Kathleen Quillinan is a name you’ve probably never heard of before, but you may have met Kathleen’s alter-ego, The Pesto Princess, at the many food markets and fairs in Cape Town over the last 14 years. Kathleen is trained as a classical musician, and for many years, music was her life. In 1998, a restlessness took hold of Kathleen, and she decided to resign from her music teaching post and study singing instead. Wondering how she was going to fund this exciting new investment in herself, she started cooking from her kitchen, and selling these homemade creations at markets. Her interpretation of the classic Italian sauce called pesto, was the one offering that shoppers singled out as truly desirable. Today Pesto Princess produces over 70 tons of the addictive pesto sauce every year, which is supplied into Pick n Pay, Checkers, Spar and Fruit and Veg City, as well as the hospitality sector. Thirty-five princes and princesses are permanently employed at the ‘pesto palace’, and there is a fleet of 3 vehicles delivering product daily. The high risk production facility in Capricorn Park, Muizenberg was bought by the business in 2008 and has just passed its annual food safety audit, scoring an impressive A+. Pesto Princess is also available in far-flung corners of the kingdom like Gauteng and KZN, in the fridges of Pick n Pay.
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey as a musician and entrepreneur thus far.
I was reluctant to enter the world of business, coming from a background in the arts for 2 reasons: I felt that I was not equipped to run a business, since I had no formal business training. Neither had I worked in a business other than the one I was poised to start, so I really lacked confidence. The other major concern was that I would ‘lose my soul’ to business. Business seemed to operate on a very different value system from the arts. The answers presented themselves eventually: I was told by a mentor that I would be ‘taking my soul with me’ into business. That solved one of the issues that had made me a reluctant entrepreneur. As far as acquiring the skills went, I soon realised that creativity is a number one business asset, and coming from a creative background has been an asset, not a disadvantage. I have found my journey to be highly creative, supremely challenging, and unexpectedly rewarding. You could say that I was bitten by the business ‘bug’. I would be so bold as to say that business is an art, and I would like to express myself through this wonderful art form, which plays out on an enormous canvass.
Are you busy with any projects at the moment? If so, please tell us a little more about them.
At the moment, the team is consolidating the business, which experienced some rapid growth over the past 3 years. Like a tree which grows too quickly, we have needed to trim and prune the business, for stable growth in the future. I am certainly not alone in this difficult task. I believe in employing expert consultants at strategic moments in one’s journey. Besides the consolidation project, we are busy greening the business, as well as making ourselves more visible in retail. Our shoppers have let us know that they simply cannot find our product with ease in the supermarkets, since it gets lost, and this valuable feedback is the basis of our next new, and exciting project: visibility
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about growth: my personal growth as well as that of my team. I want Pesto Princess to be a workplace where on the day that you leave, we can hardly recognize the person you have become. I am also passionate about creating employment, which is a vehicle for growth and development. It goes without saying that music and food were my first passions. As I have grown older, these new passions have emerged.
Who or what has been your biggest influence in your life and why?
My grandmother. In retrospect I realise that so much of what I draw on every day, I learned from her at home. Of course Maths and English have come in handy, but it is a set of values that I learned from her, that have held it all together, especially in tough times.
What is your personal motto?
Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself.
Who or what is your inspiration and why?
Lately I have been much inspired by UK businessman Kevin Gaskell, motivational speaker, explorer, specialist in business turnarounds. He has a website where one can learn more. I heard him speak at the Marketing indaba, and what he had to say kept me going for more than a year, until I twisted his arm to work with me on Pesto Princess Foods, helping me towards my vision of creating a world class company.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Focus your creativity. Focus, focus, focus.
What are your top 3 branding tips for women in business?
- Your brand needs to be based on something honest and authentic.
- Your brand needs to be consistently expressed on all platforms and all touch points.
- Your brand/company needs the right name: memorable, catchy.
What is your daily affirmation?
I am not alone.
Your favourite quote?
“Speak your truth, loud and proud or softly whispered – getting your truth out is the most healing and effectual thing you can do for your wellbeing. Whether it is at the dinner table, or in the boardroom, your authentic expression is essential to living in colour, whole and large.” ~Anon.
What book are you currently reading.
A brand new cookbook by Brooklyn Resident, Marie Viljoen called 66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life, One Woman, One Terrace, 92 recipes. Marie studied opera singing at UCT, and also had food as an equal passion in her life. Food won!
What book can you read over and over.
Journey of Souls: Case studies of life between lives by Michael Newton. For some this may be very controversial, and challenge religious and spiritual beliefs.
One piece of advice you would like to share?