By Christian Agadibe
CEO of LaFunshi African Kitchen, Mrs Olorunyinka Ajayi converted her husband’s residence to a hotel and catering business and she has no regrets doing so.Ever since, Ajayi has been counting her blessings as the business grows from strength to strength in the heart of Lagos City. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, the Ondo-born businesswoman reveals the secret of surviving in the catering business, challenges and why she employs Indians and Chinese in her business.
Did you have any formal training in catering?
Yes, I attended Claire Institute of Catering, Accra, Ghana.
How long have you been in catering business?
One day we were in the dining room eating and I just thought to myself that the house is big enough and I mentioned hotel business to my husband. Then when I was pregnant with my last baby and went to the United States to deliver,my husband called to tell me that what I discussed about the hotel business sank into his body and he started the business. The building was our former residence from where we moved to Ogudu.
What gave you confidence that you could do catering?
I saw that the cooking aspect was very easy for me and I have flair for cooking.
How much did you start this business with?
After we’ve commissioned the hotel, the African Kitchen was empty and people that came to have fun and drink had nothing to eat, so they complained that they needed something to eat, so I took N2,500 to the market and I bought fish and I cooked pepper soup and I sold everything. From the proceeds , I took another N2,500 to the market. That was how the thing started growing. I also started adding other menu including goat meat pepper soup and Ofada rice so people came and ask me if I could cook 50 to 100 plates of food during their birthdays. So, I looked at myself and I said that I could do outdoor/indoor catering and then I started putting money together to buy all the utensils. That is how the business started growing from indoor to outdoor.
Let’s look at outdoor catering; you cannot do it alone. How did you get all other input you needed in the business?
The business was growing and I realized I couldn’t do it alone any longer. I invited my younger sister(Opeyemi) who lives in Ibadan and is still working with me till today. I employed kitchen assistants too but for the main outdoor business, I needed more hands so I went out there to look for Togolese cooks who are now with me. The continental aspect of it like Chinese food, I have a chef that handles that one. If I don’t have good taste, then everything can’t come out well but I have good taste and I know how to cook very well so I can handle this.
How did you get to employ Indians?
Initially, when we opened the hotel, we employed Nigerian managers but some of them were not even effective. They weren’t working so we sacked them and employed fresh hands , thinking that they would be better but it was still the same thing. Then my husband sat down and said we should look for Indian managers because we are in Indian community where they come to eat, sleep, and they want somebody from their place who can cook what they want. They needed to see an Indian manager.
Were those your initial challenges? How do you manage your workers?
It’s not easy to put three or two heads together. Some of these boys pretended as if they are good people, some are here but they are lazy, some are here to steal but I know all these challenges will be overcome, with prayers and God’s help.
Would you say that outdoor catering is very lucrative?
A lot of people dabble into this business but they can’t handle it then the business folds-up.
What is your staying power?
Maybe it’s because of mismanagement, some people work and make money but they don’t know how to handle the money. I don’t mismanage my money and with the support of my husband, everything works out well.
How do you service your customers and their needs?
To get customers and sustain them is easy and not easy. To sustain them, you should be hospitable and be of good behaviour, be nice to people and your food must be very tasty and hygienic because when a customer calls you to cook for them, but your presentation is bad or the food is not tasty and you don’t have good customer relations, then you can’t go far.
What has kept you in business since you opened shop?
If you have business acumen and you plan for the future, then you cannot be caught unawares. Business is an art and you should know what you want and what your clientele need. The first thing is to have well-trained workers. You must also maintain standard and that is what keeps you afloat.
Would you say these have distinguished you from others?
Of course, that is what stands us out because we ensure that our workers are well trained. We also ensure that things that are needed to keep a hotel functioning are provided.
What are your success tips for people who want to start outdoor catering?
If you want to be successful in outdoor catering or any business, you have to be very honest to yourself. When someone gives you money for business, you don’t pocket part of the money and instead of going there with a full pot of soup, you go with half empty. You have to be disciplined.