An interview with Clive D’Angelo-Smith, Owner of Four Seasons Catering, by Syft’s Gemma Walters. 

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I decided to open my own business to see more of my young family. Catering is a hard and unsociable sector. Working from home, I can work around my children and my wife’s challenging job now. Four Seasons Catering is all about great taste and even better presentation. I’ve always been an advocate of people eating with their eyes. If the food looks amazing and tastes just as good, you are on to a winner.
I strive for excellence, and no matter if its a basic sandwich lunch or a canapés event for 1500 people, I put my heart and sole into all of it. My business is an adventure, and I’m loving every minute of it!

What are the most exciting aspects to running and building a company in a very competitive market?

It’s hard building a reputation, it takes at least a year to do so. But it is also exciting at the same time. What I have found is the most important thing, is to be a little different and go that extra mile. I use wicker baskets, hampers, metal buckets, slates. I make all my food look appealing to the eyes.
I love the whole start to finish of running the business. The initial meeting with the client, I like to think my first impression counts, I’m passionate about what I do, and I try to show this to my clients. The tweaking of menus to suit them, the laying of the tables on the day, its all got to be perfect, this is just as important to me as the food! All these different elements, help me achieve my goal, perfection!

What were your biggest successes and challenges in your 1st year in business?

In my first year in business, I did some incredible events: a canapés event for 1500 people for the postcode lottery; working with Jaguar Land Rover on 2 exclusive media events. I became their in house chef for a week on 2 occasions, working in two stunning mansions. This build profile and reputation. Also, being asked to do a buffet for Ricky Hatton, one of my sporting idols, and from that gaining a new corporate client.
My biggest challenge of year 1 was trying to juggle everything. I knew I would need to do some additional work as a freelance chef, whilst the business got off the ground. So I was working approximately 30 hours per week freelancing, managing my own bookings, keeping active on social media and building my website. Plenty of late nights and plenty of wanting to throw the laptop out the window – but it was all well worth it.

What were your initial thoughts when you started hearing about the gravity that Covid-19 might impose on business as it spread toward the UK?

I started to get worried early March and soon realised I was going to be hit hard. I actually had a really tough period coming to terms with it all, a lot of refunds and seriously doubting what would happen to the business. I don’t think anyone could anticipate what was going to happen. It has had a devastating impact on our industry.

What impacts has Covid-19 had on Four Seasons Catering and have you been able to adapt in these very challenging times?

At first it was tough, endless cancellations and refunds. After a period of self-isolation with my family, I started thinking about how I could adapt the business. I decided to continue doing Afternoon Tea boxes, which have taken off dramatically. I’ve now done over 1500 of them, including 125 on good Friday and 160 on bank holiday Friday. Alongside side this I have been doing ready meals, 3 course meals prepped for customers, as well as Sunday roast dinners.
It’s been bloody hard work, I won’t lie. Lots of early starts and late finishes. I have now decided that realistically, this is going to be my style of business for at least the next 6 months. My Facebook page has exploded. I’ve gone from 1250 likes to nearly 4000. Its difficult, because large events are lucrative, so its a whole new ball game doing small deliveries to make a few £’s here and there. But the volume is great and things can only get better. I decided I would not let Covid-19 allow my 12 months hard work to go to waste. I will get through this and I will see it better on the other side. I’m lucky to have small overheads and an amazing wife who has helped me no end with bookings and deliveries throughout the past 3 months.

You worked with some big names last year such as Jaguar. Are there any big prospects on your radar that you would like to work with post covid-19?

I’d love to get into some nice wedding venues, in Wales and the South West of England.
It will be challenging to begin with, large events are very unlikely to happen for quite some time. There will be more adaptation to come from me, that is for sure. But I will, like I always do, give it 100% and make the most of it.

You have gone from the heat of the kitchen working in many well known establishments across Wales to becoming the CEO of your own catering business, what advice would you give for anyone thinking to start a business?

My biggest bit of advice would be, take everything on board. Take all the best bits from all the places you’ve worked. Add them together, give it some of your own special touches. Be creative, think outside of the box, and find a niche. If you do something the same as Joe Bloggs with 20 years in the game, you’re not going to get anywhere, you need to be different.

What do you see as the future for Four Seasons Catering?

For the foreseeable future, I believe I’m going to be continuing with doorstep deliveries.
I think it would be far too bold to start thinking about weddings etc right now. I think the public would not be that willing to attend mass gatherings until at least 2021.
I’ll bide my time, keep on doing what I’m doing, and push on into 2021. I was expecting 2020 to be my year for dinner parties and weddings, but its turned in to me being a fancy take away. But like one of my regular clients said to me, keep on doing what I’m doing 2021 will be even bigger than 2020 was going to be.