From frying Akara, this lawyer now has fast food chain… Says, “It pays to be self-employed”
“I have two degrees; I read Political Science Education before reading Law; I graduated before my 21st birthday; so, immediately after my graduation I proceeded to read Law because that was my dream course. When I was going for my Youth Service my dad, a former State Coordinator, National Directorate for Employment (NDE), Enugu State, gave me three books to read; he said ‘Chinedu forget about white collar jobs because I believe that you are going for service with the hope that when you finish I am going to make a way for you.’ That there was no way for him to make for me, that I am going to establish my own way. He gave me a foreign textbook on entrepreneurship, another book entitled ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’ and another one, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’. So he said read these books, whatever you make from them use it and help yourself.
I started with fashion and designing.
But before then, there is one thing that I believed in, and that is acquiring skill; my dad is a civil engineer and I see him come up with structures and it thrilled me and I felt I should have a sort of technical knowledge. However, I was not interested in Engineering or construction, I was more interested in building businesses and that may have informed my decision to go into fashion and designing in the first place. I learnt fashion and designing immediately I left secondary school; I used it to occupy myself as I awaited my WAEC and JAMB results then in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. So, when I entered the university I combined my studies with fashion and designing; but I later realized that it was a highly challenging vocation because of poor power supply and shortage of manpower.
I went to catering school following the challenges in the fashion industry. I decided to go into catering because I love cooking. When I was younger, while the boys went playing football I always joined the girls in the kitchen. So, I decided to give it a trial and I enrolled and attended Royal Institute of Catering, Agbani Road, Enugu. It was a good experience and I enjoyed every bit of it; but at a time I had to abandon the catering school when I got admission to read law at Abuja. So, I spent five years plus one year strike period making it six years at the University of Abuja. When I graduated from the school I proceeded to the Nigeria Law School, and was called to the bar in 2006; afterwards I went for my Youth Service at Osun State. After my service I returned to Enugu.
When I was doing my chamber attachment I was with one M.O.C Okoye Chambers; so after my service I went to him. I was with him for a short while before he died; and his departure was a very serious blow to me and even made me have a re-think about the law practice. In fact, it was then I remembered what my father told me and started to think about business. I had options before me: to use my first degree, which is Political Science (Education) to teach or to continue practice as a lawyer or whether to open tailoring business or better still put into practice my catering experience.
But first I decided to try getting a job with my first degree; so I went to one private school and applied. At the end of the day they said my salary was N5,000; meanwhile I was married and I had a car already, I said no, that the money cannot even fuel my car. I also tried another law chamber in Enugu, where I worked for about a month, but the principal told me that I was not employable; I felt so bad and asked how? He said yes that I had no experience, that I need to have at least seven year experience that I am not employable; that he is making money because he worked so hard, he had practiced for over 22 years; that he will only be paying me stipend. I thought he was joking, but after working for a month, I was expecting the stipend to come but nothing came, and I was forced to quit.
Frying Akara and buying a car with the proceed
I got my first car when I was in my final year as a law student at the University of Abuja. I established a place in Asata, Enugu, where we fried Akara with a colleague of mine. That was when we had a long strike that we stayed at home for about 11 months. We` called the place Asata Bite. It happened that I visited the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus where I used to read and I saw one woman selling Akara. I sat down, and observed how students were rushing the Akara; after sitting down and drinking a bottle of soft drink for about 30 minutes I realized that the woman was making so much money and I knew I could do the Akara better than the woman. So, I invited a cousin of mine who also attended Federal School of Catering, WDC, Enugu and we shared the idea and agreed it would be a very good business. We visited all the places where they sell Akara in Enugu, bought samples of their Akara, went home tasted and analyzed each of them. We choose three that were the best; they were so good and we went back to the women and told them that we wanted to learn how to make Akara.
They laughed at us, but two of them were kind enough and they thought us how to make Akara. So, we combined the experience from the women and what we learnt in school because most of these local women, their food may be so tasty, but their packaging and presentation may not be wonderful. So, we gave some professional touch to the Akara; we were also frying Irish potato, plantain, etc we also improved on the sauce because the women used to serve the Akara with stew or sometimes they cut onions, and mix with pepper and groundnut oil.
