Hunger for growth pushes hotelier into untapped Swahili food business

Ibrahim Osman during an interview at his office on September 5, 2023. He is the proprietor of Eagle Palace and Jamia in Nakuru city. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Three decades ago, Ibrahim Osman embarked on a culinary journey when he identified a gap and surging demand for Swahili food.

At the time, Osman owner of Jamia Restaurant, was two years into his employment as a technician at a telecommunications company, unaware of the significant change he was about to initiate in Nakuru’s culinary landscape.

As he sought out his favourite Swahili dishes in town, he couldn’t help but notice the inadequacy of dining options.

There was only one hotel offering Swahili cuisine, and it became evident that there was an unmet need for a top-notch restaurant to rival it.

“I’m the director of Jamia Food Mart and Eagle Palace Hotel, which was established about eight years ago. But before this, I owned a small restaurant near the mosque called Jamia, which was an attractive eating point,” he says.

These two luxurious establishments, situated along Oginga Odinga Street in Nakuru, have become go-to places for customers seeking unique services and delectable dishes.

Risk taker

The hotels offer a range of accommodation options, including deluxe, executive, and standard rooms.

The inception of Jamia Restaurant was fuelled by Osman’s determination and a joint investment of Sh400,000 with his friend, the late Abdisalam Mohamed.

Osman’s savings from his telecommunications job and earnings from his previous stint installing landline gadgets for customers provided the startup capital.

Specialising in Swahili cuisine quickly made Jamia restaurant a hotspot, attracting patrons in search of delicacies like pilau and aromatic roast goat meat.

Most of the restaurant’s ingredients were sourced locally, demonstrating Osman’s commitment to supporting the local community.

Osman’s path to becoming a successful hotelier was far from smooth, but his unwavering focus and dream of becoming the premier restaurant in the region kept him on course.

At the tender age of 21, he embarked on this entrepreneurial journey with zeal, dedicating himself entirely to the business’s growth.

Reflecting on those early days, Osman noted the stark contrast between then and now. Life was simpler, and government regulations were friendlier to businesses.

The restaurant was strategically located at the Coast Bus Station, making it an ideal stop for travelers who could enjoy a plate of delicious Swahili cuisine and a refreshing glass of juice.

Over time, Osman’s dedication to customer satisfaction led him to expand his offerings.

He recognised the challenges his patrons faced when searching for quality accommodations and resolved to build rooms to provide them with a convenient place to rest after a hearty meal.

He acquired a piece of land that was once residential but, with his vision, transformed it into an oasis catering to his clients’ needs.

“As time goes by, after seeing the troubles some of my clientele endure when searching for a good hotel to rest, I challenged myself to build rooms to enable them to sleep well after having a good meal,” he says.

Modern trends

To ensure he provided the best possible experience, Osman extensively researched modern trends in the hospitality industry.

He traveled to various destinations, including the United Kingdom and Dubai, sampling hotels to gain insights into what he wanted to create.

With support from a bank, Osman realised his dream of constructing a remarkable hotel.

Today, his ventures employ 50 dedicated workers, with a monthly wage bill totaling Sh1 million, which includes taxes and other expenses.

Osman emphasises the importance of following one’s vision and having the courage to make it a reality.

He recounted leaving a job that society had deemed secure but had a different plan focused on growth and a culture of saving.

“When you have an idea, actualise the concept, as long as you are focused, the business will work. I resigned from a job, which society deemed ideal to pursue a different path that required growth and saving culture,” he says.

Jamia restaurant’s affordability and fast-food concept make it particularly appealing to the youth. In its early days, Osman was deeply involved in the kitchen, overseeing operations from as early as 5 am until closing at around 10 pm.

He shares that success in the hospitality industry demands unwavering commitment.

“Three years ago, Eagle Palace Hotel received international recognition through, a Dutch travel fare aggregator,” Osman says.

Since its inception, the hotel has continued to earn accolades, boasting 69 rooms, a restaurant, modern conference halls, a gymnasium, and a contemporary coffee shop, among other amenities.

Eagle Palace Hotel even features an in-house mosque, providing convenience for Muslim guests who no longer need to travel long distances to pray.

Osman’s vision for this modern hotel is to cater for the diverse needs and beliefs of every culture, recognising that even small details can make a significant difference for some customers.

“My idea for this modern hotel is to accommodate every culture’s needs and beliefs, a simple thing can make a difference, which some customers prefer,” he says.

Understanding the evolving needs of clients, Osman has invested not only in food but also in underground parking for the safety of customers’ vehicles.

He firmly believes that maintaining a positive, passionate, and sincere approach to business is key to enjoying its fruits, while giving back to society is equally important for personal satisfaction.

“Being positive, passionate, and sincere will make one enjoy and thrive in business. Not forgetting giving back to society has helped me grow,” he says.