Jan Kohler grew up in a small mining town in the North West province and lived a happy, care-free childhood there. With four children in the house when I was growing up, restaurants were a luxury they could seldom afford, and the store-bought “ready meals” that you get today were not really a thing, so more often than not, food was homemade and simple.
Life was slower then, so after not much homework, everyone participated in meal preparation, whether it was picking the vegetables from their own garden, peeling potatoes, making salad, laying the table, or sitting on the kitchen floor sorting rice by hand. Their family time was centred around the kitchen – this is where they would chat and catch up on the day.
While Jan had no idea that cooking would become her daily passion, it merged so easily with her lifestyle of entertaining and raising her children.
Here, she answers our questions about life, her love for cooking and being a working mom.
Who were your biggest influencers or role models and how did they shape your vision for your life?
I developed a love for cooking early on though, and this was influenced by a few different people in my family.
Both my grandmothers cooked and baked, and I was lucky enough to have had two dads who taught me to cook. My dad and my stepdad were very hands-on in the kitchen throughout my childhood, and we all still share a love for cooking today. Every so often they will both send me a pic of what they made for lunch or supper (particularly in lockdown while we can’t eat together).
This is not to say that my mother doesn’t cook; she just prefers to minimise her time in the kitchen – quick weeknight suppers being another skill that I am delighted to have added to my repertoire! Not surprisingly, my sister is also an enthusiastic cook, and we have continued to cook together for family gatherings and share our recipes.
I have memories of visits to my grandparents as a child, where there were always delicious cakes, breads and flapjacks on offer. One granny in particular would have us over for long holidays without our parents and would feed us anything we wanted. Everything she made was delicious – or that’s what I thought at the time – and I guess she made me fall in love with the idea of cooking and baking and creating happy moments.
Did you study, and how did it prepare you for your life today?
I studied marketing and graphic design, and realised when I was just a short way into it that I’m a creative and not an admin! It was only really when I got into the graphic design side of things that I realised I could pursue a creative career. While I didn’t study the thing I’m actually doing today, I still value the skills that I learnt in these courses. The most valuable benefit was being able to design my own cookbook, but as marketing goes, I’ve realised we now need a whole new skill set.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
As someone creative, self-motivated and naturally inclined to be busy, I have always enjoyed developing projects of my own. These ventures, from graphic design to gifting to cooking, have often been my creative outlet. For the first time, I actually feel like I have something to show for my efforts – something tangible that I can share with others.
What was your first entrepreneurial venture?
A network marketing business selling hair care products. I certainly have been adventurous!
What has your journey been like as a business owner?
Through my many ventures, I have learnt that business isn’t easy, though there is a lot to gain even when you don’t succeed. By trying new things, you learn new skills, meet people, gain confidence and perhaps eventually find what you really want to do. This has been my experience. I have also found that success follows when you love what you do.
“Our home is often a noisy hive of activity as a result, and we spend a lot of time together in the kitchen, preparing food and doing homework.”
Are you financially savvy? Did you know how to manage the books or did you have to learn this?
While I’ve never done a bookkeeping course, I am generally sensible about money and naturally detail-orientated so I manage to keep all the ducks in a row! I try to not think bigger than my budget.
Do you have a business mentor? If you were to mentor a new business owner, what advice would you give them based on your experiences?
I certainly learnt a lot from my managers and mentors in my corporate days and have been inspired by colleagues and friends, especially the strong women in my life. What I’ve learnt about running a business has all come from trial and error. While I’m all about the passion and loving what you do, that’s not enough. Running a business is a big responsibility and it takes a whole lot of admin and know-how.
My advice would be to keep things simple when you’re starting out – don’t register financial entities that require more admin than they are worth. Start with as little capital output as possible and grow from there. Most importantly, ask for help and advice when you need it.
How would you describe your approach to leadership in the workplace?
I am collaborative and not afraid to delegate. By sharing the load, not only do I get to focus on the core of what my business is about, but it also empowers others to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the work.
What’s next on your vision board?
My vision board has had to adapt a little in light of our current circumstances relating to COVID-19. The physical distribution plans for my book have been placed on hold and marketing events have been cancelled. Still, I want to share this beautiful book and its collection of recipes with parents all over South Africa. So, for now, I’m doing it through social media and exploring online distribution channels. I’d like to be a household name when it comes to easy family recipes, and I’m not letting go of my dream just yet!
What are your top five tips for other mothers managing their businesses in an unpredictable climate to enjoy their time at home during the lockdown?
- Create a space where you can work. If you have to work in a central space in the home, as I do in the kitchen, schedule time for work and communicate this to your kids, perhaps while little kids can be entertained online or by an older sibling.
- Try to involve your kids in some part of your work day. Share something with them or get them to help. Ask them for ideas… you’d be amazed! This will help them understand what you are busy with.
