‘There’s money in catering but passion for the business is key’
Four years of intensive studies at the Mass Communication Department of Benson Idahosa University, Benin City, Edo State, paid off for Miss Genevieve Tamabari Fadeh as she graduated with a Second Class Degree (Upper Division). With the result, she was very optimistic about landing a good job immediately after her National Youth Service (NYSC) programme. Her hope materialised when Globacom Limited employed her as a Customer Service officer.
She gave her best to the job. Meeting her target was never an issue. But she had a passion for cheffing, which she developed at a very young age while closely observing her mother, who catered at some point in her career. When the passion resonated in her persistently, she chose to start catering for people on a small scale while also working with Globacom.
Nevertheless, the demand for her services soon started growing and what she wanted to do as a hobby started competing with her main job.
“I liked the job because it had to do with what I studied in school. But it was stressful as I was combining it with my catering business. I was meeting my target very well but even at that, I felt that if I invested the time I was devoting to the job in my own business, my finances would get even better. So, I resigned,” she explained.
To arm herself for success in the industry, she attended a culinary school where she further refined her knowledge of the business.
“Cooking is something I have always loved. I used to watch my mum do it a lot. I just realised that I like to make people happy and if people get happy from eating my food, I’m just excited,” Fadeh enthused, adding, “So, I started on a small scale about two years ago. But I felt that I needed to go to a culinary school to at least get the certificate. I finished culinary school this year. I have also gone for safety training. So, I am certificated in both health and safety. And because people eat with their eyes first before they actually taste a portion of food, I also went to study food photography to enable me to take good pictures of foods I make and showcase them to prospective clients.
“Today, I cater for corporates, weddings, birthdays and other big events in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. I also do food in bowls for clients, strictly on order and I have done that for some clients even outside the shores of Nigeria. I do any kind of food. I am Rivers by birth but my origin does not limit the kind of foods that I make. So, I can make any kind of foods from efon soup to affang, oha, ewedu, ogbono and other local cuisines. I also prepare Ghanaian, South African and other African dishes.”
She revealed that apart from her passion for the business, the love for food, which she observed among Lagos residents, inspired her to throw away her lucrative job for it.
But the first big event she catered for about a year ago was challenging. “It was a challenge because I catered for almost 300 people, and in-as-much I have some staff, there is a difference when you cook for maybe five to 10 people and when you cook for about 300 people. That is the real test because you might either over-spice or under-spice the food and that would attract bashings from not only your client, but also almost everybody that would taste the food. But I got everything right; the food was really nice. So, from there I started getting referrals,” she said.
Fadeh noted that although she could confidently say that her life has improved a great deal since she started the business, it has not been entirely rosy. Her words: “Anybody that tells you that being an entrepreneur is easy is not telling you the truth. You would encounter so many challenges. So, it hasn’t been easy but God has been really good to me. So far, I am proud of the height I have attained. I have worked with a lot of clients and they all know that I don’t play with my business at all.
“One thing working in Globacom did for me that I will always credit it for is helping me to build up my patience and tolerance level. I used not to be a patient person but the rule in the Customer Service where I worked was “never hang up on a customer or be rude to a customer on the phone.” The same thing applies to your own business. The general saying that the customer is always right doesn’t mean that you won’t respond if a customer is too rude to you or insults you, but there is a way you will approach the customer and the relationship will not be damaged. So, I have applied a few things I learned from Glo in my business and it’s helping me.
“There is money in the business. People eat a lot in Lagos and I have discovered that a lot of people would rather order food out than cook by themselves.”
On the challenges potential starters in the sector should expect, Fadeh noted:
“One, because you are dealing with food, logistics is a big problem. For instance, if you are delivering lunch packs to offices, the moment you finish cooking, there should be a dispatch rider already waiting to carry the food and deliver it on time. But from my personal observation, dispatch riders have a mind of their own, so no matter how many times you call the company, the rider will still have his own way of messing things up. So, delivery is a very big challenge.
“Also, you might be used to making very spicy foods. But there are customers that don’t go well with much spicing. Also, there are customers that may want to eat a particular meal because they have seen it, but won’t want you to prepare it the usual way it is prepared. Take for instance Rivers native soup; it does not go unless you have maybe shrimps, prawns or crabs.
You may have someone that wants to order for Rivers native soup without any of those things. It is not complete. As much as you need to convince them, you also need to consider the customer’s likes and dislikes. Most caterers usually don’t want to go along with that because if at the end of the day the food doesn’t come out nice, the customer won’t say it’s because he/she wanted it in a certain way. He would push the blame to you.
“Another challenge has to do with money. Big organisations usually don’t like to pay upfront. They would rather choose to deposit 60 per cent and pay the 40 per cent balance after delivery. There have been cases where collecting the balance was pretty difficult, not because they had any issue with my food, but either because it wasn’t convenient for them to pay immediately or they just didn’t want to pay.”
She also stressed that the food business is strictly for people that have a passion for food. “If you don’t have passion for food, it is not going to work because you will get tired. I have a lot of people that have tried just because they know how to cook and there is money in the business. But along the line they got tired and quit. So, if there is no passion, you can’t do the job.
“You also require a lot of patience to succeed. For instance, I try not to get upset before a job or while the job is ongoing because I have observed that when I’m upset, my food doesn’t taste as nice as when my mood is just okay. My employees know that very well. So, I’d rather don’t talk than talk and get upset,” she added.
According to her, she is looking at establishing a restaurant in the next two to three years. She, however, noted that she would hasten slowly “because I know that there is more money in industrial kitchen than running a restaurant.”
“But notwithstanding, I would still want to get my own restaurant. Hopefully, when I open one in Lagos and see how well it’s doing, I will definitely open another one in Port Harcourt because that is where I grew up. After that, I will move to Abuja. I want to build a brand.”