The secrets of how a mom turned an old smoker into a cash machine

Omul fish, endemic to Lake Baikal (Russia). Sm...
Smoked fish for sale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking to a Chinese restaurateur the other evening about foods in South Africa. He’s newly arrived from mainland China and wants to know the different kinds of foods that South Africans eat and is fascinated by the different cultural influences. He makes a delicious tuna seaweed wrap by the way but that’s another story.

We got talking about the many ways chicken is prepared in the country from rotisserie grilled and deep fried to flame grilled. I mentioned that I had recently bought a smoked chicken from an organic farmer who had discovered a 300-year-old family recipe using hickory wood. The newly-arrived Chinese restaurant owner said he had seen a smoker in America and would love to give smoking a try.

I couldn’t help thinking of the old smoker that my father bought when I was growing up in Kalk Bay. He bought it from a man who had gone into smoking fish commercially out along the old Kommetjie Main Road above the Noordhoek Valley which was only farming land and small holdings in those days. A pioneer, he had been unsuccessful in making a go of it.

Anyway, my father bought one of the several smokers and lugged it to our house in Kalk Bay. He placed the smoker, which was painted silver and about 2 m high, in the back garden. He didn’t have problems with smoking in the back because our home was right up against the Kalk Bay mountain.

My mother took to the smoker right away and cajoled my father to go out and catch snoek in False Bay. The two of them would fill that old smoker with 100 snoek and smoke them for about 8 to 10 hours.

I’ve never tasted such delicious smoked snoek ever again – and my mother would sell them to people she knew in Cape Town. No wonder they went so fast. My brothers and I would eat a whole smoked snoek in one sitting. We would devour a smoked bonnita (katonkel) in less time because this fish is the best tasting smoked fish.

Now think of it. Fresh snoek in those days sold for less than R1 (if you were lucky) and my mother sold her smoked snoek for R25 to R30 each. Talk about added value.

What was the difference between the guy who started the commercial smoking business and had failed and my mother where her product was sold out in advance? What was her secret ingredient in this sideline business?

Sure, she was tenacious, knew how to smoke the fish, use the right wood that made them irresistibly delicious, and had a hungry market.

But she had two secret ingredients that made her small business into a cash machine. You can find these and other secrets of successful start-ups and small businesses in my upcoming book.

Reserve your copy now.

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