CNBC Africa

Coronavirus

How COVID-19 cooked the golden goose – The SA chef who went from golden days to zero.

PUBLISHED: Wed, 08 Apr 2020 15:58:50 GMT


CNBC Africa

By Chris Bishop

In the lucrative business of catering the company was the golden goose in more ways than one. Gold fed and strengthened it for seven years – COVID-19 all but killed it over-night.

Clinton Verhoog, who trained as a chef in the hospitality industry, was bitten by the kitchen bug early on and in 2007 threw himself into building his own catering company – The Chairman’s Choice.

Down the years he made millions from serving top executives everything from breakfast to dinner at conferences around South Africa.

“The smaller jobs would cover your costs and a big corporate gala dinner, with 200 people, would be the cherry on top,” says Verhoog. He made money almost from the off partially thanks to setting up the company’s first coffee shop just over the road from the headquarters of Gold Fields, in Sandton near Johannesburg,  one of the world’s largest gold miners. It gave Verhoog an idea that led to him winning a tender to run the company’s canteen and many events flowed from that.

“The gold price was going up and the company wasn’t afraid to spend,” recalls Verhoog.

“I was probably the only chef in the world who watched the gold price!””

Yet the gold price fell and also strikes took their toll on Gold Fields. By 2013, the contract with The Chairman’s Choice was over as the company cut back.

Business held up until the COVID-19 lockdown hit. Verhoog expected R1.2 million for March and April to make up for a slow start to the year. The 21-day lockdown of South Africa, at the end of the March, meant zero. All of his corporate customers cancelled.

Verhoog had to lay off two of his six staff and cut every cost he could find.

”There is no income at all. We were in a very difficult position before the lockdown. If we don’t get anything in the next two or three months we are done,” says Verhoog.

Tough times, maybe, but Verhoog is not sitting around downhearted.

“I am using the time now to really look at my business from a strategic point of view to see how I can improve it,” he says. As you read this most of the five million small businesses in South Africa will be doing the same- if they are lucky.

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