By CHRISTINE PAKAKOTA
RITA Jaima-Paru had no idea what she was getting herself into when she lodged an application for the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) scholarship in 2008.
Her application was to study cookery, and it was successful.
“There was an advertisement in the newspaper. I saw it and I applied and there I got that.
“I went across to Vanuatu for six months. I did my trade certificate in Commercial Cookery.”
And since then, it has been leaps and bounds for Rita who now owns the catering company ‘Dial-A-Lunch’. It has three staff including herself.
The Northern/Manus woman saw the potential in running her own business and ventured into that in 2014.
Prior to that, as a requirement of the APTC scholarship, the recipients upon their return had to get back into formal employment and provide service to the community.
Having withdrawn from the University of Technology in 1997 after having her first daughter and a year later her second son, she had to find means and ways to look after them.
Having attended Marianville High School, she already had the basic skills of cooking. She decided she would cook and bake because in the house “I had the stove and I had things that I could actually use to make some money so I started doing that. I was just selling outside the house”.
“For 10 years, I just stayed at home as a stay-home mum, raising the kids and just baking and selling and the money was coming in.”
From that money, she enrolled in short courses on sales and marketing, tourism and hospitality to have some money experience.
She then decided to try something different and created the idea about dial-a-lunch in 2000.
“I worked from home and contacted people. That time we didn’t have Facebook. So it was more like word of mouth. I targeted a lot of government offices. And word just got out.”
After two years, she ventured into the lending business – using the K2000 she had saved.
“It ran for three years. Unfortunately, you know family and marital problems, the business closed down – both businesses closed down.”
Not to give up that easily, Rita was up again with the scholarship and spent six months in Port Villa working with chefs from other countries.
“My knowledge of cookery was basic household cooking. (I had) no idea about knife skills handling, the different recipes and the different terms used in the kitchen, the kitchen language and the culinary skills. There was nothing, no idea.
“But because I was educated to a certain level back then, I was able to communicate more effectively than the others. And that was my advantage.”
She returned to Port Moresby in 2009. Her first job in the industry was at Beachside Brasserie at Ela Beach as a duty manager.
“I turned it (duty manager position) down because I told him (the owner) I didn’t have any management skills. The training I went and did in Vanuatu is practical and I wanted to work in that area.”
She moved from the beachside to across the harbour at Napanapa Oil Refinery (then under InterOil) as a senior chef. “I was given the senior chef’s position. Still had no idea about how a commercial kitchen ran but I wanted to learn. From 2009 until 2011, I worked as a senior chef in its commercial kitchen.”
She recalls that they were serving about 4000 to 5000 meals per day for shift workers.
“I had to be on site. And I had a very supportive mother who took care of the kids when I was away.”
She was promoted from senior chef to head chef under a new management at the refinery.
“By then, the kitchen language was easy – it was part of my life. Kitchen language, the handling, the skills and the management skills just naturally came into play so it was very easy.”
She moved back to Port Moresby and managed the company’s transit lodge because her mum was ill. She lost her in 2011.
She then joined Bank of PNG as the Cafeteria manager in 2013. A year later, she moved to IPI Catering as the retail manager based at the University of Papua New Guinea.
“The reason why in a short period of time after leaving Oil Refinery and getting into the different types of catering industries was because I wanted to learn as much as I could – how to run a commercial kitchen and then running a transit lodge, operating a café and then doing the retailing bit. I told myself I think that’s it.”
After IPI Catering in 2014, her husband (Bernard Paru) encouraged her to follow her dreams.
“From mid-2014 up till now, I have successfully built the business (Dial-A-Lunch). In less than a year – end of 2015 – I bought a delivery van. Paid it off in less than a year (K32,000). I went through Westpac.”
Rita was a finalist in the 2014 2014 Westpac Outstanding Women Awards for the SP Brewery Entrepreneur Award. Jaima-Paru’s eatery is at the Helifix hanger at 7-Mile which acknowledges the management for giving her that opportunity.
Apart from managing her kitchen, she also has to manage her household of six children and says it would not have been possible without the support of her husband.
By CHRISTINE PAKAKOTA