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I find joy helping start-ups and failing restaurants become better- Chef Nneka

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Chef Nneka Agbo is the CEO of Dolphin Restaurant and Catering Services.With 37 staff, Dolphin Restaurant has grown in leaps and bounds serving various dishes from the Wuse and Gwarinpa branches in Abuja. In this interview with 120edgenews.com, Chef Nneka says despite her success in business, her greatest fulfillment is mentoring other people in her line of business and helping them grow. She tells us more.

By Victoria Onehi

What has kept you on this journey to get to this level in your business?

For me, it is has been the fact that I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to be a failure and I also  know that many destinies are attached  to me. We are 12 years now and we have about 37 staff both in our Wuse and Gwarinpa branch, so you can’t just give up. It may not just be for yourself but  there are other people who are looking up to you.

I also have Mentees, people I have mentored in the business.When you know that they are looking at you and also watching your progress because you inspire them, then you just have to keep going. 

How many mentees do you have now?

They are about 10 and counting. Some of my mentees are my ex staff, some are people who are trying to start a restaurant business and I came in and helped them set up. Some are people I helped from scratch and some are people that registered for some of my culinary courses. There is a mentorship programme I run in my culinary school and some people registered for it and they asked me to mentor them.

So , you help start-ups ?

Yes, I help start-ups and I also help failing restaurants. I check-in and see why they are not selling.  We try to know their problem and what is happening. When we know their problem, we proffer solutions and we do another publicity check.You know , when a restaurant is failing, you have to know their target market and know why they left. And then afterwards, tell the customers, this restaurant you have been eating before , look at what we have been able to do with them, can you come and try them again to see if they are what you have always wanted in a restaurant. So, its like a re-start and they give us a feedback and when we hear the result, we say this is what we wanted to achieve.

How did you come about that because now, you are not just concerned about you not failing, but others not failing too?

Why I am interested in others is because we grow by helping others to grow. And again, I cannot serve all the people in Abuja. Also, restructuring restaurant is another source of income for me. So, when I understood  I cannot serve everybody in Abuja I assist others grow. Also, it’s good to be a blessing to others.I can’t hoard my knowledge, I want to die empty. I want a situation when I look back 30/40 years, I will say God, I am fulfilled. So, other people can talk about their success story and also mention my name that it’s because of this  advice I gave them that their business did not fold-up. So, its another area of my life that gives me joy and fulfillment.

What is the secret of your own business? Being a Chef and running a restaurant?

God. I am a believer in God.I don’t just go to church, I also know the scripture of how God wants us to grow. One of the scripture that guides me in whatever I do is the Bible verse that says, I wish above all things that you prosper, be in health as your soul prospers. This tells me that God is interested in my growth, in my prosperity, and moving forward from whatever level. As far as I am concerned , growth is the largest room on earth. There is always a room for growth, so God is interested in my growth. Ofcourse, there are things God tells me about my business and I wonder and say, really? And when I share it with my staff, if it is something that is happening, they will say, yes, we noticed it but we forget to tell you.The way you relate to God is the way he relates to you.

So, your staff are interested in the growth of the business as well?

Sure they are, it’s a teamwork. For instance, I don’t necessarily have to come in everyday. Sometimes, they are people I am helping to restructure their restaurant and I will not come in at all. 

Like, you see them in their T- shirts , its part of the structure and organisation we are putting in place. So, someone does not come in and wear what they want and a customer walks in and is looking for who is a staff. So, by wearing our own T-shirts, a customer identifies a staff easily.

What are the structure you have put in place , to make sure the business go down?

One of the key things that make business to go down is the staff. So we have a clock- in device to monitor when each person resumes duty and closes. So, that helps monitor hours each person puts in.

Also, everything that comes in we weigh. There is a store person whose job description is that. He gives out what ever is needed in the kitchen and records for me. since its something I have been managing for a long time, if he gave one bag of rice, I know it will serve, XYZ portion. Even if there is disparity, it will not be much.

Also, I train my staff. Like on Sunday, we have training. we have like five hour training each time we train our staff. So, we train every quarter. Every quarter, I bring in one person. When we train, it helps instill the discipline we want and make our staff do better. So, you can’t ask something of your staff which you did not give them. Tell them what you want, don’t assume they know. For instance , if a Waiter has worked somewhere, your culture and that of the other business owner is not the same. You have to train them so they align with your vision as well.

