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Former juice seller, chef cooks concepts for hoteliers

By | May 3rd 2012

By Peter Ndoria

He has seen it all in the hospitality industry from being a waiter, chef, to at one point hawked food.

He has also held various positions in the hotel business but now runs his own consultancy firm.

When Allan Githinji talks about food, his face lights up. He says he finds it mystifying how people who look down at those in the hospitality industry and perceive hoteliers as servants.

"It is a profession and people are actually trained in schools and what they offer is a service, just like other professionals," Githinji says.

Despite a relatively tender age, he has more than a decade of experience under his belt. He remembers loving cooking so much that he stood out like a sore thumb in his high school years at Chania High. He was the only boy in the entire school who took Home Science as an exam unit.

Allan Githinji.[Photo: BONIFACE THUKU/Standard]

After secondary education, he studied Culinary Arts and got a job in 2000 as a chef based at a petrol station that had just been opened. He used to prepare Portuguese delights at the petrol station’s convenience store restaurant along Parklands Road, all for Sh7,500 per month.

After some time, he quit and started hawking juice to people in offices around the city. His clientele came from his siblings’ contacts. A cup of juice would go for Sh80.

His siblings would come in handy again when in 2004 together with his sister formed Chefs Inc., a company that used to organise barbeques, from where he cultivated his clientele.

He had by this time expanded his repertoire of skills into baking cakes, thanks to the efforts of a neighbour, Mrs King’ori or Mama Julia, who mentored him in making cakes. This year also saw him go back to school to study Food and Beverage Management.

Headed to Dubai

It is after this that the world-famous Hayat Group of Hotels came calling, with his first posting being as a waiter in Dubai. He slowly made his way up and by the time he came back to Kenya in 2008, he was a Restaurant Manager.

Back at home, he was made the first Food and Beverage Manager for the Ole Sereni Hotel before going on to join yet another catering firm where he handled contracts for several units.

He spent yet another short stint in Zanzibar for the Blue Bay Group of Hotels as their Group Food and Beverages Manager before landing what would be his last expedition at a famous Mombasa hotel- lasting only 6 months, before he resigned to start his outfit.

All along, he wanted to run his own restaurant, or a fine dining place with a pub.

Unfortunately, that kind of business — and especially to the scale he had in mind — is capital-intensive and he lacked the funds at the time. He laments that to date, Goodwill in Nairobi is way too exorbitant- much more than rent.

"I only had my savings… so I switched to Plan B, which was to use my Foods and Beverages experience on a consultancy basis," he says.

His Plan B was a novel concept to many in the industry, and this has seen him go for numerous meetings and send many proposals. Most business owners deal with prospective investors in their ordinary course of business, not consultants.

"I can tell you from my own experience, some of these managers are unable to train their staff simply because they do no have the time".

His company, Dorian Hospitality was thus born last year, with the aim of training staff for hotels, sourcing for professionals in the hotel sector, planning food and drinks and wine pairing with the right foods as well as the right set-up of crockery and cutlery.

All these is an art, many will attest, yet it took a while for Allan to land his first client — a fact he attributes to many people’s attitudes.

High cost

Another challenge is cost. Apart from salaries for two permanent employees, there is rent. He says in the hospitality business image is everything and so he had to invest in a website.

"People wouldn’t take you seriously if you gave them an email address from those free websites," he asserts.

He also contends that much as the industry grows, there are still too many old-fashioned ideas, a certain ‘ordinary way’ of doing business.

"A business should be more than just making money," he explains, "If you go to a restaurant and wait for 15 minutes for a beer, even if the establishment is full of people, it means that there are no professionals in that place."

That difference is what he seeks to impact in the clients who seek his services, because he believes that customer experience is the most important thing in the hospitality industry. It is what essentially sells a restaurant to clients.

His experience in managing events for hotels means that he also gets events organising jobs, as well as those that involve tours and travel. Since all these are part and parcel of hospitality, he gladly undertakes them as well.

Also in the pipeline for Dorian Hospitality, is what he says will be first Kenyan TV show that will feature cooking, titled "Combat Kitchen". The show is modelled to be a 13-week reality programme where chefs compete to showcase Kenyan talent and allow, for once, those who work in the hotels to have as much fun.

He has already partnered with a Westlands-based producer who owns a production house in India and they are in talks with sponsors with the intention of rolling out early July.

"I want Kenyans to see the fun, emotion and patience that go into a plate of food," he adds.

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