x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Money & Me: Chef feeds need for catering service

The rave reception after cooking for a friend's dinner party inspired Scott Crawley to launch Yes Chef!

Scott Crawley says starting a business can be difficult until you establish a steady income. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Scott Crawley says starting a business can be difficult until you establish a steady income. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Scott Crawley is the founder and chief executive of Yes Chef! Catering Operations in Dubai. Mr Crawley, who moved to the UAE from the United Kingdom in 2005 to work as a food and beverage manager for a five-star hotel, came up with the idea for his business after cooking for a friend's dinner party.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I come from a normal family - my mum sold furniture at Selfridges and Harrods and my dad was a merchant banker. I started earning money at 12, working on my uncle's market stall selling things like leather wallets or stocking the shelves at his pub for pocket money. When I left school at 16, I worked as an accountant for an insurance broker, but my career in the hospitality industry started when I went to work in my uncle's pub full-time at 18. Later in life, I worked at the Hilton Hotel in London as a barman before moving up to bar manager. When I came to Dubai in 2005, it was to be the food and beverage manager for Gordon Ramsay at the Hilton Dubai Creek Hotel.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

I was asked by a friend if I would cook for a dinner party at their house, which I did, and the response was fantastic, with the guests asking for my business card because they wanted something similar in their home. This gave me the idea to set up Yes Chef! and I saw a large gap in the market for a quality personalised catering service. It took about two or three months of designing menus, the website and identifying gaps in the market before we launched at the end of 2009. Since then, we have grown very fast and now have 10 staff. Office catering is a big thing for us because we make the bread and the sandwiches on the same day they are delivered - unlike a lot of our competitors - so our products are much fresher. It was a worry going it alone and while it hasn't been easy, it's been a great learning curve and I think it's been very successful.

What has been your biggest financial challenge?

At the beginning when a company is just up and running, managing a very tight cash flow is tough until you have a firm income. Even though it's a tax-free environment, there are a lot of hidden costs and unforeseen expenses, such as the online applications, the typing and the visas for staff. You expect a visa to be quite cheap, but it can cost up to Dh8,000 for each one.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I would straightaway class myself as a spender. I like spending money on designer clothes, such as Armani, and dining out in new restaurants in Dubai with my wife, checking out the competition for when I open my own. Unfortunately, it may seem I am always working, but this is a pastime I have always enjoyed. I also spend a lot on food because, as a chef, I like to come home to a full fridge so I can choose what I want to cook that night. I stock the fridge and freezer with lots of different meats and vegetables because I do all the cooking and never know what I'm going to fancy. However, I also ensure I have some funds saved up to cover any emergency situations. I tend to keep a stash of cash in the bank, which is an improvement on the shoebox I used to have when I was younger.

What do you like to invest in?

With my business being fairly new, all my investment goes straight back into the company because I plan to expand and have designed various cafe and restaurant concepts to open in the future. I am also planning a healthy meal delivery service and there are new products for the company, such as a rotisserie I am buying from the UK for £6,000 (Dh35,746) that will enable us to provide whole roast meats at events.

Your wife is about to have a baby. Does that change your financial plans for the future?

I expect I will be spoiling her a lot and we plan to move to a bigger house. We currently rent a three-bedrooom detached home in Arabian Ranches, but I'd like a bigger house with a pool. I don't see myself buying property here. When I left the UK, I pretty much uprooted everything, even bringing my mother out here, too. She's retired and lives in Bur Dubai. I still think property prices here are a rip-off. I don't think the market has levelled out and a lot of people have lost a lot of money. The house I am living in now belongs to friends and they bought it for Dh1.2 million and it has only made Dh350,000 in six years. The price went up to Dh3.5m at one point, but they did not sell, so it's certainly not an easy market to invest in. If I was going to buy, I'd invest in a holiday home in Asia or something.

What has been your most important financial lesson?

Financial lessons can be learnt every day in the UAE with what we read happening to people who have spent money they did not have. You have to live within your means and sacrifice where necessary, keeping in mind the big picture and your goals.