Out of the ashes of 2020 rises Kaya, one of the UK's hottest new cafe concepts.
Jill Wotherspoon, Head of Marketing
When two best friends in Horsham embarked upon the business venture of a lifetime, little did they realise that the first COVID-19 lockdown would strike within just five days of opening. But remarkable optimism and determination would turn this crisis on its head. In fact, it may have been the making of this fledgling business partnership. Now, out of the ashes of 2020, rises Kaya, one of the UK’s most exciting new cafés concepts.
Candy and Benita have long been friends, both hailing from South Africa, now raising families in Surrey. Candy’s 25-year career in UK hospitality quickly progressed from bar-tending, then managing venues, to helping a friend open a coffee shop, then more recently, co-establishing a Michelin starred restaurant.
Benita’s career was quite different, though she started out in hospitality, for the past 12 years, she had been busy climbing the corporate ladder at Cancer Research UK, until a battle with cancer herself would put a new perspective on life. Still undergoing treatment, and with plenty of reason to take things easy, Benita, instead, took the bold decision to transform her life and career when opportunity came knocking.
And so Kaya was born.
“We knew we wanted to do something together” says Candy. “We were just waiting for the perfect opportunity. We had looked at lots of places, but nothing ever felt right. A building right in the heart of Horsham park, where we both spent a great deal of our time, had often caught our eyes. We always said, if it came up for lease we would apply.”
Then, with fate on their side, a conversation was overheard during a park kickabout with the kids, suggesting that the property was indeed available. The only question was timing, and if Benita could realistically take on such a challenge while still undergoing cancer treatment.
“It was a really emotional decision”, recounts Benita. “I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I wanted to seize the moment, give up my corporate career and do something more positive and giving; to really care for people”
Being brave and positive certainly appears to be the driving force behind the duo. “We have discovered that the more love we share, the more we get back” explains Candy. And that’s exactly the feeling you get when you meet them.
“We could never have imagined how busy we would be. It was chaos to start with. We didn’t know how much coffee to order or milk to buy-in. But within weeks we had our full staff back again.”
If deciding to take on a new café was a pivotal moment, the fact that COVID would rear its ugly head just five days in, would be a defining one.
Prior to lockdown, all effort had been focussed on creating the perfect dine-in experience. Sumptuous interiors, a resident DJ, mouth-watering menus, exceptional staff, and a lavish launch party were all planned to perfection. Then suddenly the country went on lockdown.
“We hadn’t even considered a takeaway service until that moment,” says Candy. “We quickly turned around our branded takeaway cups and became the first local café to reopen. We could never have imagined how busy we would be. It was chaos to start with. We didn’t know how much coffee to order or milk to buy-in. But within weeks we had our full staff back again. Local people were so pleased to find us and wonderfully supportive of what we were doing.”
Of course, the effect of COVID heavily depends on the location of a café - and for Kaya, being positioned in the heart of a popular park certainly helped. But there’s far more to it than that. Candy and Benita have transformed what was once a café-of-convenience into a true destination. Regardless of whether Kaya is open for sit-in or takeaway service, every customer experiences the same exacting standards.
Candy and Benita are self-professed perfectionists. They select produce of the very best quality (including Matthew Algie’s Darwin coffee, of course), they prepare everything to the highest standards (latte art always perfect under every takeaway lid), and they seek out staff that share their very unique brand of warmth and competence.
“South Africans are typically confident and social people” explains Benita. “We love to gather, to eat, to enjoy life - and we employ people who exude the same friendliness and consideration. Our team really cares. They get to know our customers, remember their names, their orders, their pets. It gives us confidence that Kaya is in good hands when we are not here”.
And this certainly appears to be a winning formula. To give you a sense of Kaya’s success, during the second lockdown, the coffee machine (an eye-catching Elektra Barlume) was producing 600-800 takeaway coffees a day.
Since they opened, the park has been awarded Green Flag status. “Not that I’m saying Kaya helped in that,” says Candy with a wry smile. But all joking aside, Kaya’s importance to its local community, and to the park in which it sits, is clear for all to see.
“During the second lockdown, the coffee machine was producing 600-800 takeaway coffees a day.”
So what are the building blocks of a great café business, I ask. “Love” is the response. Candy and Benita have a daily presence at Kaya. They are the fabric of the brand. Their hands-on approach extends from creating the captivating interior designs; to delicious home-baking; to extracting shots on the espresso machine.
They have also created a ‘family’ rather than a workforce. Three times a week you will find the entire Kaya team (and some of their customers) improving their fitness and wellbeing at boot camp in the park. Not your every-day employee perk.
On a practical level, they choose suppliers that can be relied upon for consistently high-quality produce, and with whom they have built trusted relationships. "I first came into contact with Matthew Algie when working with exclusive hotels, and recommended them when I helped a friend with his coffee shop” explains Candy. “I knew the coffee was great and I also wanted to continue the good relationship I had with the account manager”
“South Africans are typically confident and social people. We love to gather, to eat, to enjoy life - and we employ people who exude the same friendliness and consideration. Our team really cares.”
As we embark on a fresh new year, what's next for Kaya? These are two women who never sit still and whose faces light up at the mere mention of future plans. “Next month our outdoor kitchen will arrive,” says Benita with a palpable sense of excitement. We’ll build a pergola and some Moroccon style low seating, which means we can offer relaxed outdoor dining all year round. There’s a bandstand in the park too, and in spring and summer, we’ll serve picnics to enjoy alongside live music.
We’re also creating a bedroom upstairs. People can stay for the full boutique B&B experience. But more than that, they’ll get a flavour of our interior design style, when we launch our design consultancy service.”
It’s clear that this is a partnership made to last and that many great things are yet to come. “Ultimately we are best friends living our dream,” says Benita. “None of this feels like work”. If they had their time again would they do anything differently, I ask. “No” comes the response, in perfect unison.
Fundamental to Kaya is the love of people, of social interaction, and community spirit. No coincidence then, that Kaya means ‘place to gather’ in Zulu. And what better place to gather than here. Every inch of the café so beautifully designed, the service so impeccable, the food (and coffee) so delicious. With everything that’s on offer and all that’s yet to come, the residents of Horsham must surely feel privileged to have Candy and Benita at the heart of their community.
To find out more about Kaya and upcoming events visit kayacafe.co.uk
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