Gini and Eccie Newton are the powerhouse sister-duo behind Karma Cans. From preparing home-cooked meals for a few small clients back in 2014, to delivering over 1000 meals a day to corporates across London, they have built a hugely successful, well-renowned catering and events business. But how did they do it?
What were you both doing before starting Karma Cans?
Gini: Before Karma Cans, we both worked in kitchens alongside our studies - Eccie trained as a chef and I was a kitchen porter. Neither of us actually had a full-time job before jumping into starting our own business but we loved food and cooking, so we just took what jobs we could to learn more and of course, to make money.
What was it that made you start a catering business?
Eccie: As sisters we never wanted to work together, we just fell into it. At the beginning, we found it incredibly challenging as we had such different ideas and tastes. This was until we really found our roles within the business and grew to trust each other. Starting at the beginning, we were brought up in a very food-focused family, where the family meal always had great importance. Our Nanna is Jewish Eastern European and her love language was always food. We grew up with lots of pickled fish, borscht, cream and butter, not your typical Karma Cans combination…but it started with this passion for eating and sharing stories.
Gini: Eccie was the chef; she worked at Petersham Nurseries and trained with some of the best chefs. At the same time she was doing a Masters in Terrorism and Conflict at LSE but she used to make the most amazing packed lunches every day for herself - along with whoever was lucky enough to get one. A friend of ours was having a charity auction and asked us to auction off a skill we had to someone in the city. We thought a week of packed lunches made sense. Before lectures at uni, Eccie delivered these lunches every day and the client fell in love with the food so much that he wanted it daily for his office. So Eccie made their office lunches every day in reusable cans (so there was no wasted packaging) and delivered the meals by bike before going to uni - collecting the cans on her way home every evening - remember, this was in 2014, before delivery or Deliveroo existed! I decided to help her out and contacted a few more offices. We gradually won our first few clients by literally turning up at offices with lunch- and that’s where it all began…
What motivates you to continue to make the business a success?
Eccie: We truly believe in our product. We have had some of the same clients for over nine years who have watched us grow, and simultaneously we’ve watched their teams grow. This is an incredible feeling, delivering a product that’s consistent and good enough that clients have stuck around for all that time! We’re selling food, but we’re also selling a way of working: taking time out of your day to have lunch and talk with your colleagues is essential to building a good culture and team.
What is your favourite part about owning a business?
Gini: It’s all we really know. I’d say building an incredible team around us is one of the biggest highlights; watching people grow, adapt and change with our business as we’ve faced challenges has been pretty magical for both of us. The other wonderful thing about owning a business that is revenue-driven, with no investors, is that whatever we want to do, we can. The freedom of having a lean, adaptable team is very powerful. Everything we say we’re going to do, we actually do, which is pretty rare.
What makes Karma Cans unique?
Eccie: Karma Cans' menu changes every week. We cater to all dietaries and often feed over 1,000 people every day. Building a business that feels so special and unique in the product but also has the ability to feed such high numbers is not something you see often. Each meal is built with so many textures and layers, is made fresh every morning and delivered to you by bike. Nothing is pre-made, everything is fresh and delicious which means there’s nothing quite like us in London. Although we’re catering for hundreds of offices, our team is still small and all our clients have a direct relationship with the team and the kitchen; no third parties are involved.
How did you build enough resilience to survive the pandemic, which wiped out a lot of competition?
Gini: It starts with a team that cares and is invested in the long-term success of the business, along with the ability to quickly adapt. Karma Cans has always adapted to what’s happening in the market and we are open to changing our business model where needed to survive, which is the key as it creates long-term success and resilience. At the start of the pandemic we lost all of our clients in a week because every office closed its doors. Our team of chefs, operations managers and sales managers were left without a role. So we looked at where we could add value at that moment in time, given we had a fantastic team and a substantial commercial kitchen which, unlike most restaurant kitchens, could cope with high volumes of pre-packed meals. We partnered with the NHS and made thousands of meals a day for hospitals across London meaning that the whole team, no matter what department they worked in, got their hair-nets and aprons on and we re-opened our kitchen. We hired additional chefs who had been left unemployed and became a factory for meals for this period. We also started catering for vulnerable people in the area without access to food. Our team pulled together, working around the clock to feed doctors, nurses, hospital workers and vulnerable people across London.
When the pandemic ended, we had no idea where our business would be or if our clients would return. But we can happily say that 2023 has been our best year yet; our amazing clients have returned with more catering needs than we have ever seen.
What exciting plans have you got for the business over the coming years?
Eccie: Karma Cans has dominated the corporate catering market this year, winning many monthly new clients. Events have also become a huge part of our business - clients who we previously catered team breakfasts and lunches now use us for all their catering needs. Our focus for the next few years is to grow our events catering offering and team. We are also launching Karma Canteen in 2024 - offering a new, in-house, daily changing canteen service for our larger client who want a bespoke Karma Cans offering for their whole office. Watch this space!