Francis Waichoya (pictured) is a coast-based restaurateur with a chain of restaurants to his name.
15 years ago, he was just another employee looking for some stability. Employed in a Malindi Casino, the low tourism season would see him out of a job, and with daily expenses and bills to pay, he knew a new career would be his lifeline. And so he would sign up for evening accounting classes, and he got a job as an accountant in a Mombasa firm. After a short while, he was made the head accountant, and with the extra income, he decided to start a butcher shop. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the Aberdare butchery has been replaced by Aberdare restaurant which has opened its third branch, a hotel complete with shopping complex in Nyali
What lessons would you say employment taught you?
My last employment as an accountant had the greatest impact on me. It taught me how to deal with fairness and integrity with my employees. The firm was owned by an Indian, and as long as I did my job well, the race didn’t come into question. That meant a great deal to me.
He also taught me not to procrastinate. He would always say that procrastination is the thief of time. That is my mantra to date. If it can be done now, get it done.
What in your experience makes for a great business idea?
Nothing beats demand. Take for instance my first start-up; the butcher shop. I was like other working-class urbanites who wanted to enjoy nyama choma after a hard day’s work. But I soon realised the standards were not satisfactory due to the quality of butcher shops at the time. So I took my savings and seized the opportunity, setting up my model butcher shop. It might have been an estate establishment but because it had all the elements that are crucial; like cleanliness, ventilation, proper display and quality product, my customer base grew exponentially. And soon, I added more branches to cope with the demand. They then grew into restaurants.
Was the switch from butcher shop to the restaurant a challenging one?
Well, I was looking for ideas for expansion of the butcher shops and the obvious choice was to open a soup joint. We made soup from the bones. My clients then started asking for accompaniments like chapatti and mokimo and after a feasibility study, realised that a restaurant in the proper location was worth a try.
I decided that our signature would have to be traditional cuisine to resonate with the need for a healthy living lifestyle that was becoming a wave.
To expand into a restaurant, I had to buy the space along the main thorough fare in Mombasa which happens to be Moi Avenue and with this ideal location, launched our first restaurant in 2005.
What do you attribute to your success?
It is the little things that matter to the customer. They make them feel valued.
We had humble beginnings and invested not in décor and symbols of affluence but rather in quality service, hygiene and finger-licking cuisine. That built us a solid customer base.
Also, location matters. As Moi Avenue is along the way to the port with many motor vehicle showrooms, we have a large morning clientele of people leaving for Nairobi by road and want to start the journey sated. Most are people who are done clearing their new cars from the port. That means we serve steaming hot food to travellers in the morning and ensure that our portions are the best in town.
We also serve a wide range of traditional cuisine and that is a hit with many. Another attraction is that nyama choma is available from very early in the day. This means that they don’t wait for too long to be served. Our restaurant is partitioned to give clients a sense of privacy and a semi-permanent setting with meshed and vented walls facilitating aeration.
What are some of the challenges you encountered while expanding?
That was getting a location along Mombasa’s Nkrumah road. I had clients coming from government offices along Nkrumah Road asking that we move the service closer to them. The space I got belonged to a church and had had seven startups in two years and all had folded. I surveyed the place and when the church called me for vetting, they wanted to know why I thought I would succeed where others had failed. I outlined my proposal which they approved. Today, Aberdare Nkrumah is up and running. I won them over because I had realised the kitchen was small and I showed them my plans of increasing its size. The windows also required expanding for the obvious reason that the breeze in Mombasa is a very important aspect of recreation, plus of course our special menu.
Are the three restaurants identical?
No. Aberdare Nyali is a hotel complete with accommodation, a swimming pool, club, conference facility and a restaurant. We had space and because parking is not a problem, we decided to make it a one-stop business centre with access to other amenities like the beach, shopping centres, mosques and international schools. I have out-sourced within the centre a barbershop, spa, boutique, car wash, fish centre, with the restaurant offering the same service as the other two in town. We still keep our prices within reach to accommodate staff who accompany their bosses to five-star establishments within the area. Our conference facility offers rock bottom rates as we are not in competition with first-rate hotels in the area. But when it comes to African cuisine, we present stiff competition with affordable prices. As far as food is concerned, selling volumes remains our policy.
Any other thing you do besides running the hotels
I do outside catering and have serviced presidential functions. Our catering service once had the privilege of feeding three thousand people and that is why I insist on having big kitchens.
What would you tell anyone trying to get into business?
Staff is your main asset and if they are loyal and you have a business model that emphasises on sincerely delivering on what you say you will, business will always boom.