We wanted something different so we developed what we called ‘The Sauce’; we used variety of vegetables, it was very colourful; we had green beans, we had carrot, lots of vegetables, it was a very wonderful combination; if I give you the sauce and fried yam you won’t know when you finish a tuber of yam. The business was so good and interesting that when schools were re-opened I couldn’t go back because we were making a lot of money. We started with less than N3,000, but we made so much money that I returned to Abuja and told them I was no longer interested; I lied that I wanted to go and manage my father’s business. My dean then, Prof Iloegbunam asked me to go to the senate and defend my request; at the end of the day the school refused to let me go and I was forced to go back and complete my law programme. Thus we closed the business, but I made some good money and I bought my first car.
Becoming a tailor after NYSC
After working for one month in a law firm without pay I decided to make use of my tailoring skills and started to work with one Idika around the Damijah area of Trans-Ekulu, Enugu. Idika is a semi-literate man, but he is a very nice man. So, I worked under him. Some of my fellow lawyers would come to me and say how, can you work under someone who did not even pass primary school, and you are a lawyer. But I would tell them that there is nothing wrong with it that I knew what I was doing.
It was from that place I discovered that I could open up an eatery here, this place where I am now. The Daddy’s Kitchen here used to be an outlet for a popular noodle; so, I met the person who was operating it, discussed with him and he agreed that I can be making use of the place; not even the inside, but the outside. So, that at the close of business at night, I may stay outside and be cooking the noodles; because I promised that I would be buying from her as long as she would allow me to be cooking in front of the shop. But she said I had to pay, and asked how much I could afford? I said N1000 and she said I should pay for three months advance and I promised to pay the coming week. I didn’t have the money then, but I returned to the tailoring shop and worked very hard, worked day and night and before the one week expired I had raised the N3,000 and I paid.
Our Daddy’s Kitchen
Daddy’s Kitchen is ‘where daddy cooks better than mum.’ Immediately I started the eatery it appeared that doors of opportunities began to open; I stopped thinking of working in a big company or a prominent law firm as I used to when I was in school. I was then thinking of how to build a big business that I would call my own. But I must recall that when she gave me the place, I did not have enough capital to kick-start the business; so, I went to my father’s house and took the spare gas cooker we had in the house, took the dinning set we had for people to sit and eat. I had no money for a signpost so I took my dad’s drawing board and begged an artist in the neighbourhood, and he wrote my business name, Daddy’s Kitchen on it, with the slogan ‘where daddy cooks better than mummy’.
To catch the attention of customers since it was at night I brought the Christmas light we used in our house the previous December and hung it round the signpost and with a small generator from my house the signpost was lit-up. Before I kicked off I shared flyers in the whole of Trans-Ekulu, and by the time I started it was interesting. Although I did not experience heavy rush initially, but with time things were improving.
Actually, I had an encounter with noodles at the University in Abuja; I observed how people were rushing to eat noodles prepared by a Mallam and I knew I could do something better than what he was doing.
The next day I went to market and bought a lot of vegetables, carrot, peas, and green beans and garnished the noodles and to know the reaction of students I became generous and they confessed it was unequalled. As they were enjoying the noodles I went to a corner and laughed; I said to myself this is money. And today, I am seeing a lot of money cooking the noodles and people are enjoying it. I have even graduated from cooking only noodles to other delicacies; I cook rice, Egusi soup, Ora soup, Ogbono soup, then I prepare my chicken, I prepare fish, I also prepare sauce that goes with the chicken and the one that goes with the fish; and people turn out very well and they enjoy my food.
Starting the business
When I started the business, I started it with nothing, but today I have 14 employees; I have staff quarters, I have three outlets, one in Damijah, I have one in Ugbo-Odogwu and one at Campus-III, Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu. Then I have my staff quarters in Phase-Six, Trans Ekulu; it is a two-bedroom apartment and I furnished it for my female staff. I have gotten a vehicle I use to run my business, I have also employed a driver that takes my staff to their places of work and also supply the materials they need to do their work.
In cooking my food I make use of professional caterers; I believe that for me to succeed I need to work with professionals; so with trained personnel like myself, I believe they will deliver as I am delivering. And I achieved these within a space of two years; you can imagine the rate of growth, it was indeed very rapid. I really thank God for everything. The interesting thing about it is that I spent 12 years in higher institution, but what is feeding me and my family, what is even giving me hope of being a very wealthy man in future is not even the education I acquired, it was a course I read for less than one year and some managerial books I read.
And I have the hope of retiring from struggling, from active service at the age of 40 years. I would then move from an operator of business to an investor; because it is when I retire that I will have the time to create wealth. And by the time I retire, I have a plan of building a structure that would be yielding not less than N20 million per annum. Business is very good and I encourage the young ones to stop searching for white collar jobs and look inwards. Let them ask themselves what they can offer to the society.