Sepial’s Kitchen: delivering joy with every bite
Megan14 Dec, 2021
Every bite of Korean Fried Chicken from Sepial’s Kitchen is a one-way ticket to food heaven, but it takes a lot more than sublime cooking to keep customers coming back.
Chef Sepial Shim has been delighting her customers since she first opened Sepial’s Kitchen as a small restaurant in Salt River. Despite multiple changes to her business model, Sepial has remained dedicated to her mission of delivering high-quality food to her customers.
This dedication helped her drive her business forward, and establish other eateries: The Ugly Dumpling at the V&A Waterfront, and Allium restaurant in the Cape Town CBD.
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We caught up with the chef to learn about her journey in the food industry, what it takes to run a successful business, and the challenges she’s faced along the way.
Tell us a bit about your business journey. When did you get the idea to start Sepial’s Kitchen?
I didn’t plan to choose cooking as a career. When I was little, my mother never let me cook anything because she used to cook for our big family, and it was a lot of work. She preferred me working in the office. So I worked in PR and Marketing. It was financially rewarding, and I enjoyed all the excitement, but I suffered from burnout. I couldn’t communicate or engage with other people, which was very difficult. Cooking was part of my therapy.
I wanted to learn how to cook properly. At the time, my son wanted to study something practical, so we went to cooking school together, and it was really fun and enjoyable. After cooking school, you can join a restaurant, but because I was much older than the other students, I didn’t think that I could spend five years learning and growing from the bottom. So I decided to open a small 12-seater restaurant in Salt River, and it did pretty well.
Sepial’s Kitchen now trades at the OZCF market. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from operating there?
I was really honoured to be offered a place to trade at Oranjezicht because it’s one of the best markets in South Africa. It’s a trendy place. If you want to see the trends coming and going, that’s the market you should go to.
When you sell at the market, you have to interact with customers face to face, which can become quite intense, but it teaches you how to interact with customers. The standard is also relatively high at Oranjezicht. If you don’t keep up with the market standard, you could quickly lose customers, so you have to work hard. Although it seems like every day is the same, you always need to put in the extra effort.
How do you decide on the menu for Sepial’s Kitchen?
Before I started selling, I went to the market a few times and saw how people reacted to different foods. I also checked the atmosphere and discovered that people enjoy things that are easy to eat. On weekends, people don’t eat as healthy as they do in the week, and many want comfort food. Since there were so many exciting options, I needed to serve something with an extra kick.
That’s the reason I started serving Korean Fried Chicken. It sells well at the market. We also serve one or two extras that change based on how well they’re selling.
How do you measure if something is working?
I trial each food item at the market for about a month. If it works, it stays on the menu. If it doesn’t, we stop selling it. For example, our dumplings sold well, so they remained on the menu. However, even though our Poke bowls sold well, there were too many logistical issues that made it challenging to prepare, so we stopped selling them.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
I do everything, and my 24 hours are dedicated to the business. Working hard is good, and it’s really rewarding both financially and socially. But sometimes, as a human, I need my personal time, and it’s difficult to take a break. If I spare some time for myself and there is a phone call, I can’t say no. That is difficult, and I’m learning how to separate the two.
Another challenge I face is that I don’t have the time to exercise. You need to exercise as a chef. The more stamina you have, the better you work. When you think of challenges, you think of financial issues or something similar, but your physical and mental health is important.
Most of the challenges I face are manageable. They can be solved with time and effort. But one of the challenges that I didn’t expect is that we’re growing a bit too fast. It’s great, but I have to keep up with all the small details, which I can’t always do, and that makes me anxious. I want to make it as perfect as possible, but it’s hard.
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You’ve branched out into selling Kimchi and other preserves. What influenced your decision to sell these?
One of the reasons I started cooking Korean food was because I wanted kimchi with my meals, and I couldn’t buy what I liked, so I had to make it myself. There were many trials and errors. But it’s like people say, if you want something and there’s nothing, you have to make it yourself.
Like everyone else, we experienced tough times during lockdown. So during the lockdown, we changed our direction to selling jars and bottled products. We tried everything. Some survived, some didn’t. Those kimchi jars or bottled products managed to sell well.
We’re now focusing on them less. It’s a different type of business with its own logistic and procurement issues, which we don’t always have time for. So we’re selling a reduced number of them now that we’re back to selling at the market, and the restaurant, Allium, has opened up.
Why did you choose to incorporate SnapScan into your business?
Before using SnapScan as a payment option, I used SnapScan as a customer. It’s so easy to use. I wanted to offer the same things to my customers as well. I also think with covid – SnapScan is a contactless and safe option. I hope more people use SnapScan.
At the Oranjezicht Market, many of my customers use SnapScan. If you’re selling food or fashion, and you’re targeting young, trendy consumers, then it’s beneficial to offer SnapScan as a payment method.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to sell food at a market?
They should take a food and health safety course. It’s not mandatory, but it’s necessary. Cooking at home and cooking for the public is different. There are so many things you need to know.
You should also learn how to do all your paperwork. It’s just as important as cooking. Professionals like accountants and lawyers can help you, but you should understand it so you can be helped properly. You can then decide which direction to grow, or how to grow instead of following someone else’s path. If you’re a small business, you also don’t have the money to hire someone to do that. So it’s beneficial to know basic accounting and marketing.
Get a taste of Sepial’s cooking by visiting Sepial’s Kitchen at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. You can also visit one of her other businesses, The Ugly Dumpling or Allium.
Want to share your business’ SnapScan story with us? Send us a mail at email@example.com
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