Yes, I employ both young and old. But ofcourse the younger ones have more energy . I am one person that accept everybody but you are going to be the one to prove to me that you are not ready for the job.

In the kitchen , I don’t have to be there always but when you are newly employed, the head chef has to put you through, to ensure that you are cooking upto our standard. I don’t have to be there always because I have a culinary school that I run.

The culinary school is in Gwarinpa.We have courses for one month, two weeks, but its flexible. Some women just come and say they want to just ‘up’ their game in the kitchen, so they come at the weekend. We have three months and six month course. I do the teaching but I also have a chef that teaches too.  So far, we have trained 60 persons. We started the culinary school with the Gwarinpa outlet.

What made you go to Gwarinpa?

I was looking for another market, we have some customers there already but we wanted to bridge the patronage in the Life camp, Kubwa and Gwarinpa axis. Because of our alacarte, they cook there but our branch in Wuse is the base.

How are you coping with the challenge of high cost of food stuff? Maintaining standard despite the cost of food?

One thing I have learnt over time is that cost of  food stuff increase and never go down so I have been able to run with that. Again, I buy in bulk, and source materiels from the right place. We are looking at a way of sourcing our foodstuffs directly from the farmers, so that we cut of the middlemen and save cost.

How has family been helping achieve your goals?

Very supportive, especially my children. I have two girls.

How do you unwind?

Every Friday, I must go out, I must go out.  Though the children are in boarding school, we go out with them at the weekend when they are around.

What would you say gives you the greatest fulfilment?

My dream is that when I look back in years to come,  I should be able to  leave a business after I have gone.

I want to be able to leave a trans-generational business, just like my mum left for me. Dolphin Restaurant is 50 years now.  And it’s been ran by my brothers now in Enugu.

My brothers have taken over the business. So. Dolphin Restaurant Wuse Abuja is an off-shoot, of what my mum started and we are 12 years now. One of my children has shown strong  interest  already and I am glad she did.

What are the challenges  you face in this business and how do you overcome them?

There are a lot of challenges. Talk about the staffing,I try to look at people who share the same value with me while hiring.I believe if you get it wrong while hiring , you can’t get it right, but when you hire someone,and your value is honesty and his or her value is not honesty, then you people must clash. If you hire someone whose value is soft life and yours is hardwork, then you will clash, so everybody must not be your staff. So, I try to hire right first.

What if the person you want to hire says he is hardworking, but in the real sense, he or she is not, how will you know the truth?

There are some provoking questions you ask, and the truth will start coming out. Also, they can say anything, but when you are hired, you are on three months’ probation.  Within that three months, something must happen. It’s either you are retained or you go.

Have you taught of cooking for long hours like Hilda Bach and others?

No , not at all. I believe there are other ways I can make my impact felt. In few years to come, I hope to have more branches and a bigger culinary school. The one we have is a building housing the restaurant and the school. So,more branches , a bigger school.

We also, have a Dolphin Restaurant VIP Lounge now. Some people just like that Cozy environment while some others don’t mind, they just want to eat and go. But for some people, they are concerned about the ambience of where they are eating. And some people are also after good food and good environment. For now, we are open from morning till night to all clients.

What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?

One thing I have seen with the younger generation is that they don’t want to work. They just want to hit it big. There is no hitting big anywhere except you want to do it the wrong way. The Bible says follow those who by faith and patience obtained the promise.  So, you can learn from somebody to cut off your mistake. Learn from a mentor, subject yourself and learn from someone, don’t raise shoulders with someone you should learn from. If we are not careful, a lot of experienced entepreneurs are going to die with their knowledge. I feel young people should calm down and learn. There is money to be made but, learn, learn and learn and work. Put in the work and you will get the result.  There is nothing as fulfilling like you did this, made the right decisions, and then you get the result.

Have you had a bad day in this business?

I have had bad days. Customers complain, some reject their food, some walk out without being patient when we have a full house and you want to sought out others before them.  They say what are they cooking sef and go. But then,we have some that will not go anywhere to eat, but Dolphin.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in life?

Patience. Personally, I was not a patient person before, but I have learnt that now. Knowing that all of us are not at the same level. There are some people you have to go meet them were they are, not everybody will meet you were you are. For some, when you meet them were they are, you get the best out of them. So, when you reach out and meet them were they are, you get the best out of them.

I thank God for helping me thus far.Personally, I have been running this business 12 years now and counting.

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