Uzo Umeh is a Los Angeles based restauranteur curating gourmet Mexican food in Lagos, Nigeria. She shares her experience with Starting and running a business.
FROM HAVING AN IDEA TO STARTING YOUR BUSINESS, SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH US
From December 2014 to June 2015, I worked as a branding and communications lead for VFD Group at Lagos Island. Within that time I decided to go back to Los Angeles to further my career in the restaurant industry. However, as a Mexican food lover, I noticed that there was a disconnect in what was being served as Mexican food at the time in Lagos and it’s cost. That’s where the idea came from, while I was working in LA, I began building my El Padrino brand and putting into practice what I wanted to accomplish in Nigeria. In June 2017, I returned to Lagos and started curating.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO? THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES YOU COULD HAVE EXPLORED, WHY THIS?
I love interacting with people and witnessing the joy a good food experience brings them. Most of all, I love bringing people together and food helps me do that.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU KNOW BEYOND ALL DOUBT THAT THIS IS GOING TO WORK?
I haven’t gotten to that point yet, and I am not sure if I will. However, I am grateful that people enjoy my food and I keep working hard so that more people can.
HOW DID YOU RAISE THE CAPITAL TO START YOUR BUSINESS, ESPECIALLY WITH THE HIGH COST OF RUNNING BUSINESSES IN NIGERIA?
A couple mentors helped me with some money to get off the ground and since we are running a somewhat lean model by being a mobile pop up, it was easier to get them on board.
HOW SOON DID YOU START MAKING PROFITS?
Because we locally source our ingredients and have very little fixed costs, we were able to maximize our margins from the start.
BRILLIANT IDEAS DON’T ALWAYS MEAN GREAT SALES, HOW HAS IT BEEN MARKETING YOUR SERVICES?
It has been fun, we are new in the space and we are very adventurous with our online and offline marketing. There is a conventional way of selling high-quality food without an actual restaurant; we are making our own rules as we go.
AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE HIRING STAFF AND BUILDING YOUR TEAM?
I have been lucky! Though it was not an easy start – especially when you are looking for high-quality staff for what is not typically considered high-quality work. The harder part of our job is getting reliable dispatch, other than that I have two assistants with me that I am incredibly grateful for and look to build with.
YOUR GREATEST SKILL/STRENGTHS THAT HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY BEEN OF HELP IN STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
I listen often, filter through the noise frequently and just keep making moves.
DID YOU HAVE TO GET A FORMAL TRAINING OR QUALIFICATION TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS?
I have a 10-year restaurant background including general management, and I am a certified ServSafe Manager in California which pertains to proper food handling practices.
YOU HAVE BEEN RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS FOR SOME TIME NOW, WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED?
I wish I honed the phrase, “Prepare for the best, expect the worst,” a bit more in the beginning.
ANY LIFE EXPERIENCE THAT HAS PARTICULARLY PREPARED YOU DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY FOR WHAT YOU DO NOW?
I cannot pinpoint one in particular but I believe that every leadership opportunity and restaurant I have worked at prepared me for what I do now.
CHANGE CAN BRING OUT A PART OF US WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED, WHAT NEW THINGS HAVE YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE COURSE OF STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
I didn’t think I would be able to handle accounting but when you are paying salaries and not just waiting for a paycheck, you have to watch numbers carefully.
THE GREATEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED AND BY WHO?
One of my mentors, Nonso Okpala told me once that the most important thing in business is to stay in business.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ESPECIALLY IN NIGERIA?
Don’t be afraid to be yourself – in its entirety. Wear what you want, talk how you please (with respect of course), try when you want. There are no rules, find your Beyoncé and be the woman, your god intended.