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.
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.