Despite the challenges in business, Pamela Muyeshi, 38, is the successful proprietor of Amaica Restaurant that only serves authentic African food. She spoke to Matilda Nzioka
I have come a long way. Before getting into the restaurant business, I sold ice, the ones that school children like. I invested Sh20,000 on a chiller, a paper-sealing machine and three cooler boxes. I then employed one person to produce, and three others to distribute. Out of this business, I was able to pay a deposit for a house at Nyayo Estate, Embakasi.
I then graduated to selling women’s clothes from Turkey and Bangkok. All the while, I was in full time employment. After one year, I started selling Japanese second-hand cars. Out of this venture, I made enough money to set up Amaica Restaurant. Pamela Muyeshi
I want to expose my guests at the restaurant to a real cultural experience.
- 1 How I made my first million
- 2 6 ways start-ups reduce their profit margins
- 3 How a well-executed pivot can save your business
- 4 Traders to benefit from Sh2.5m grant
The word amaika is a Luhya word that means three stones. When I started the business, we only served Luhya food, but now we serve all authentic Kenyan food. The restaurant is now four years old.
I settled on the restaurant business because I am passionate about traditional food. It is healthy and if prepared well, it tastes great. I realised that the only places people could get this kind of food were ‘shady’ places, where one would also never be sure of the hygiene or security. Tourists and other visitors did not have a decent place where they could taste authentic Kenyan food.
I am glad our cuisine is getting recognition beyond the borders. I have seen international media coming here to do stories about our cuisine.
The foods we serve are recipes I learnt as I grew up. I got traditional recipe experts (old mamas) from the village to do the cooking, while I hired trained staff do the production and service.
I am in the process of expanding the business to accommodate more customers. I would like to have an interactive kitchen for the clients to appreciate the food and how it is prepared. For instance if you tell a client about smoked beef, they may appreciate it more if they see it being smoked.
We have also signed up with tour operators to put Amaica in their tour circuit, so I may need a bigger place to accommodate more people.
When I move, I plan to grow some food within the premise for the clientele to see how they look before they are cooked.
When you start something different, it takes a while to build your clientele, especially if you are targeting the high-end.
It is, however, gratifying to see that when clients come to the restaurant they appreciate the extra mile we go, to not only cook but also to preserve our culture. For instance, we don’t use oil in our food but instead we use peanut sauce and milk to give it flavour. We also cook in traditional pots and most of our food is steamed. Food cooked in a pot has a natural and sweeter taste. We don’t use any spices unless for the coastal dishes.
I work hard to sustain the variety. Some foods are only grown by few farmers. Some, like the wild traditional mushroom are seasonal. We have created a network of reliable suppliers who harvest and preserve them for us.
Sometimes I cook at the restaurant. In fact I am a cook, a cleaner, a waiter, an accountant, a sales person and a manger — all in one. In any business, you have to be a team player. You should not feel too big to do anything. An entrepreneur needs to be an all rounder.
Balancing between business and employment can be tricky especially for a woman. The businesses I did previously were small and I could manage them in the evening after work.
When I started the restaurant, I employed a manager and I was left dealing with the public relations. It was hectic for me and sometimes it didn’t go down well with my employer.
At the time, the restaurant business was doing well, but the management there was not satisfactory. The cost of generating the revenue was not making business sense.
I, therefore, quit my job in 2008 and took up the management of the premise and there is a big difference now. You cannot always trust someone else to run with your vision.
To ensure that a business performs well, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, just package your stuff in a different way to curve a niche for yourself.
When I was selling women’s clothes, I brought the high-end ones and the customers came. The cars that I brought were three years old as opposed to eight years old.
Creating time for business and family is challenging for a woman. For example, I have visitors who are in the country for a conference and will be coming for dinner tonight. That means the earliest I will get home is 11pm. I sometimes miss the chance to be home early and ensure a good meal for my family. Pamela with her son. [PHOTOS: MAXWELL AGWANDA/STANDARD]
Pamela with her son. [PHOTOS: MAXWELL AGWANDA/STANDARD]
Drop their dreams
As much as the modern woman works, other traditional roles have not been relegated to anyone else, you are still expected to play your role. If your family does not understand, it can be difficult for you to sustain the business.
Sometimes people misinterpret my hospitality. I have to be good to all clients. It is worse when it is a man because people start talking behind your back. This is challenging and you need to have an understanding spouse to succeed.
Most women give up because of these challenges. They drop their dreams to save their marriages.
I would urge anyone who wants to get into business to identify something they enjoy. They should not do something because they have seen someone succeed in it. They should also not wait until they have a million shillings to start up something. Invest the little you have and it will get you somewhere.