Cover Meet Abby Cadman, owner of two catering companies in Hong Kong (Photo: Courtesy of Abby Cadman)

With International Women's Day coming up, we're celebrating women who are making a difference. Meet Abby Cadman, who took over two of Hong Kong’s leading catering companies, Relish and Gingers, amidst political unrest and Covid-19 in Hong Kong

Abby Cadman doesn’t take anything for granted. Born in Albania, her family moved to Australia as political refugees when she was only six. After moving to Hong Kong with her husband, Cadman worked as a marketing manager for several companies including Relish, a modern catering company that was founded in 2005. When the previous owner decided to move back home to New Zealand in 2019, Cadman stepped in and purchased the company. In early 2021, Cadman also acquired Gingers, a catering company founded by Liz Seaton in 2001.

Here, we chat with the female entrepreneur about why she decided to purchase during political unrest and a global pandemic, and how she has managed to grow the businesses during this difficult time. 

See also: How Hong Kong’s Most Influential Are Helping in the Fight Against Covid-19

What made you want to transition your career from marketing to running a catering business? Did you always want to be in F&B?

I’ve always been a creative person and have had different outlets for this. I gained professional experience in marketing through my jobs in Australia which allowed me to be creative, but also gave me transferable skills that apply to any industry. My true passion, however, is cooking and entertaining so my goal was always to have a business that could embody this. 

You were previously studying journalism and law but chose to change your degree to business. What led to this change?

My studies in journalism and law were the opposite of creative. It was super demotivating and I knew there was no way I wanted a career in law after having studied it for a couple of years. I had a good think about what I really wanted to do in life and knew that being in business was the direction I wanted to head in. My business and marketing degree got me excited and ready to pursue my passion. I’ve never looked back! 

How does your background as a political refugee shape you as a businesswoman?

It has given me the drive and ambition to achieve anything I put my mind to. I have no fear of failure as I know things could never get any worse than what my parents had to go through. I don’t take anything for granted and am so grateful for everything in my life.

It has also shaped me to be a more empathetic boss and be more understanding of all of my team members' situations and circumstances. We all get along really well and have a great working relationship. 

Any plans to merge the two businesses together?

We will keep the businesses separate as they cater to different clientele. It allows us to have a greater scope of who we serve and ensures the businesses don’t cannibalise each other or compete for the same events. We will, of course, begin to find efficiencies between the two companies to save on costs, but this will be happening behind the scenes and won’t be noticeable from a client perspective. 

See also: Lindsay Jang Battles Covid-19, and Shares How the 5th Wave Has Impacted Her Family and Businesses

What are the differences between Relish and Gingers?

Gingers only does catering and has a range of menus to choose from for most occasions, with canapés and buffets being the most popular. Relish is an event company that provides all services related to events, including catering. Relish provides more bespoke and tailor-made menus depending on the client's preferences. 

What do your day-to-day tasks look like?

I usually spend the mornings at Gingers and the afternoons at Relish. At both companies, I go over the completed events and upcoming events with the event managers and general manager. We go through any special requests clients may have and I give my input on what to suggest or how to execute a certain idea in the best way possible. I have regular catch-ups with the general managers and approve any items we need to purchase. Our marketing team and I usually have a chat about what to work on and what’s coming up in the diary.

In the kitchens, I chat with the chefs about the upcoming events and go through how any bespoke items are going to be presented. If there are any more complicated events coming up, I will usually manage these and be in touch with the client directly with the support of our event managers.

In general, my role is more of a supporting role and I make myself available whenever the team needs me, even if it’s just to bounce off ideas. Every team member excels at their job, and I want to ensure there are no barriers in place for them to strive for more or push the limits. I don’t micromanage, I just trust them, and this has ensured we are always developing and thinking ahead.

 

Why did you decide to buy Gingers at such a challenging time and how have you pivoted the business during Covid?

While many catering and F&B businesses were closing their doors, Relish managed to remain standing and get through the incredibly difficult past couple of years. If we can make it through the protests and Covid, we can make it through anything. It has built resilience in not only me but the team as well.

It is this can-do mentality and a gut feeling that encouraged me to go ahead with the acquisition of Gingers. On top of that, I knew Liz, the previous owner and we used to chat about business quite a lot, so we had a great relationship and I really believed in what she was doing. Hopefully, it will all pay off but it is important to not be motivated by money alone.

Gingers has a fantastic and proven formula. The clients are incredibly loyal and the company is known for its consistency and reliability. Rather than pivoting (like we did with Relish), we are using these restrictions to make the company's internal processes more efficient and also using the time to give the website a revamp. We are also focusing on removing all single-use plastic, which was heavily used before my takeover, and ensuring we are working in a more sustainable way. 

How has Covid changed the private catering scene? How has it affected business?

Before this round of restrictions, private gatherings were not affected, so clients were really enjoying hosting events in the comfort and safety of their own homes. We started seeing increased requests on entertainment options and making private events a little more exciting with live food stations and professional mixologists. Everyone has been stuck in Hong Kong for two years, so they wanted to bring something special to their guests. 

In terms of general requests, most clients expect higher hygiene and safety measures, including vaccination records, mask-wearing and gloves for servers and chefs. Some clients requested RAT tests prior to the event and individually plated canapés so guests would not need to take food from the same platter.

Both businesses suffered immensely with a huge drop in corporate catering which accounted for between 70 to 80 per cent of our events. It was up to the private events to see us through, which is a lot of making up to do!

What’s it like running an F&B business as a woman? Have you faced any barriers?

The F&B industry before Covid was more competitive, however now we all support each other and really have each other's backs. We have suffered the most as an industry and it has brought out a lot of good in people.

I have faced many barriers in business, but I have not faced any due to being a woman. I work hard and make no excuses. If I had not been able to achieve something, I would blame it on not having worked hard enough rather than because I’m a woman. I think any successful person is successful because they put their all into it. If your focus is on barriers, they will appear. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I try to be eternally positive about the future, and I know we will achieve continued success as we get out of this Covid cloud. 

After gaining experience running Gingers and Relish, do you have plans to return to Australia and run a similar business?

At the moment, I am focusing on building and growing Gingers and Relish. They have been such successful family-owned companies for 20 and 16 years respectively, my goal is to take them to the next level and make them the best, most reputable event companies Hong Kong has ever seen.

Australia will be further down the line and I want to keep my options open on whatever opportunity may come my way at the time.

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