market prices, she says it is still difficult to give someone an average price for the services. “I am still studying the market and building rapport with suppliers. Hopefully, in due time, I will give a client a quotation for my costs ahead of time.”

Without a premise yet, Nalugwa has no trading license. However, many of her clients are asking that she sets up a place where they can access meals daily. “That said, my dream is to join the hotelier group and I am working towards achieving it.”
Nalugwa is also in the process of registering her business so taxes are not part of her expense list apart from VAT that comes with the products she purchases.
Pay to the team is dependent on several things such as amount of work done, and ranges between Shs25,000 and Shs200,000 per week.

From one person, the team has grown to 10. However, the number can increase even further depending on the number of people to serve at a given function.

Customer traction
Most of the people Nalugwa has rendered her services to have been through referrals.
“I receive several calls from people in need of my services and they always say they got my number from someone who recommended my services to them.” Some have attended functions I have catered to and thus desire that I extend my services to them. “I have also taken advantage of social media. For example, I use my personal Facebook and Instagram pages to advertise our work.”

Un-understanding clients: “These usually occur when you cook off-site as some clients will not understand issues that may arise such as change in weather where you have to wait out a downpour,” she says, adding: “That is also because I have not yet acquired a covered van. They will also not understand when you tell them about traffic jam and will think that you are only telling lies about where you are. They are really frustrating, more so when you know you have put your best foot forward.”

Some look at her as a no-body. “I really do not mind about that because I am making money.”
Not paying: “Some clients will delay to make payments yet for a starter that is part of what Nalugwa uses to pay her team. Others such as corporate companies will take you through a long and frustrating process before you can access your pay,” she explains.