Updated: Jun 27, 2022
MERRILL KING, joint MD of Capitol Caterers, has had a 36-year career in the food industry. King, when having to decide on a career path, followed in her brother's footsteps who was working in the hospitality industry, and was lured by the 'romance' of working in the kitchen. She qualified as a chef through the trainee programme at the Royal Hotel in Durban. This culinary background has served her well, providing King with a thorough knowledge of food preparation and service. She has served as Group Executive Chef for a period of ten years at Capitol Caterers. However, together with joint MD Russell Nzimande, King now focuses on the business side of managing Capitol Caterers' daily operations. Headquartered in Pietermaritzburg, Capitol Caterers was founded in 1993 by her husband Giles who in the current role as chairman, still plays an active role in the business. The company is currently entering its 26th year of service and caters for clients in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Free State, Gauteng as well as in Eswatini. King says that much of her time is spent travelling to the regional offices to ensure that these operations are well supported. In addition, she values the relationships that she has developed with her staff and she strives to understand their needs and ensure that they are happy.
"We favour a collaborative style of leadership and obtain input from all divisions when decisions are to be made. Within the catering environment, all of our staff play important roles. While wages may motivate some staff members, supporting our staff so that they are happy means that all our clients are happy too," commented King. Capitol Caterers has over 100 clients in different sectors. These range from the education and health sectors, to the commercial and the retirement sectors. "The catering business is hard work. In order to meet these varied sector needs, a standardised approach or menu is not possible. We have to ensure that our menus are within our clients' vastly different needs and budgets." In addition, Capitol Caterers not only keeps up with food trends but ensures that all the food that is prepared in their kitchens is nutritious and fulfils a wide range of dietary needs while being beautifully presented. "We pride ourselves in continually striving for excellence and in ensuring that our food is interesting, local and relevant, but most importantly, being steadfastly mindful of our footprint on the environment by adhering to strict QMS and ISO practices. "In order to ensure that the staff are skilled, Capitol Caterers has registered Midlands Hospitality Academy (MHA), which is accredited by the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) and CATHSSETA. Staff empowerment has been promoted through the company's Workers Trust. In an empowerment deal initiated in 2003, the beneficiaries have grown to 570 and now boast a 49% share in Capitol Caterers. King commented that in addition to empowering staff, the company needed to continually make its presence known in the marketplace through active marketing campaigns. In order to obtain some life balance, King enjoys spending time in the gym, paddling or running to stay fit and 'to ensure a flow of endorphins'. She is a competitive canoeist who has won several age-category gold medals in the Dusi and Fish River Marathons as well as a silver medal with partner, Sonja Bohnsack, at the World Marathon Canoeing Championships in Pietermaritzburg in 2017. She hopes to complete her 16th Dusi in 2020. King has also competed in running events including two Comrades Marathons and five Two Oceans ultra-marathons. King was the first woman to hold the position of president of Canoeing South Africa, which she occupied from 2008-2010. She is a long-serving board member of the South African Confederation of Sport and Olympic Committee (SASCOC). Whenever possible, King enjoys relaxing with her husband, their three children and grandson.