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Tina Shaire’s Zolene Diary: Challenges of a Start-Up Restauranteur



The dream is free but the hustle is sold differently….

Where do I start? If only you could see all the potential challenges as well as successes when you have a dream or ambition…but perhaps that would be more nightmarish than dreamy…but I digress. Whoever said the hustle was sold separately from the dream was closer to the truth than most.

Starting my dream restaurant has possibly been one of the hardest journeys of my life. What started as a simple conversation with my husband, seven years ago, is today becoming a reality. As you can imagine, so many things have changed from that fateful day till now.

A rollercoaster doesn’t quite describe the emotions and reality of the process. I was anxious many times, angry at other times and sometimes just indifferent until I learnt to trust the process and enjoy the journey. The point when you come to the realization that there is only so much that is in your power to hasten to the finish line, you’ll learn to smell the roses on the way and not complain too much about the thorns. Just in case you are reading this and working on your own dream or perhaps even one similar to mine, here are a few challenges I encountered, and how I am daily managing to overcome them.

Setting up a retail space requires tremendous capital investment for material construction, interior décor and equipment; with a start-up you need to plan your finances right. Like it’s said, if you want to know the value of money, go try to borrow some.

In banking parlance, a start-up is classified as a high risk business. Trying to convince investors about something that doesn’t exist is definitely a challenge. So we had saved up for starting the restaurant or so we thought. The dollar exchange rate situation increased the cost of procuring the kitchen equipment, down to the furniture and many other things. What we then did, to reduce our costs was to get top quality made in Nigeria furniture as opposed to importing. We made a few decisions that directly reduced our cost, like taking out table cloths (eliminated the weekly cost of dry cleaning them, which is even the bigger expense) and having food served on reusable mats instead. But I guess for a start up in Nigeria, your personal savings and/or family and friends are a more viable means of generating funds. Well, that is what has kept us thus far. We have tried to seek single digit interest loans; it has lingered for an awful long time. Even after providing all the stringent requirements and have been satisfied eligible to receive the loan. A restaurant is a big project in terms of scale and capital required. For a start-up restaurant, you will need up to 6 months running cost too.

As a restauranteur, you are coming into a somewhat saturated business, your customers have many options. You need to be able to see your end from the beginning. What is your unique selling point? You have to know it and be able to sell that vision both to investors and customers alike.

In our case, we did a lot of soul searching, critical thinking and analysis down to feasibility studies. There must be a deep connection between what you are selling and its ability to meet the interest of your target customers. In this light, we have been testing new cuisines, designing menus to arrive at something eclectic and creating a cosy ambience all at the same time. We are also open to change that positively impacts our business.

We had wanted to start our first 3 months without making deliveries, but we realised for our vicinity, we are better off starting deliveries from the first month of opening.

Licenses and taxes
You will need to know well ahead what sort of licenses is required for your ideal restaurant, if you will be using a TV for instance you will need a TV license; selling liquor, a liquor license likewise. On inquiring about this particular information, we got different prices for same licenses we sought to acquire; we had to make further inquiries. Some of the officers were willing to collect money without actually carrying out the inspection. So if you have paid for health and safety or for water test, make sure they actually come to test the suitability of the water for your own safety and to guard against any incident in the future.
So, you need all the information on all required licenses and levies, before you open for business. Same goes for incorporation of the company. If a limited company, your taxes and filings with the CAC have to be up to date.

Business promoting
As a new business owner, you have to keep talking about your business to partners of the business if any, management and staff. You need to be able to teach your staff until they are able to understand and in turn teach others. Most staff you will hire have worked somewhere else and learnt how to do things a certain way… which may not necessarily be bad, but you likely would rather have it done another way.

There is a lot of work to be done with ensuring things are done right. Even when tired of correcting an issue, you cannot afford to keep quiet about it. We had to train staff and get certified industry experts to come train staff too. We realise that training has to be an ongoing process, never a one off. If you cannot train, you may do well to create a budget to engage experienced industry experts. We have engaged a culinary school to help train staff and critics our menu.

There are so many areas in a restaurant business that requires time and deliberate action. We shall analyse them in subsequent write ups. But for now, we hope your knowledge of the intricacies of starting a restaurant has been enriched.
I am looking forward with great delight to opening our doors to our customers and to sharing this wonderful experience with them. This would be a great honour for me and indeed, a dream come true.

As eventful as our Zolene journey has been, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Today our dream contemporary African themed restaurant is here, and I am a better woman, mother, wife and of course Chef, all because of this process.

