Muammer Kasu on building a brand, standing your ground and the importance of giving back

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Muammer Kasu on building a brand, standing your ground and the importance of giving back

Muammer Kasu, the man behind the Rack ‘n Grill food truck, is a force to be reckoned with. Not only does he make a mean burger, he’s a shining example of all that makes this food industry so great. Muammer chats to us about his business, standing up to a corporate giant and the importance of giving back.

Let’s start with a little introduction. Can you tell us where you grew up? Were you always interested in cooking? What were some of your earliest food memories?

I grew up in Mandalay, Mitchells Plain. In fact, my mother was pregnant with me when we moved there. I have many fond food memories from my younger days. My parents, aunts and uncles (from my dad’s side) were always involved in cooking for weddings, birthdays and all sorts of events, even community fundraisers. Some of my aunts and uncles had food businesses, and one couple still does today. I remember cooking with my parents from a young age; my very first official dish I cooked was a fish curry. I think the cooking bug stuck through all the exposure I had over the years.

How did you come to start your food truck, Rack ’n Grill? Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind it?

I started the truck with a friend, but he only lasted a few months in the business. I think it was a great move as it allowed me flexibility to take the business to the next level. It has always been a dream to start a food truck. A great inspiration behind the truck was the movie Chef because I faced a similar situation as the storyline of the movie. I liked the idea of being able to take your food into different environments and creating greater opportunities. I always wanted to be a chef, but I never applied as I knew it was very expensive and never wanted to out my parents under pressure. They, however, knew my passion and they made a plan.

Talk us through your menu. Where do you get inspiration for menu items? What are some of the most popular dishes on your menu? Is there something about these dishes that makes them special or unique?

When we started, we had two menu items; a burger and ribs. I have always fancied a good, simple burger. And that is exactly what our burgers are, no fancy salad trimmings, garnish or mayo. Everyone always felt the need to dress up a burger with plenty of trimmings, but we kept it simple. And back then very few people sold ribs. Of those who did do ribs, we felt most couldn’t pull it off, and that there was the gap in the market. Our inspiration comes from our clients, we speak to them and we do what our client wants. We don’t feel the need to “follow” trends, we feel that every business is special in their own way. We do what works for us and our clients and we keep pushing to keep up the consistency of our product. The love and passion that goes into our products makes them special.

How did you overcome 2020 and the immense pressure put on the food industry? Did you find that people supported you throughout? How did you stay focused and encouraged to keep going? What was something you learned after such a tough year?

We actually haven’t recovered yet. 2020 was so tough on us and many other businesses. We struggled to stay alive, our business has suffered immensely. If it had not been for the financial aid of friends and family, RnG would have shut down months ago. And in these unpredictable times, all the debt incurred in 2020 needs to be settled, which makes business even more tough right now. We have to say that we have some loyal clients who supported us throughout lockdown; they have been an absolute blessing. We have learnt so much in this past year: to never take what we have for granted, to appreciate everything we have and if we think things are tough on us, there is always someone far worse off than us. I think the motivation to keep going is my family. I have three kids and a wife to support. They motivate me and in turn I am able to teach them that nothing in life comes for free, that you need to dedicate yourself to objectives and that we need to earn everything we want.

You recently made headlines for going head to head with a large food corporation over a menu item and successfully stood your ground. What are your thoughts on corporations coming after small businesses, such as yours, in this way? What advice would you have for other small businesses who experience similar bullying tactics?

It’s simple, you need to stand your ground. And it’s even better when you stand with and support other small businesses. I think that was my strength through this entire ordeal. The intense support we received over this period was unimaginable, unexpected and sincerely appreciated. These big corporations feel they have the upper hand as they have the financial muscle to pick on the smaller guys, they forget the impact and the support the community has if they stand together. If we as small businesses expose this kind of behaviour and stand with each other, we are a force to be reckoned with. I think we’ve allowed them to get away with these tactics for far too long. They also seem to forget that small businesses are merely trying to put food on our tables.

You’ve also demonstrated some incredible social responsibility by offering to help feed UCT students displaced by the recent fire, why was it important to you to do this? How did you find this process of giving back? What has the last (very tumultuous) few weeks of being a small business owner taught you?

Feeding those in need has always been second nature to us, we do this on a regular basis. We have an informal feeding scheme that we kept going from before and throughout lockdown up until now. It’s going strong with the financial support of clients, friends, family and various organisations and we are able to supply hundreds of less fortunate people weekly with either cooked food or food parcels. So for us to have fed the students was merely my responsibility. It’s vital that we give back to the community if we have the means. We should always remember that everything we do for others is done through us and not by us. The last few weeks have taught me that we are bigger than we know, we are more powerful than what we think, and we underestimate ourselves as small. We have a voice, we just need to be heard.

What else have you got up your sleeve, if anything? What other food dreams are you working to make come true?

I have some plans up my sleeve, but I unfortunately can’t divulge any information yet. But the dream is to open up in JHB, KZN and in Dubai, this is definitely something we intend on doing. Watch this space!

To keep up with Muammer, follow Rack ‘n Grill on Instagram.

Jess Spiro Article by: Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.

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