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Interview With Doja Culinary Company CEO, Onaopemipo Dara

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Onaopemipo ‘Pepo’ Dara is the CEO at Doja Culinary, a catering, training and food delivery company and Lux Gifts and Crafts, a personalized gifting service. She has an MBA from Lagos Business School (LBS) and recently concluded the African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative with the Center for Global Enterprise. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Pepo talks about her brand Doja Culinary, how it’s filling the skills gaps through trainings and creating employment and her plans to have up to 3 physical locations in Nigeria. Excerpt.

 

 

Alaba: Kindly tell us about Doja Culinary and the role you play? 

Onaopemipo: Doja Culinary Company is a Catering, Food delivery and Training company that specializes in Finger foods, African and Continental dishes, Barbecue and Cocktails.

We love creating dishes with hand-selected ingredients, beautiful interpretations of indigenous and continental dishes and beverages, custom made to your taste, event, guests, company and preferences.

We are also into social venture #OneByOne that partners with existing NGOs to raise awareness, donations and volunteers for causes and projects especially in Youth Empowerment, Girl Child Education and Poverty Alleviation.

 

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?

Onaopemipo: I had no startup capital. My savings were tied in another business and the timing was right to start the business. I started in my home kitchen, so that helped save on utilities and equipment. My first order was worth N10,000, after delivery I saved whatever was left over after each order. When I saved enough, I would buy the things we needed according to priority. I had to be very frugal and didn’t pay myself a salary for the first year and a half.

 

Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?

Onaopemipo: Challenges come in different shapes and forms and you have to roll with the punches. I can categorize the challenges into 2 major categories: Staffing and Logistics.

Staffing: The food industry globally has relatively high employee turnover rates as high as 60% and culinary jobs are typically deemed as transitional jobs that you do for a short while as a means to an end – the end being another job. The case in Nigeria in particular is dire as there are not many culinary professionals for hire. You have to hire blue collar workers and train them yourselves. Professional Chefs’ remuneration is way above the budget of an SME.

We try our best to have pools of temp staffing options and often use ad-hoc staff. There are informal temp staffing agencies with staff that are experienced in the food service industry. We also depend on referrals of former and current staff with satisfactory records to recommend potential staff. We then train the staff to our quality levels. Even if they do not work with us for long or full time, it is one more person with basic food, health and safety training in circulation.

Logistics: This we can blame on the lack of infrastructure in Nigeria, so seemingly basic tasks like transportation, courier/delivery services, telephone and internet communication as well as any tasks involving basic amenities like electricity or water can put a lot of strain, require a lot of planning and contingency budgets.

We deal with this by planning, planning, planning. You have to have plans A to Z and foresee several scenarios and ways in which your plans might fall through. For example if you are going to be cooking at a venue for a client, even if the venue claims to have water, we often would take our water along just in case. For logistics we have multiple dispatch companies in our contacts, as well as local cab and bike drivers, our staff might also need to step in and make deliveries in person sometimes. You just have to anticipate and be ready to make last minute decisions to solve issues as they come.

 

Alaba: What advice would you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?

Onaopemipo: Two things come to mind…

  1. You have to know your market and industry intimately. The Nigerian market is very peculiar and is often not as straightforward as global markets or business textbooks. So don’t be surprised if a middle income target market exhibit buying preferences like high income earners and vice versa in your particular sector.
  2. Never make the same mistake twice. Failures and set backs are opportunities to grow, and they will occur in their numbers. Reputation is important, make sure that even in event of setbacks, you are known for coming up with resolutions as best as you can, going above and beyond for clients.

Also Read Co-founders Should Avoid This Legal Mistake

Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking in achieving them?

Onaopemipo: One of our 5 year goals is that we hope to have up to 3 physical locations in Nigeria. We are doing a lot of planning and research to find the best way to create value in this space. We are also training and in discuss with industry mentors to see where our skill gaps lie and the best way to fill them.

 

Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?

Onaopemipo: We are contributing by filling skills gaps through trainings and creating employment. We hope to contribute more by creating competitive concepts that add to the existing food value chain. We also contribute through our social venture #OneByOne: we have partnered with 3 NGOs since 2016, 7 projects with over 2,700 beneficiaries since inception.

 

Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa’s business ecosystem?

Onaopemipo: The African Business Ecosystem is so dynamic and has so much potential. It has grown a lot in recent times but we have barely scratched the surface. We have grown from focus on creating businesses out of necessity for survival to creating businesses to solve problems and create value.

I think as we lean into fostering co-creation and collaborations, breaking gender, ethnic, and geographical boundaries, we will tap into a new level of growth for the ecosystem.

 

Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?

Onaopemipo: Inspiration comes from various sources and from the little things – family, experiences, memories, people you meet, other businesses, books, television etc.

My faith as a Christian is also a big source of inspiration and a way to meditate and recharge.

When I find myself low on inspiration or motivation, I turn taking a break to recharge, spending time with friends and family, spending time with fellow entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs who have achieved what you plan to in the short or long term, my social media – I follow a lot of business publications and influencers, inspirational people and accounts based on my hobbies, interest and aspirations.

 

Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?

Onaopemipo: I love hanging out with family or catching up with friends over foods and drinks at home. Once in a while I find something new and adventurous to do, a break from my normal routine from traveling or hiking to attending social events. I also love a good book or movie. Sleep! I love a good nap. Business can be physically and mentally draining and sometimes you trade off on nights of sleep to meet up with deadlines, so when its time to recharge, nothing better than sleeping and waking up refreshed.

I try to read wide and I am often curious about an array of topics. I read fiction and non-fiction. I particularly like Christian fiction, I recently read Ted Dekker’s Adam and Francine River’s Masterpiece.

My favourite non-fiction of 2019 is Steven Levitt’s Freaknomics. It was an amazing read I plan to read again. I also recommend Gbolahan Fagbure’s Working on a Dream and Ibukun Awosika’s Girl Entrepreneurs for the African Entrepreneur.

 

Her Short Bio:

Onaopemipo ‘Pepo’ Dara has worked in different sectors including fashion, management consulting, culinary, public service and NGOs. Pepo currently runs Doja Culinary (@dojaculinary), a catering, training and food delivery company and Lux Gifts and Crafts (@luxgiftsncrafts), a personalized gifting service. She has an MBA from Lagos Business School (LBS) and recently concluded the African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative with the Center for Global Enterprise. When she takes time off, you can find her deep inside a book, spending time with loved ones or ‘pretending’ to be an adventurer.

 

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Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home

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Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)

Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?

Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.

The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.

 

Alaba: What is your background?

Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.

 

Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?

Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.

Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.

 

Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!

Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.

The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.

 

Alaba: What are your main challenge?

Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.

 

Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?

Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.

 

Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?

Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.

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Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine

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Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)

Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen

Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.

Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.

In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.

Revolutionizing West African Food

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.

In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.

Source: Zoe Adjonyoh

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Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity

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Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.

Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.

“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.

One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.

Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”

One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.

In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.

“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.

A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.

Her work

Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle

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