Tina is a qualified commercial lawyer with nearly a decade of experience in law. She is the head chef at Zolene- a contemporary African restaurant dedicated to creating good food memories through a touch of western influences on our most loved Nigerian and African dishes. Zolene focuses on the rich and diverse Nigerian/African cuisine with a touch of western Influence. We are located in the booming and rapidly expanding Ikoyi in the metropolitan city of Lagos. Zolene as a restaurant is committed to making amazing food memories and our address is #26 Mekunwen Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. Kindly follow us on social media @zolenedining.


  1. Ennah

    September 25, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Well done Tina

  2. olanna+odenigbo

    September 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    lessons abound….well done on your journey, wish you continued growth and plenty success… I am currently struggling with patience… hmm! crazy journey!

  3. Michelle Abegunde

    September 26, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    A million congratulations Mrs shaire’s really proud of you gal. Greater heights

  4. Joolzumba

    September 26, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Hello Tina… welldone for this detailed write up.. #truelife
    Now what was just a dream has aligned to reality !!!Unto greater heights sis… #chainrestaurants !! Amen

  5. Yemisi OLUKOTUN

    September 26, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    Wow! Beautiful and educative piece….. kudos

  6. Uche

    September 26, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    It can only get better…

  7. Femi Adeniji

    September 26, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    She has a great personality and it reflects in the people around her.

  8. Nnene

    September 26, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Beautiful and insightful write up! Point of correction though: your dream is not becoming a reality; it has INDEED BECOME a reality. Go Girl!

  9. Ejay

    September 26, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    The joy that radiates in your eyes when you serve us those little meals of yours has become a gigantic reality. It’s always beautiful and fulfilling when one decides to live out his or her dream. Congrats barrister Tina, “the chef.” You have really done well. Long live Zolene!!!.

  10. Anita Tele

    September 26, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Tina, I am so proud of you. I believe the story of Zolene will inspire more people to push and make their dreams a reality.

  11. Onome

    September 26, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    You go girl! Congratulations on pursuing and making your dream come true. Starting a business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted.

  12. Yinka

    September 26, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    nice one Tina, thanks for taking time out to itemise the challenges and advising startups.
    Have a successful Business, the FAM will be visiting soon, WATCH OUT!

  13. XlY

    September 26, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Wooh! Highly impressed! Thanks you for this piece

  14. Amdi

    September 26, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    The journey of a startup never ends…thanks for the inspiration Tina. Go Zolene Ambience…

  15. Aisha Atilola

    September 26, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    Congratulations and We’ll done Sis. Learned something new. God bless your hustle. So proud of you. Zolene is an inspiration. Thanks Tina.

  16. Segeorex

    September 26, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Nice write up and Congrats Tina..

  17. Ebun

    September 27, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Congrats wify, zolene shall expand with so many branches ijn….. Amen. Thanks for d wonderful info

  18. Regina Erekosima

    September 27, 2017 at 1:17 am

    Tina Babe! Congratulations! Thanks for the lovely write-up which will give encouragement to a lot of people with dreams yet to manifest. Zolene will make a mark! Lots more to come sis!

  19. Ajike

    September 27, 2017 at 3:28 am

    Congratulations sis! Zolene is actually the best place to be if you desire to have a lasting good food memories. Thanks for the detailed write-up on start-ups.

  20. Tomminia

    September 27, 2017 at 6:47 am

    Wow……very detailed and informative. Congrats Tina, well-done!!! Your dream is now a reality, thanks for sharing, loved the part about enjoying the journey because it makes us better.

  21. Khadijah

    September 27, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Congrats Tina. Keep soaring. This is a stepping stone. Well done

  22. Foyinsola

    September 27, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Insightful. Well done Tina. For the record I’m hearing about TV License for the first time…. Lol

  23. Jaqqiy Edion

    September 27, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Wow!!! What can I say but…weeeell done! Thanks a lot for the inspiration as well.
    I should be seeing you soon by God’s grace for a sumptuous meal or two from you. Congrats, once again!

  24. Gregory

    September 27, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Really inspiring Tina… Big congrats

  25. olayinka

    September 27, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Wow!!! So inspiring, I love d write up. Congratulations

  26. Rene

    September 27, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Well done Tina. Really proud of you. Amazing place and amazing ambience

  27. Olumide

    September 28, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    Very educative writeup.
    I wish you the very best as you continue the good work you’ve started.


    September 28, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    Good job on your start up journey madam ambience. Hope to visit for a great taste soon

  29. Oti

    October 9, 2017 at 7:53 am

    The lawyer, chef and writer:-)! I totally enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. See how good the writing is? Now, imagine what the food will taste like. Go try it out, I tell you, you will come back again and again with friends 😉

  30. Akin Adesoji

    October 22, 2017 at 5:44 am

    Fantastic Write-up.
    Thanks for sharing your journey.
    #Congratulations … it only gets better from here!
    I have tasted the Food @ Zolene and it’s 100% Delicious!!!

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