Tue | Jun 27, 2017

Emerging Entrepreneurs | Theo Smith - Catering to a wider audience

Published:Wednesday | March 1, 2017 | 3:00 AMSyranno Baines
Theo Smith
Theo Smith sets the table at a red-themed wedding last year.
Theo Smith cooks during a photo shoot in 2015.
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Today, The Gleaner continues its series on individuals, aged 20-29, who have successfully started business ventures and are experiencing steady growth. If you know someone who should be featured, email syranno.baines@gleanerjm.com.

International cuisine infused with Caribbean flavours and the option to customise menus to suit the desires of clients is what Great House Caterers (GHC) prides itself on.

Founded in August 2011 by 28-year-old Theo Smith, a Priory High School graduate, GHC is a full-service catering company based in Kingston. The company caters to corporate, wedding and social events islandwide. GHC also provides interactive food stations, live cooking stations, bar services, dinnerware rentals, fruit and vegetable carvings, as well as personal chef services.

"I launched GHC after working in the restaurant business and realising it didn't allow me to use as much of my creativity as I wanted. Working in a restaurant, I had to work with the same menu over a long period of time before I could make changes, and even then, the changes were limited to the specific theme of the restaurant. So after some experience working with other caterers, I decided to attend the Catersource Tradeshow & Conference in Las Vegas in early 2011," Smith told The Gleaner.

He added: "Attending really gave me a greater understanding of the catering industry on an international level and it definitely helped in shaping the vision for my company. Soon after attending, I left the restaurant industry and decided to start GHC. Our main aim is ensuring that our clients enjoy a hassle-free catering experience at their event, while we provide them and their guests with a memorable catering experience."

The holder of a bachelor's degree in food-service management from the University of Technology (UTech), Smith is heavily inspired by English business mogul Richard Branson and American Chef extraordinaire Julia Child.

In addition to Smith's salary from working in the restaurant industry, the start-up capital for GHC was also made possible by Smith's hobby of breeding and selling dogs.

"After the first few months, we grew out of the kitchen space we had, which was a kitchen of a vacant one-bedroom studio which my mother previously rented. This was where my family intervened and gave me access to the entire studio in addition to expanding and renovating the kitchen so we could have more commercial kitchen equipment and had space to expand even further."

In acknowledging profitability and steady growth over the five-year period, Smith added that they're currently in the process of acquiring a new location to expand GHC even further.

Smith credits his ever-expanding client base for the countless referrals they've provided GHC, while admitting that he's forged a bond with many of his customers.

He said: "It's oftentimes an emotional roller coaster catering for special events, after getting to know the customer months before their event, then going through the ups and downs with my team to execute the event. But the most rewarding feeling is to see or hear our customers or their guests talk with great passion about our services and the food we provided, long after the event has ended."

In relaying his advice to young business charges, Smith cites a love for the business as the ingredient that will determine success.

He told The Gleaner: "If the passion isn't there, it's going to be hard to move forward, and the journey will feel much longer. I encourage all entrepreneurs to continue expanding their knowledge as you can never know too much. Attend as many relevant workshops as you can, read as much industry or business-related books and even look into joining entrepreneurship networks or an accelerator programme like the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean. Personally, joining the Branson Centre and connecting with a network of like-minded entrepreneurs has motivated me in ways I couldn't imagine."

 

Achievements

 

- Being a recipient of the Sir Arthur Guinness Made of More Entrepreneur Challenge, 2016 Loan Competiton facilitated by the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean.

- Being awarded the Prime Minister National Youth Award of Excellence in Entrepreneurship in 2013 for Great House Caterers.

- Great House Caterers has grown revenues by more than 91 per cent over the past three years.

 

MUST-DO LIST FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

 

- Keep learning. Always look for ways you can increase your knowledge of the industry you are in and on being an entrepreneur generally. Your business can only grow as far as you can grow. So for your business to grow and improve, you have to also grow and improve.

- Accept failure. It's OK to try something and fail. It's this failure that teaches us a few lessons that no book can, and helps us to succeed a little more, each time we try.

- Ask for help and delegate. There is no shame in asking for help or advice, so get the help and advice you need to move your business forward. Also, learn to delegate tasks to your team. You can't keep doing everything yourself if you plan on growing your business.

 

NO-NOS FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

 

- Don't give up. It's going to be a long and hard journey, but you have to keep moving forward, as you will never know what might be around the corner.

- Don't get comfortable. In business, you always have to keep moving forward, if not your competitors will move past you, or your customers will get tired of the same old.

- Don't forget to plan. It's very easy to start a business and get lost in the day-to-day activities. You need to have plans in place of where you want your business to go and what you want it to do.