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Investors re-imagine the business of selling coffee

ENTERPRISE
By Wainaina Wambu | December 8th 2021
By Wainaina Wambu | December 8th 2021
ENTERPRISE

EsQoffee hangs over the Great Rift Valley Escarpment. [John Muchucha, Standard]

At 6:23pm, a splendid orange sunset hangs over the Great Rift Valley Escarpment leaving a sight to behold.

It’s against this breathtaking skyline that two entrepreneurs have re-imagined the business of selling coffee after founding EsQoffee, a play on Escarpment Coffee.

While travelling upcountry since they were kids, Wang’ombe Ng’ang’a and Tabitha Nungari were always fascinated by this expansive view of the Rift Valley along the Nairobi-Nakuru route

What was lacking during their many stop-overs was a decent utility shop where travellers could freshen up, buy snacks, have a drink or a cup of coffee before proceeding to their destinations.

 Most Instagram-able coffee shop?

So two months ago, they set up EsQcoffee at the Lari viewpoint, perhaps one of the most instagramm-able coffee shops in the country.  

“This started from a need to provide people with a utility shop, a sort of restroom where travellers can take a break considering the distance from Nairobi,” Wang’ombe told Enterprise.

“When travelling home, the only place you’d find coffee is in Delamare … from just the fact that there’s no proper rest space we started thinking about the solution.”

“Weary travellers and drivers like a well-brewed cup of coffee so that they can stay alert on their journey. It’s also a nice spot for people to take a break drink their coffee, enjoy the scenery, take beautiful pictures and then proceed to your destination.”

And it’s not only a space for coffee enthusiasts as all manner of snacks, fruits and cocktails are available. 

Initially, getting an ideal space had been a challenge. The escarpment’s viewpoints are dotted with curio shops which have been trading there for over two decades and are part of a wider Community-based organisation, which uplifts the livelihoods of people living in the surrounding areas. 

Big plans, big dreams

The business has established strong roots within the community with everybody who works there being a local and are helping improve livelihoods in the nearby villages. 

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly hit the tourism sectors and they found individuals willing to offset their spaces.

The two then fabricated a 40-foot container to create a classy coffee shop where one can perfectly view the expansive skyline. They also gave out a section of the container to other traders to sell their wares.

Nungari says their location is their biggest asset.  

“For us, the biggest asset is the view at the end of the day even if people aren’t buying they have to stop and enjoy the scenery.”

“We don’t have so many coffee joints on the road mostly selling alcoholic drinks and other snacks,” she said.

EsQcoffee has big plans. They intend to build a strong brand that can eventually participate in the retail and export market. 

“Hundreds of cars pass by every hour which makes our brand very visible. Hopefully, these travellers will see the brand on their supermarket shelves and immediately pick it as they are now familiar with it,” says Wang’ombe.

“The business model is to eventually be a coffee player both locally and in the export market.”

EsQoffee has established strong roots within the community. [John Muchucha, Standard]

Mental health champions

As they sell coffee, they are also promoting road safety, championing mental health awareness and building brands by offering advertising space.

“We support drivers wellness. Just by the fact of encouraging them to take a break, this means that if they have an issue on their minds they can rest from fatigue,” said Wang’ombe.

They hope to soon accommodate an art studio that provides space for discussions around mental health and also serve as an exhibition centre. 

Artists and craftsmen can benefit as they will showcase and sell their art on weekends which are marked by significant customer traffic. 

To their surprise, some customers have set up their virtual offices there in a bid to break the monotony of working from home.

Their prices are relatively fair with everything for everyone for as low as Sh50 and also offer cakes, mandazis, milkshakes and ice cream.

Unlike the other traders along the escarpment, EsQoffee accepts foreign currency such as the US Dollar to accommodate tourists.

Electricity is their biggest challenge

Electricity is the biggest setback for EsQcoffee. The two entrepreneurs have already paid for connection to Kenya Power but two months in they still have no power.

This means they have to use expensive fuel to power their generator which often breaks down. This has hampered their ability to fully maximise their business operations.

For example, they can’t operate their kitchen equipment such as a deep fryer or even a freezer.

“It’s very easy for us to close if this continues,” said a frustrated Wang’ombe.

Wang’ombe is a trained IT engineer and has worked for nine years. The 33-year-old left employment to pursue his business dream.

The investment for the business, which is still ongoing, will take about Sh10 million to complete, he said.

He adds that his target is about 67 customers daily. The business has so far put 20 people to work both directly and indirectly.

Kenya’s growing coffee culture

Nungari, a trained public relations specialist, says the coffee culture was taking root across the country pushed by an expanding middle-class and a growing youth population.

This, she said, will see players in the coffee business step up. Already, well-established coffee brands are even doing coffee farm tours.

Nungari quit her day job after two years to focus on entrepreneurship. So what has the transition from a steady paycheck to entrepreneurship been like for her?

“In the beginning, it was hard as I was used to a steady paycheck. Now, as an entrepreneur sometimes you can’t even predict how tomorrow will be. However, if its something that you’re passionate about, the challenges are always welcome

“It feels exciting and fulfilling to grow a business from scratch,” said Nungari. 

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