The advent of internet and social media has provided opportunities for young people to start and build businesses in ways not done in the past.
With about 400,000 graduates coming out of Ghana’s tertiary institutions annually to look for non-existent office jobs, a young lady did the opposite – she quit an office job and went on to start a food business.
That is the story of Miranda Afiyoo Larko Kofi, the Founder of Kitchen Pot Catering Services, a catering start-up. From her modest but well-kept kitchen in Madina, a surburb of Accra, not only is she satisfying hunger, but also employing others.
So, what drove Afiyoo into embarking on an entrepreneurial journey?
“I was an administrator for a company for about 15 years and, (I can tell you) that I used to drag myself to work for all those years,” says Afiyoo.
“I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, but one has to survive so I (stayed on) the job. One day, I just got up and said I was tired of this job and I wanted to do something I loved doing. I thought through it and realised that cooking is something I loved so I told my boss I wanted to resign,” she narrates.
Afiyoo went on: “He was surprised when you want to do something on your own, funding is one of the biggest problems; you know family members will be wondering why you had a steady job and you will leave it to come and be on your own,” she reveals and went on, “For the one year I was home, I struggled but with the help of some few friends I was able to start crawling slowly until things started picking up.”
Starting a business is one thing, getting patronage is quite another. According to her, she had to give out her free food to allow her build a client base slowly.
“I quit my job in 2012. So, from 2013 to 2014 I started with one pack here, two packs there; I was introducing myself to friends with free food. I had to do more of that because if you are introducing yourself to someone, the person would have to taste the food and, when they are okay with it, before they make orders,” says Afiyoo.
She identified where her friends were and sent them unsolicited meals, including her friends on radio, and they, in turn, acknowledged her publicly and told others too and that is where it all started from.
Kitchen Pot started operations fully in 2016 and it employs eight (8) people directly; the outsourced delivery riders and other suppliers make up the indirect employment number. Kitchen Pot has almost all the local dishes on their menu including Banku and Okro stew, Abunu Abunu, Jollof rice, Ampesi, Kenkey and others. But, according to Afiyoo, one dish in particular is in high demand.
“We do everything local and continental and we want to establish ourselves in our local dishes but, interestingly, it’s the Jollof rice rather that is catching on. People demand the Jollof more than the local dishes so people think we only do Jollof rice but we do everything. You can get a call from somebody in the morning asking for Jollof when Jollof is even not on the menu so you have to do it,” she reveals.
Kitchen Pot currently has the contract to provide lunch for a corporate client called RPS Engineering Services, and they also get invited to provide meals for weddings, parties, funerals and other events. They deliver food to most parts of Accra including Tema, Lashibi, Spintex, and even Kasoa [Central Region].
According to Afiyoo, apart from recommendation from friends, she owes a lot of her client base and growing business to social media, especially Facebook.
“Social media is what has pushed my business to where it is now because, initially, I was cooking for just friends. A Facebook friend suggested to me that I should create a page on Facebook and get free publicity because Facebook was powerful,” Afiyoo said extolling the social media platform.
“So, every morning, I just post the menu for the day and people will call and order a pack or two. Initially, a day I could do about three packs and I was complaining. I was worried about how I woke up so early, invested all the time to make food and get an order for only 3 packs.
“But my friend said I needed to start from somewhere. He asked me to keep at it because sacrifices must be made to enable me move from point A to B. That encouragement helped me a lot and kept me going.”
That consistency has paid off as Facebook has remained her main source of harvesting customers. “We do online selling mainly. I usually post dishes with photos on my Facebook page and people call me, make orders and we deliver it to them wherever they are.”
Afiyoo is a product of Krobo Girls Secondary School where she offered Home Economics. Thereafter, she enrolled in a catering school in Teshie Nungua. Her grandmother was into baking and cooking so Afiyoo also picked up culinary skills from her.
Caterers are known to disappoint their clients at the last minute. Not so for Afiyoo. Indeed, there are testimonials on Facebook affirming her punctuality and delicious food and she says it is all part of the strategy.
“When I decided to do this fulltime, I asked what will differentiate me from the others? I realised it is two things-the quality of the food and my timing- I get many people saying the delivery rider delayed but the taste of the food made them forget about the delay,” says Afiyoo, who also attended Sackey-Addo Secretarial School and then went to work in administration before she left to start Kitchen Pot.
“Most times when we have an order to leave at maybe 10am, I tell my staff it will leave at 8am so I have 2 hours in between; even if it delays and leaves here at 9am, I am sure by 9:30am it should reach the customer.”
SMEs, like Kitchen Pot, make up over 90 percent of all registered businesses in Ghana, and contribute as much as 70 percent to Ghana’s GDP. However, they face tough business conditions such as access to capital, high taxes, electricity supply challenges, amongst others. However, Afiyoo says she faces a different kind of challenge.
“The lack of skills [in catering] is a real problem. We have a lot of people who say they’ve been to catering school and all that but, when you employ them, you don’t see the skill that accompanies the school they’ve attended,” she bemoans. “At the end of the day, I have to re-train them to my standard but after the training when they become very good, they leave [for another job] and you have to start all over again,” Afiyoo adds.
The attitude of her delivery riders also impacts on her business. “We outsource the delivery service, so there are days we request for three [motor cycle] riders and you get two of them coming meaning I delay the third delivery,” Afiyoo explains.
In the future, she wants to be one of the best in terms of quality food, delivery punctuality, and skilled human resource. “I want to hear people say that lady started from here but today she is there. I am looking forward that in the next 2-3 years, Kitchen Pot would be a name that will be mentioned and people will be like, when did she come [onto the scene]? I know slowly we will get there,” Afiyoo assures.
She says everybody needs a mentor and that Kitchen Pot is grateful to a gentleman called Kwame Baah-Acheamfour who works with the NCA.
“He pushed me so hard at a point I thought he just hated me. He pushed me to an extent that I couldn’t even breathe and he said you can do something for yourself so go for it and for him I always say that I am forever grateful. He is one of the few people who identify young people and mentors them to ensure they are doing something better with their lives.”
Advice to young graduates
Afiyoo has advice for unemployed graduates: “You finished school and not getting a job? Just think of something that you are very good at. You might be good at bead-making but you’re wondering how you are going to get the money or customers. It’s the effort you put in that will make others recognise that you are doing something good so they’ll come and push you.”
“You shouldn’t be looking at the money aspect. Yes, money counts but, once you put in your energy people will come and help you out. We all can’t work in offices.”
Majority of SMEs in Ghana collapse in the first five years, according to reports. Has Afiyoo regretted starting the business and thinking of quitting?
“No, I rather regret not taking the decision [to be an entrepreneur] earlier. In spite of all the headaches that the delivery riders and workers give me, even if I have to wake up at 2am, I am happy because I am doing something that I love,” she said with a smile of satisfaction.