workingmums.co.uk speaks to Cait Salanson, winnner of everywoman’s Mumpreneur Award about how she built her high-end catering business without compromising on being around for her children.
Cait Salanson’s three children – aged 15, 14 and 11 – have grown up with her catering business, The Little Kitchen Company. In fact, Cait was catering for a dinner just three weeks after her youngest child was born. She has just won The Mumpreneur Award at the 2023 everywoman Entrepreneur Awards and says: “I am always proud of my children, but it is lovely for them to be proud of me. They can see I am a dedicated mum, but running an amazing business that has been recognised externally. It gives them a positive view of the world and a message that you do not have to choose, that you do not always have to compromise. You can have the best of both worlds.”
Cait was in a senior management position at a bank in London before she started The Little Kitchen Company. Like many women she left because she couldn’t get the flexibility she wanted after she became a mum. She had been there for around 12 years, starting on the graduate programme, and had asked to do a compressed week, but was told that wasn’t possible.
She took voluntary redundancy and enjoyed being at home for a few weeks until she got a bit bored and realised she needed to do something else. She had always been what she calls ‘food-obsessed’, although she is not professionally trained. So she started catering for local dinner parties through friends and her reputation grew as a result of word of mouth recommendations. She then took on someone to help her out, but was still using her home kitchen. “We used it all day every day and we eventually broke it,” she says. As they grew, however, they were able to move into their own premises and they have kept growing as the business has got bigger. Cait says their most recent move – their fourth – earlier this year will be their last.
The company now has 75 permanent employees and double that in the busy summer period since 80% of the event catering company’s business is from weddings. Cait says that means they make most of their money in the six months between April and September so they have to manage their finances carefully in the other six months to ensure they balance the books.
Over the years the company has built gradually, but has also had to withstand the shock of Covid. “We went from 300 events on our books to having none overnight,” says Cait, who is based in Winchester. She had to manage all the changing guidance on wedding guest numbers and events. The company pivoted very quickly to deliveries to isolated and vulnerable people. It also sent food into the local intensive care unit on hearing that the staff couldn’t eat in the canteen because of the protective clothing they had to wear. The pivot was in part to keep Cait’s staff motivated and to give them a sense of business as normal. She feels the impact on the hospitality industry was very badly managed, but adds that the strongest businesses have survived. She has managed to retain her core team, which is a positive, given, as she says, good people are hard to find. “It was never an option for me to get rid of people,” she says. “It is rare as a business owner to find people who care as much about your business as you do.”
From starting with a spend of 500 pounds on a website, Cait has grown the business through reinvesting her profits. She hasn’t taken any external investment as she doesn’t like to take that kind of risk. It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off. The company is on track for a three million pound turnover this year and Cait says the business is now where she wants to be in terms of size because she is keen to maintain its personal focus and high quality. “We are a high quality, high end business, not a factory churning food out,” she says.
That doesn’t mean she is not looking at new opportunities and ideas. She acknowledges that catering is a very trend-oriented business that is constantly evolving and says she is very passionate, driven and competitive. “We have to keep pushing the boundaries and doing what we do better to create better experiences,” says Cait.
She adds that the trend at the moment is towards high quality food that is beautiful to look at – given that we are in the Instagram age – as well as amazing to taste. For her it is important that the food her company provides is not too fussy either. She adds that events are less structured and formal than they used to be. The food her company produces is also tailored toward the personal tastes of her customers.
She is excited to see how the everywoman award can help her to develop her business and support other women in business. “I have been able to do something for me and for my family on my terms,” she says, adding that she is able to flex around her family and be there when they need her. It has been hard work to get to this stage, but she has employees around her now who she can delegate to and whom she trusts, something she acknowledges is hard given the business is her ‘fourth baby’.
She describes the support available through everywoman as amazing and says the awards ceremony itself was slick, professional and supportive. “It was wonderful to meet all the other women and hear their stories as well as the breadth of their ideas. Women are so supportive and collaborative. We are good at cheering each other on rather than looking at each other as competition. We need to do it more. Everyone in that room is a winner. That was very much the feeling that everywoman gave us.”