If there’s one generalisation that applies to almost any South African, it is that we love a good potjie. Ulrich le Kay, also known as the PotjieGuy, aims to deliver that traditional Mzansi flavour without all the hassle.
Born and raised in Paarl in the Western Cape, Le Kay moved to Pretoria in 2001 to pursue a business degree. He went on to work in the corporate world until 2017, when he pursued his passion for cooking full-time.
“I always had a passion for cooking. I always had a passion for making food for loved ones, and I felt that this business would be a way that I could actually do that for more people.”
In 2015, Le Kay was cooking for friends when it occurred to him that he could actually do this full-time. His friends were already aware of his skills in the kitchen and had asked him to cook.
“I made lamb shank potjie for the one party, and I made seafood paella potjie for the second. The feedback that I got from those events was so rewarding that I thought to myself, ‘I should commercialise this’.
“I had always heard that if you do something that you love, it doesn’t feel like work. And that was how I felt about cooking these meals.”
For Le Kay, the best type of meals to cook are the hearty, feel-good ones. He looked around his area to see if there were any other companies offering the food he had in mind, and he could not find any.
Convincing people to try and buy his food was the initial challenge for Le Kay, one he says is related to knowing your product and knowing your market.
“It’s about supply and demand really, it’s about knowing what your product is and knowing that there is a market that wants that product, how you differentiate yourself or your product from your competitors, and deciding what the differentiating factor is. The challenge is getting people to buy your product. Once you get through that, it’s a lot [easier].”
Once people tried the food, Le Kay found that his reputation grew and he started getting repeat customers. A mobile food business, the branded PotjieGuy trailer drives to different markets in the Pretoria region. The trailer caters for to up to 180 people per event, and offers customers private catering as well as a delivery service.
Le Kay explains that while he draws his inspiration from within, the positive feedback he gets from customers is incredibly special. “Whenever I get feedback saying that the oxtail, dumpling or whatever the case may be, that it’s one of the best that they’ve eaten or even that it reminds them of childhood – possibly a grandparent or parent making this kind of food – that’s really rewarding for me. That positive feedback reminds me and inspires me to continue pushing.”
Le Kay has the following tips for aspiring agripreneurs.
Know your product
Understand who else is doing it or making it, and understand what your differentiator [is]. So, are you making low cost at high volume? Or are you making a high quality but lesser volume [product], possibly for a niche market? Know what your product is.
Distribution is important
You can have a great product but if nobody knows how to get it, then you will struggle to make sales. So look out for places where you are able to distribute or sell your product. That will also give you an idea of the volumes that you can make. It will tell you whether it’s something that you can do full-time or part-time. That’s a big thing [you need to know].
You can sell your product full-time, but if the demand for your product doesn’t allow that, then it’ll help you to know that maybe for the first year or two, you do it part-time. And then as it scales up, you can consider going full-time.
Connect with people. For me, it was important that I connected with people that could introduce me to the distribution and marketing opportunities. Find contacts or reach out to contacts. I think, specifically in the food selling business, we created very good informal networks prior to Covid-19 through markets like Brown Sense market and the Fourways Food market. So definitely get good partnerships to get your product out there and also so you know what’s happening in the market.
Know when to say no
Clients will try and push [you], or will try and make you alter or adjust your product. Typically it would be to save on costs on the client’s side, so know when to say no. Sometimes you have to walk away from business, sometimes you have to walk away from a situation that will affect your business adversely. So know when to say no.
Know why you are getting into business
If you are getting into business to make money, you might not be doing it for the right reasons. That might affect the quality of your product. So know why you are getting into this. If you are passionate about your product, if you love doing it, if you love making it, it means that you will give your client the best experience. And you will make sure that you give a good quality product.
If you know why you are getting into this [business], it will really help you. It will be your tether and it will help you keep your direction with where you’re going with the business.
Get Stories of Change: Inspirational stories from the people that feed Mzansi.