Homemade comfort and creativity at Charlene’s Diner

Brought to you by McCain Foodservice Solutions

Convenient wholesomeness is at the heart of Charlene’s Diner in KwaZulu-Natal. Serving different communities in the province, the mobile restaurant caters to all nationalities and tastes. From toasted sandwiches and curries to briyanis and grills, Charlene and her sister-in-law dish homemade comfort with some experimentation in the mix.

Catering to the culinary tastes of many is no easy feat, but the menu at Charlene’s Diner is informed by the communities it serves, and this neighbourly connection goes a long way.

“We started on the very requests of some of our very first customers. As requests came in, our menu grew and it now satisfies all,” Charlene says.

The mobile restaurant is perfect for quick lunchtime stops and family dinners on-the-go. It is also available for public and private functions.

Humble beginnings

Charlene and her sister-in-law’s background as home cooks is inherently linked to the character of their food truck business.

“We come from humble beginnings and we have stopped at nothing to accomplish our dream of serving the community or those who are visiting. We love food – from the preparation to experimenting with different techniques and flavours. We enjoy sharing and offering ideas from our skills and talents. The goal is to get the best and healthiest out of every meal. It’s something built in us as we grew up, helping in the kitchen whether by necessity or free will,” says Charlene.

The team’s winning dish is called Sweet Gems – delicious gem squash and sweetcorn mix topped with cheese, which can be served with chicken strips, a piece of steak or a veggie schnitzel.

Charlene explains: “The dish represents an English vegetable but with a twist of chilli and garlic to enhance the taste. We have even added mince for those who love meat as much as they love their vegetables.”

The McCain Foodservice Solutions “Dishruption Challenge” aimed to give independent restaurateurs some much-needed relief from the COVID-induced struggles and challenges. The team travelled across the country for two weeks to put the contenders’ dishes to the test. In the end, 10 winners were chosen, all of whom will receive a restaurant support package.

Resilience through struggle

The support package couldn’t have come at a better time for Charlene’s Diner. The business was hit hard by the looting unrest that ravaged the country a few months ago. The looting destroyed the food truck and its contents. On top of this, the business had already been suffering from people not going out for food as much due to the pandemic’s lockdown restrictions.

Picking themselves up, the team started working from Charlene’s father’s outhouse. They introduced delivery and takeaway services as many restaurants have done. The team didn’t take much of a salary. Instead, they saved as much as possible for rainy days and for food stock. Being able to fall back on their parents’ space and utensils also proved to be a blessing to counteract the struggles.

On lessons learnt and new strategies going forward, Charlene says: “We will be ensuring we take out insurance for the business. We are also starting social media posts for advertising. We have realised the more people we can reach, the better. We look forward to a brighter future and, yes, there will be challenges, but we are strong women and can overcome anything.”

Read more about the Dishruption challenge and winners here.

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