Redundancy led to a business launched in a week during the pandemic – and now Sarah McCombe has been featured on TOWIE. Rachael Rowe reports
When I met Sarah McCombe, she had been in her new catering unit near West Orchard for just one week. Black Cat Catering was created in the early days of lockdown and continues to thrive with its colourful grazing tables and buffets.
Sarah outlined how it all began. “I worked for a company in Sturminster Newton, but there was just no work during the lockdown, and after a few months, I was made redundant. I had always done food and cookery when living in Surrey, I had a small redundancy payout, so I thought, why not? We were born within the space of a week in August 2020.”
It’s not every day you hear about a business setting up so quickly, but for Sarah, things moved rapidly. “I organised a stand at a one-day event organised by Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show and I had business cards by Friday. My friend Holly creates grazing tables in Surrey and suggested I do something similar in this area.”
But where did the black cat idea come from? Sarah smiles. “We have a black cat called Oreo, and my son Toby suggested naming the business after it. I also wanted something that was a little bit different.”
Talking of different, one of the distinctive features of Black Cat Catering is the remarkable grazing tables. If you think a grazing table belongs in a barn or have never seen one, you’re in for a treat. Think enticing, creative displays of food, and in this case, piles of local Dorset produce. It’s the kind of display that literally makes you want to dive in and graze. Sarah explained: “It’s a colourful feast of colour and textures, and each one is unique. A grazing table is not a beige buffet! However, in North Dorset, we still do a lot of traditional buffets because grazing tables are less common here. I also like to add homemade food to the display. We include selections from local producers such as The Real Cure, Dorset Blue Vinny, and clotted cream from Crook and Churn. Every table is different and depends on my mood on the day.”
One of the striking things about Sarah’s business is the collaborative working with other companies. Sarah loves going to country shows and talks to potential companies. “We’ll send pictures of our work and ask them if they want to be included. We’ll ask for a trial if it’s a new company.”
She also works with glamping companies (her Firepit Graze boxes are popular) and events businesses. “I’ll give it a go, and if it works – great. I’m very much into celebration and creation.”
Her business focus is very much on grazing tables and afternoon teas. But, incredibly, she had to learn to bake, having not done it before- you’d never believe it looking at some of the displays.
Featured on TV
An early opportunity for Sarah was being approached by the TOWIE production company to provide products for their shows – their 2021 season started off in Dorset. She had to swiftly work with other companies to collate the food for grazing tables and small platters, but that opened doors. “I went to Bournemouth to set up; the downside was having to take everything onto the beach! We also had to be with the cast, so there were many photo opportunities. And I met people there that I still work with in business.”
With a business set up in such a short time, I’m curious about what she’s most proud of. “Simply having the guts to go ahead and do it – and in one of the toughest environments possible.”
Quick fire questions for Sarah:
What went well?
“That first week. When you say go, you have a short time to do things. The first show at Gillingham and Shaftesbury, where we had a display, was brilliant because we connected with many other people.”
What was not so good?
“Right now – I’m still finding my feet. It’s a challenging environment at the moment, so it’s just keeping the business going.”
“To have a clear vision of where you want to be. You also have to be thick-skinned and prepared to take a knockback. And do take time to know your clients in the first weeks. You also need to have the guts to stand by your instincts- if you have a USP, keep it.