Holy Macaroni: serving divine bowls of a timeless classic
Megan4 Apr, 2022
If cheesy heaven existed, you’d find it in a bowl of mac and cheese sold by Holy Macaroni. One look at their menu will leave you drooling, while one bite will leave you coming back for more.
The drool-worthy dishes are the product of husband and wife team, Ronald and Claire Goosen. In 2017, the couple realised they no longer enjoyed working in the corporate space. They decided to quit their jobs and pursue entrepreneurship instead. “Initially, it was a huge shock to our system, but looking back at it now, it’s the best decision we’ve ever made,” says Claire.
The entrepreneurs stumbled onto an opportunity to launch a franchise of the UK-based company, The Mac Factory. But after trading as a franchise for a short while, they realised they wanted to put their unique stamp on the mac and cheese business.
The food entrepreneurs changed everything about the business, including their recipes. “We changed it to the point where I can sleep at night, knowing that we have a unique business that we created ourselves,” says Claire. “As much as it was easier to be part of a franchise, the business became more fun when we could pull away and do our own thing. And that was how Holy Macaroni was born.”
We caught up with Claire to learn more about their business journey, and the challenges they faced operating through the Covid-19 pandemic.
You have a mouth-watering range of mac and cheese options on offer. What goes into coming up with these flavours combos?
I’m such a foodie, and I go according to things I love. After I taste something I like, we’ll play around with flavours to see if we can make it work. We also listen to what our customers want. If a customer comes up to us and says, “Why don’t you do a dish with x, y and z,” we take that feedback on board. Customers are the reason we’re still here, so we listen to them: the good ones and the bad ones.
When a customer complains, we take it seriously, especially if it’s a repetitive complaint. You’ll always get those customers who are in a bad mood and take it out on the team – it happens. But because we are so hands-on, it’s a great way to decide which dishes to make. We go through our reports, and if something is not selling, we find something that will sell better.
How has Holy Macaroni evolved over the years?
Our first little gig was the Slow Market out in Durbanville, and we were so green behind the ears. We prepped until 1 am and we headed to the market at 4 am. It was a bit of a drive since we’re based in the Southern Suburbs. We had enough mac and cheese to feed about 250 people. We ended up selling 18 pots of mac and cheese — 12 of them were friends and family. We went home, and we licked our wounds.
We’ve learnt so much since then, and we’ve made mistakes, some of which have been financial, but we learnt as we went along, and that was how we kept ongoing.
In August 2017, we received a call from the Mojo Market. That was literally what put us on the map. We were at Mojo Market until just before Covid-19 started. It became a great learning experience. During that time we also got a food truck. So we based ourselves in Sea Point, and the truck travelled around to events. Slowly but surely, we built up exposure.
You also have a dark kitchen in Gardens, which allows you to deliver food via Mr D and UberEats. What led to that decision?
We set up the dark kitchen during lockdown when no-one was allowed out and about. Delivery partners were one of the only things operating. When deliveries opened up, I remember I ate takeaways Friday, Saturday, and Sunday because I was sick and tired of my own cooking.
So the dark kitchen worked well in lockdown. But we want to expand our offering in Gardens, and the dark kitchen isn’t a feasible option for that. It’s working, but it’s not as great as having walk-in customers. Our delivery partners take 30%. I know many businesses put that percentage onto their customers, but we feel like if we put the whole portion on our customers, we’re going to price ourselves out of the market. We’re not willing to increase our prices so substantially that it affects our customers’ pockets. We split the increase between ourselves and our customers, so we’re all losing a little.
So even though dark kitchens are cool, we’re all about the joy you experience when you walk into our shop. You know, that cheesy goodness. Dark kitchens don’t give you that same feeling. You just get a part of Holy Macaroni sent to you – which is good, but we like that cheesy goodness. That’s our jam.
What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
My husband and I trust hugely. In the hospitality industry, you can trust your staff and pay well for a small business, but still, at the end of the day, people will sometimes take what’s not theirs. So the challenge was finding the right people.
We used to take stuff personally in the beginning. We caught one of our staff members stealing my cellphone, and I was so furious. I would lose a huge amount of energy just taking things personally. Now I look back five years down the line, and I don’t take that stuff so personally anymore.
Everyone has their own life mission and their own issues. And everyone is just trying to do life by themselves. So the challenge was learning how not to be emotional about things that happened in the business and just accepting that it’s part of doing business. But it hasn’t been a problem for us for a while now, because we found the right people.
Another challenge was working together as husband and wife. That was a great challenge. But between Ron and I, we have strengths and weaknesses. My weaknesses happen to be his strengths, and his strengths happen to be my weaknesses.
And then lastly, learning how to keep the same consistent quality. If you take your finger off the pulse in the hospitality industry, you’re screwed. It’s not one of those jobs where the higher you get, the easier it gets. The higher you get, the busier you get. And we’re building our empire. We’ve just had our first child. So now we’re motivated to work even harder than before. So we do our best to be consistent and keep the standards up.
What’s been your biggest highlight of running Holy Macaroni?
When we were first in business in 2017, we got the call to do Rocking The Daisies – we had no cooking clue what we were doing, but we were damn excited. We didn’t approach them, they approached us, and we realised we were being seen. People are talking about us.
When you start to see your hard work pay off, that, for me, is the biggest highlight ever. And those events are hard graft. I remember working from 8am to 2am. The queue did not stop. But for me, that gets fire in my belly. My husband focuses on the back, and he makes sure the back is running smoothly, and the guys are churning the mac and cheese. I focus on selling. Selling is what gets me going. I believe in my product, so it’s easy.
But when you start getting calls, and people say to you, “I heard of you through so and so” or “I recently tasted your mac and cheese”, I think that for me, it keeps us grounded, and its a humbling experience when you realise that people are still craving your food. You know you’re doing something right. And even during challenging times, as we’ve just gone through, it keeps you going.
Why did you choose to incorporate SnapScan into your business?
The convenience of SnapScan. We love SnapScan. We did an event in Somerset West, and I called the organiser and told her I was putting something on the menu that tells people to download SnapScan. It’s quicker for me on the counter. I had to serve 250 people in two hours. That’s a lot of mac and cheese. So having people pay with SnapScan makes it easier for me. I told the organiser that for me, having SnapScan is primary. I literally put SnapScan, card machine, cash. I get that cash is king, but cash comes with change and handing that over. SnapScan is just so quick and easy.
What’s next for Holy Macaroni?
We want to expand our Gardens offering. Newlands is our pride and joy. Our little Covid-19 baby. I love our Newlands branch – it’s bright, colourful, and clean. It’s a beautiful little shop. I want to open one in town to get walk-ins again. It’s a high traffic area, and it’s the right place. As soon as we save a bit more, Gardens will be the first thing we expand on.
The next thing we’re looking at is moving our food truck into the deep south. We used to be based in Harfield Village, but we’ve moved to Lakeside now. We’re looking to find a space there because the takeaway offering options are terrible. So we’ll use the food truck first because it’s only in use over the weekends and not every weekend. We can trade out of that, get a good understanding of the area and find what works for us. Then we’ll find a brick and mortar store.
Want to get a taste of cheesy heaven? You can visit the Holy Macaroni store in Newlands or order from MrDelivery and UberEats if you’re based in the Cape Town CBD. Alternatively, you can order Holy Macaroni’s Heat and Eat range online.
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