By Agatha Emeadi
There was a time Porsche Pintos on swanky Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, was the place to be if you wanted to experience palate caressing ice cream. But those days have long gone. Pintos was part of a multi-business enterprise established by Mrs. Oluremi Onobolu and it included an exclusive upper roof bar, which she managed for years with her husband before he died in 2006. Though she made great effort to keep it going for years after the death of her husband, Onobolu had to close down the business when she could no longer cope with the unrestrained stealing by staff. So, she turned attention to other business activities. Read more…
What have you been doing since Porsche Pintos was shut down?
I have been engaged in trading of fabrics. After my husband passed on in 2006, I managed Porsche Pintos for another four or five years and could not cope anymore because it was really his idea and passion to set up Pintos. Though I went to train in the United States prior to the opening, but before his demise, Pinto grew so big. I managed a part of it while he managed the nightlife aspect of the business. There was a bar called ‘The Upper Roof’, but I was solely in charge of the food and popular Pinto’s ice-cream section. After his death, I struggled with keeping it up, but couldn’t and had to close it down and concentrated more on sales of different fabrics.
Are there plans to bring Pintos back?
I do not think so even though it has not gone forever because my older daughter has started something, which she calls ‘Pintos Legacy’ but its pure Chinese food.
What stood Pintos flavour ice cream out then?
That is supposed to be our secret, but we had our different blends, add our touch to it with our ideas, toppings and flavours. It has to be your own idea to add colours and flavours to it, and it stands out.
Before Pintos, what were you doing differently as a couple?
My husband, Olusegun Onobolu, had an insurance firm known as Eco-Pillar Insurance Company. He resigned from Times Insurance where he was a director to open Eco-Pillar. I worked in different places as an executive secretary; my last work place was Berger Paints before I left for the United States with my children to study for the opening of Pintos. Every other career I went through went into Pintos. Our initial plan was not to have Pintos ice cream, catering and upper roof bar, rather a bakery company. But before I got back to Nigeria, the flour position had changed and that was how Pintos came into being. My husband was a very creative and adventurous person, even with buildings. So you would understand why his friends called him ‘frustrated architect’. Whatever he decided to do, he did it well. So, we decided to go into a business venture that would be a family entity. We thought about it and embarked on it. Then again he said I was very good in the kitchen and we worked it out.
Financially speaking, how big was Pintos then?
Well, we were comfortable and the business climate was very okay. We were the trailblazers in that field. We made our mark then in the business especially with our ice-cream brand. It attracted a lot of young people and parents who queued up to buy for their children and we were there to sell.
What were the challenges you faced?
Of course, there were loads of challenges in managing an outfit of that magnitude. We had about 50 employees in various departments like the burger runners, kitchen staff, delivery and services. The instability with staffs was a major challenge. One would hire, train, and think you are ready to enjoy their services, but without notice, they would be gone. Clients came there, pretended to shop and eat, then they would poach my staff and before you know it, they were gone. One of the shocking cases concerned a staff we employed from Benue State, accommodated him in the boy’s quarters of our home. Before one could say Jack Robinson, he resumed in the morning in Pintos, but by afternoon he moved next door to the newly opened place. When I got wind of it, I fired him immediately. But then, somehow, God was on our side and we could cope. Most of their jobs were not specialized jobs except for the kitchen staff and thank God I knew what was going on; I was younger and smarter then. I would quickly move in immediately. That is why it is good for both men and women to be grounded in everything.
The other major challenge was theft. My staff stole so much then. The girls would hide money under their wigs, in their underwear and do different things. It got so bad we had files in Area ‘F’ Police Station where we were always going to with stealing employees; but decided to give up after sometimes. Besides, we gave all instructions and incentives the much we could, yet it did not help matters. With the ice cream, which was the major selling point, they just could not hold back. My staff would gather the used cups, wash them and use them to resell ice cream to customers. By the time I come, the cups you left would still be there while the ice cream was gone. They would remove some ceiling slates and hide the used cups there. The bigger thieves were also caught. One early morning, my husband was coming back and saw a member of staff with the condenser of an air-conditioner on his head, which he was going to sell. Our computers were also stolen. That was how bad it was.
Was all the stealing as a result of poor treatment and remuneration of staff from management?
They were paid their salaries as at when due. How can people work without being paid? We had staff food cooked for them on a daily basis. We had two shifts, morning and afternoon. I would not say they do not taste other things here and there apart from their food; yet stealing was taking place. That is the challenging aspect of food and catering business. No matter how well one treats catering staff, they would not be 100 per cent honest.
You have made mention of your husband severally, means you were friends; how did you meet him?
We met when I was in Yaba College of Technology studying Secretarial Studies. He came looking for a friend and we met through that friend and had a five to six years courtship, then got married in 1981.
How has it been without him?
It has been tough, but his absence and the vacuum it created has been so much. I look unto God as a Christian, and have been able to stand by the grace of God.
Was he ill?
I was in England where my children were in school at the time because I used to spend a lot of time with them there. He developed brain hemorrhage. I was called on a Saturday that he had taken ill. I came in on Monday morning and he was already in coma. He came out of that first coma briefly and slipped in for the second time and couldn’t make it.
Are you interested in trying the second missionary journey again?
I have not really given it a thought.
How was growing up?
I grew up in a family that I would say is with a lot of exposure. We were a close knit family and open. There was no fear of parents, we could express ourselves without being shut down; everyone’s opinion counted and mattered in life. With what I see around in other families, we were simply okay. My mother was an Itsekiri woman while my father was half Yoruba and half Itsekiri. I was born in Warri, even though we are from Epe in Lagos State with a lot of lineages towards Itsekiri. We grew up in Benin and Delta State axis. My mother was quite an elitist who worked with the airlines for many years. Growing up was with a lot of fun.
What do you think about women participating active in politics?
I am personally not interested in active politics but support all that shows interest. I do not like it when Christians say, ‘I do not like politics.’ How then could the errors we talk about be corrected? As long as women are upright in politics, I am in full support, but for the women politicians who steal, I am not in their camp.
What about your teachings to the younger women in the area of successful marriage?
Even till yesterday, we were at the Vinning Intercessory meeting where we look at various issues. The bible did not say we will live without tribulation, but we can overcome such through the mercy of God and good home upbringing for both the man and the woman. It is alarming what men and women go through in marriages recently. We are doing our best, but our younger ones are not really helping matters. When a daughter would ask her mother “Mummy, how did you cope in marrying daddy? The other language will be “Oh, it was your time.” I think that the old school thing that sees an unmarried lady as incomplete is African mentality that was on our mind then unlike today’s women. It is our duty to train our sons and daughters well and pray along with them in life’s journey.