How love for traditional food paved way for hotelier

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Assortment of traditional foods. Photo/COURTESY

Joseph Nnyama’s story is that of servant-turned-master thanks to what she attributes to patience and humility.

For close to 20 years that Nanyama has been involved in the hotel industry, 15 of which she has been the manager of her restaurant, two events have come to define and shape her career.

The first was back in the year 2000 when she was working as a manager in her father’s hotel in Nairobi, immediately after completing her Certificate of Secondary Education at Kisoko Girls Secondary School in Busia County.

“I learnt a lot from my father on business management. It is the same period I developed the interest in preparing traditional meals.

And that is how I started my career as a hotelier,” Nanyama recalls. Her father would later give her Sh150,000 to start her own restaurant when he retired in 2002.

Unexpected as it came and unprepared as she was, she continued to shine in the industry and just with that, she had suddenly become a respected hotelier, a career she would pursue up to date.

But unluckily, her zeal would later hit rock bottom when in 2013, she had to sell the hotel business at goodwill and relocate to Bungoma town. 

However, adds Nanyama, “My passion to prepare and serve traditional meals never died.

Between 2014 and 2016, I tried my hands on a new model of business (plumbing and electrical), but I did not find my footing.

I knew something was not adding up, I needed to fulfil my childhood dream,” she says. 

Thus, in 2017, with passion still bubbling within her,she founded Veterans Restaurant, opposite Chepkube Market nestled by the busy Mumias-Bungoma highway.

She started with western Kenya meals, which she knew well how to prepare having learnt the art from her grandmother back in Bumula village in Busia county.

But over the years, “I have expanded my cuisine to incorporate food from all the Western Kenya communities due to demand from our clients. Today, our menu is representative,” she explains.

Veteran’s menu is pure Kenyan and traditional; Aliya, Athola (roasted beef stew), fish, chicken (strictly kienyeji), Ugali and veggies.

Over time, she has gained the experience and popularity in equal measure, to the point of managing huge corporate events, weddings of the high and mighty.

“We do not put artificial additives in our dishes, which has helped us grow the popularity of the restaurant.

I want to offer authentic traditional foods, giving patrons a culinary journey through Western Kenya cultures.

We don’t just serve traditional foods, we also prepare our meals the traditional way,” says the mother of three.

With lifestyle related diseases also creating demand for healthy foods, the restaurant has factored in this. 

“We are offering ugali wimbi for diabetic customers,” she adds. Starting with only one kilogramme of meat and a packet of Unga in a day, the hotel when running in full capacity today, takes in supply of a minimum 20 chicken, 25 kilogrammes of meat.

Secondly, the advent of Coronavirus pandemic in early March that ravaged every sector of the economy, especially the hospitality industry gave her a new business idea; preparing Esikhe or Aliya for home delivery. She says, a dish of Esikhe or Aliya goes for Sh250, Kienyeji chicken Sh300.

For the regular clients, she advises them to put in their orders in prior, to give her ample time to prepare the meal.

For example, in the case of Esikhe preparation, it is a tedious process that needs precision. I have ventured into this niche since many of my customers like it,” she explains.

Clientele needs 

For corporates clientele, she charges Sh300 for breakfast per person, Sh600 for lunch while Sh300 for 4’oclock tea for meetings that stretch into the evening hours.

And true to its name, guests enjoy rhumba music of veteran Congolese maestros such as the late Tabu Lei, Yondo Sisters among others, adding to the homely ambience only occasionally interrupted by the cacophony of the nearby busy Chepkube market. Veterans also serves drinks to his customers.

On a good day, Veterans receives hundreds of guests with popular orders being the Aliya (Esikhe), kienyeji chicken and dry fish.

The traditional vegetables include mrenda, saga and managu, which she buys at a cost of Sh500 per day from suppliers.

One of the biggest challenge for us in the hotel industry is the restrictions caused by Covid-19 pandemic.

Lack of qualified staff with a bias in traditional food preparation skills hence I have had to invest in training most of my employees.

Financing is also a big challenge, especially in expansion of the business.

Before Covid-19 , Veterans Restaurant had 15 employees, but she had to release some workers to break even amid shutdown caused by the outbreak.

“I currently have six employees and have also put into consideration Covid-19 protocols.

With business slowly picking up, I know I will soon call back all the staff,” she notes.

What advice does she have for other entrepreneurs? “Start small. Look at the site and know what clientele to target with the meals you want to offer.

Let no one cheat you, in business you will always make mistakes. However, do not fear failure. Have the courage to take risks and learn from others,” she offers.

She plans to expand the business to have an accommodation wing and venture into opening branches in major sub-counties.

“It’s given me purpose,” says Nanyama, “Because I want to be known as the mother of traditional western Kenyan foods.

I want to expand my business tentacles to a point that every visitor, tourist or expatriates in Bungoma county looking for traditional food to only think of Veterans Restaurant.” 

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