- Think out the box. Adapt your business to the current environment. Use social media platforms to advertise and stay connected. If you sell a service or item that can’t be sold currently, just keep in touch with your customers so that they think of you. Make your product virtual and offer free advice at this time with an open heart!
- Balance your day. You can’t be stuck at a desk from 9-5 right now. Take time to eat well, exercise, be creative, learn a new skill, cook, relax and breathe. Involve your kids in some of these things so that you spend more time together.
- Feel worthy. Congratulate yourself at the end of each day for what you have achieved. Even the smallest things count. Pamper yourself and wear something that makes you feel good. Also, give back. Giving to others will give you a great sense of happiness and fulfilment.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
My husband, Nic, works in a demanding corporate environment so he is happy to leave the creative stuff to me (being the foodie that he is, he is probably also delighted that I cook as much as I do). We have three busy, extroverted children at home: Lexi (14), Morgan (12) and Dean (9) all of whom love to chat! Our home is often a noisy hive of activity as a result, and we spend a lot of time together in the kitchen, preparing food and doing homework.
How does your husband support your career?
Nic has always given me the freedom to pursue new projects and has supported these generously, both financially and with advice. He recognises that I need more in my life than just “being a mom” and by allowing me to build a career from home, I can spend quality time with our kids and be more hands-on at home.
Mompreneurs constantly juggle careers with their home life. As a busy mom, how do you do it and what advice do you have for other moms?
- Organisational skills are key! You simply won’t survive without a list.
- Plan, but accept that there will be curveballs and your day won’t always go as planned.
- If you have a support system, lean on it. Phone a friend, or a grandparent or delegate to a helper.
- Teach kids responsibility from a young age. As long as your expectations are reasonable, kids can do age-appropriate jobs around the house and can take ownership of things like schoolwork.
Can you share a few of your craziest moments as a mom and businesswoman and how you came out the other end?
Racing down the highway to a meeting with a breast pump attached; packing Christmas gift boxes well into the night balancing a baby in a Kango pouch; knocking my glass of red wine all over my six-year-old’s homework book; and spending an entire day cooking and shooting for the recipe book and then having nothing to offer but cake for dinner, are all things that come to mind. Most days, I think I’m still sane and my kids are alive and well, so just be yourself and juggle it as best you can!
How do you resolve conflict at home?
Our foundation for parenting is built on mutual respect. Everyone has to respect everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or where you think you are in the pecking order! My kids are very clear about this, so when there is conflict, it’s a simple question. Was that respectful? And they already know the answer so there is no “but”.
What is your favourite thing to cook and to eat?
Paella, for so many reasons. I love the flavours, the versatility of ingredients, the fact that you can make a small one to just feed your family, or a big one to feed a large crowd of friends. I love that it can be simple, or grand with elaborate ingredients and be delicious just the same.
Do any of your children take after you in terms of an interest in cooking or baking?
I started baking with my girls when they were very young as it was something they always wanted to do – pink tea sets and cupcakes being the motivation! To this day, they both love getting involved in the kitchen, and the teaching has paid off because I can actually leave them to make a basic dinner. As for Dean, the only thing that piques his interest is rolling out a pizza. I guess you have to start somewhere!
What will we always find in your handbag?
So many things… my friends always say I could go for a sleepover with just my handbag! But wet wipes, floss sticks and plasters come to mind.
What are the top five songs (or series) on your playlist (either music or binge-watching)?
I don’t watch much TV, so it would have to be music!
- Aeroplane Jane – Karen Zoid
- Dreams – The Cranberries
- This is the Life – Amy Mc Donald
- Catch and Release – Matt Simons
- Hunting High and Low – A-Ha
What do you always have in your fridge?
Grana Padano (Italian cheese) and anchovy fillets.
“I believe that people like these need a cookbook that caters for the whole family, with ideas for combined events that will keep everybody happy.”
What inspired your choice of Pink Gin and Fairy Cakes as the title of your recipe book?
The surging popularity of gin in recent years has put craft gin, spicy botanicals and pink gin high on everyone’s wish list. They’re all so caught up in the Gin Bar frenzy, desperate to be seen at the latest gin bar in town or have the best spread at home. For me, the sight of pink gin in a beautiful glass conjures up the image of Friday afternoon drinks with my girlfriends, often fellow moms, shaking off the everyday stresses associated with raising children in an increasingly busy world.
This is where Fairy Cakes come into play. In my world, pin gin and fairy cakes collide. And that’s my target market – parents who need pink gin and fairy cakes in their lives. I believe that people like these need a cookbook that caters for the whole family, with ideas for combined events that will keep everybody happy.
Find wonderful recipes on Jan’s site, Jan Kohler Cooks.