Karike Norval: Going for gold

Meet Karike Norval. Foodie, business owner and koeksister lady with a secret affinity for the graphs in her business spreadsheets! 

“My guilty pleasure is looking at graphs of how my business is growing,” Karike Norval admits, almost sheepishly.

Perhaps an unusual ‘guilty pleasure’ for the owner of a catering company. One might rather expect it to be stealing treats off the platters that she prepares for clients! But Karike Norval, founder and owner of Catergold, understands that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

And in a commercial kitchen meticulous measurement is key. Her methodology, which is a dynamic combination of measurement, management and motivation, has seen her business expand from the kitchen of her flat to a small factory that employs four permanent staff in just two years.

The exponential growth Catergold has experienced in the past 24 months is thanks to Karike’s tenacity, hard work and an unwavering commitment to her vision.

From flat to factory

The story of how and why Karike started Catergold in 2015 is the refrain of many an entrepreneur. “I have always worked in the food industry, but I got to a point where I didn’t feel valued in my job and I also understood that I could do it better on my own.” She always knew she wanted to have her own business, so she made it happen. Looking back she says, almost ironically, “I thought it would be easier than this”.

“After I made the decision to quit my job and go it on my own I was lucky enough to go on a two-week cycling holiday across the Netherlands and Belgium with my family, so that was a nice way to clear my head and re-orientate myself for the next adventure,” Karike explains.

Back home she simply got started. At first she was catering for friends and family, and family of friends and friends of family. She chuckles and says: “I think in the beginning they just felt sorry for me because they knew me!” But, with a superior product and excellent service there was no need for sympathy platters, and soon the orders started coming in more organically simply because people heard that Catergold’s offering is excellent.

A strategic business move early on was to join a local chapter of Business Network International (BNI) as a means to introduce the community to Catergold’s offering, as well as to expand her professional network. “It’s been a great platform for me and Catergold,” Karike says.

Interestingly, Karike is a firm proponent of cold calling. “When I first started I made a list of potential clients and literally went to see all of them personally to try and sell my services. And many times it worked!” These days she prefers to phone them, rather than making the trip, but still finds that it works very well.

“Of course word-of-mouth is also very powerful, and is still how I get a lot of business today.” But in that lies a challenge too because, Karike explains, satisfying a client with food once is fairly easy. Doing it over and over is tough. And with personal referrals there’s more than one relationship at stake.

Karike takes great pride in her work and is adamant that everything that leaves her kitchen has to be the best it can be. By the same token, she is humble about mistakes and the fact that they can – and do – happen. “I recently transported hot homemade soup, and on my way to the client the dish broke. So I phoned them, explained what had happened, and said I would be an hour late with the delivery. I turned around and went back to the kitchen to make another pot of soup. The lesson here is to be open and upfront with clients… and to not transport hot soup, wait for it to cool down!”

Loads of lessons

A particularly important lesson, and one that most business owners will be able to identify with, is that it doesn’t pay to do everything by oneself. “I know now that I don’t need to figure everything out myself, or do everything myself. Often my time is better spent doing what I know best, and growing the business, rather than figuring out how to do some form of accounting, for example, which is not my strong suit.”

And not all lessons need to be learned the hard way, which is why Karike actively seeks out advice and mentorship when she needs it. “I believe it is important to learn from others. At times I have reached out to entrepreneurs and business people that I admire and asked them for advice or to share their story with me. I have never been turned down because, it turns out, everybody is keen to share their learnings and experience. I found this to be a great way to learn.”

Like constant learning, motivation is an important ingredient in the Catergold mix. “I have to be positive so that I can motivate my staff. I can’t walk into the kitchen miserable in the morning, because that then sets the tone for the day. My staff rely on me for guidance, and for their livelihood at the end of day.” Karike is in the habit of taking time first thing in the morning to motivate herself by reading something uplifting or inspiring on the internet.

She is always on the lookout for inspiration and ideas, and is lucky to find it almost daily in food magazines, on the internet, or in the work of other foodies. “I don’t mind admitting that I look at the websites and menus of other catering companies for ideas. Sometimes others simply do things better, or more interestingly, and if there is something I can learn from them, then why not?” Karike and her husband are passionate foodies themselves. “We enjoy food and we rarely eat at the same restaurant twice because I find dining out to be another form of inspiration!”

Sweet sides

An appreciation of the work of others led Karike to a very lucrative side hustle. Not quite a tannie, but Karike certainly is making a name for herself as the koeksister lady.

Koeksister Co. is a division of Catergold that produces crispy, syrup-coated koeksisters for various retailers, delis, food shops and custom orders. Karike explains that the koeksisters came about as a result of a supplier relationship.

“Right at the beginning I decided that if there was somebody who could do a certain food element better than me, and it made financial sense, I would rather buy it from them than produce it myself.”

“And so it happened that I got to know somebody who made the most delicious brandy balls that I would buy to include on my platters. She was in the catering business for most of her life and become something of a mentor for me,” Karike carries on. One day she approached Karike about taking over the koeksister part of her business and Karike knew instinctively that this would work for Catergold.

“I saw this as an opportunity to expand my business vertically, which would allow another income stream.”

So Karike made koeksisters, branded it and started making contact with retailers. Today she produces 300 dozen koeksisters a day. These traditional delicacies are available in the likes of Pick n Pay and Spar. “It’s a simple product that we know how to make well, which has worked out very well for us. It’s almost a passive form of income, which I think every business needs,” Karike says.

Better isn’t always bigger

Looking at those graphs from earlier on, Karike says she doesn’t have any plans to drastically change her offering. Rather, she is committed to doing what she does even better and with greater efficiency. “This means improving on my systems and processes, and ensuring that I keep my clients happy. The graphs help me to know what I need to focus on.”

After pondering a few seconds, Karike says: “It would be great though if I knew I could take a month off, not look at my phone and come back and everything still be in place. That’s where the good systems come in!”


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