‘When someone pays for something good, they’re bound to come back again’
Aramide Bello is the CEO of the popular eatery Tank and Tummy in Amuwo-Odofin axis of Lagos. She recently spread her tentacles with the opening of a new branch in the hearts of Ikeja. She tells GuardianWoman about her foray into the eatery business, the challenges in the food sector and why the profession should be taken seriously in the country
What inspired you to start your eatery?
We opened in 2006 and the excitement came from my passion for cooking. So, that is where the inspiration came from. I won’t say that I like to eat because I am very picky about what I eat, but I would say that I love to cook.
Did you get this attribute from your mum?
I won’t say I got it from my mum. I think it is just who I am. Actually, my mum opened a restaurant while I was in the University of Lagos, that was where I got my first degree and I think the food thing is just in me. I can’t go wrong with food. I can create food. Once I taste it, I can duplicate whatever it is. Then I can create food with whatever material that I have. And when I came in 2006, I saw that the eatery and fast food sectors were not doing what they where supposed to do. The local thing that they were having was the rice and the swallow.
I realised that this is cafeteria stuff, that one can do more than that. So, I started deboning fish, deboning chicken and came up with different recipes as well as making meat balls, meat loaves and trying to test the market. That was what I did. And after that they started copying me.
How did you come about the name Tank and Tummy?
It came from my mum. She is into oil and gas business and her vision was for her daughter to branch into food business. She came up with the two names- a food place and the filling station, a place where you can fill in your tank and your tummy simultaneously. The name just stuck when we tried to build the brand.
Despite the fact that the fast food business is having problems, a few have managed to survive. What has been the secret of survival for you?
For me, I am not in a hurry to open many branches. I believe that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. So, stability and consistency has been the key for me. Every time somebody comes in and you give them a recipe that is maintained and they are guaranteed that the quality would never change, I am happy. You have freshness and not cutting corners as a principle. Food for me is glue; once they come in and it tastes good, then they would come back again. When someone pays for something that is good, they are bound to come back again and again. There is no advertisement better than that. So, I think that has kept me in business.
Did you study catering in school?
No, I read Economics. I am successful because I have a passion to create good food. I am a creator of food. We are in a jet age now; things are changing. People now know that you don’t have to be a doctor to be successful. I am sure that if my mum had thought of me being a chef when she was sending me to the university, she would have said no! Now, if my daughter tells me that she wants to be a barber or a tailor, I would encourage her. It is the key; not the four corners of the classroom mentality. It is what you can do at the end of the day that matters.
What challenges did you face at the beginning or has it been a smooth ride all the way?
It still isn’t smooth. There are challenges all over the business. At the beginning, I had to understand the Nigerian mentality. The manpower, human resources, was my biggest challenge because putting people through and having them conform to instructions is a big deal here. That was my biggest challenge. They don’t have much of the training schools here and where you have the schools, people do not attend them. Secondly, a lot of people walk around and say they are chefs, but then have not actually been to the school to learn anything. They just actually know how to cook or they have worked for one or two hotels and they start to call themselves chefs. But at the end of the day, all they know how to do is to cook a few dishes.
How can things be improved in the sector?
This job is actually looked at in the low circle. Nobody wants to send their children to school to be a chef. It is not like that in the international world, where being a chef is a great thing. Nobody wants to send their daughter to school to be a cook. They believe that it is a second choice. It is not a first choice for anybody. So, when you see people come in and they say they are cooks or chef, they do not have that normal education, but then again, I must say that formal education is not needed in this industry. What is needed is to have the passion, to have the energy to do the job and have the vision.
Many hotels and restaurants parade mostly male chefs. Do you have very good male cooks, too?
I have good cooks that are males and females. I don’t think it is gender related. As a matter of fact, my kitchen manager in Amuwo-Odofin started as a cleaner. He worked his way up. He has been working since 2007 and I bet you, he can match any kitchen manager anywhere in terms of productivity.
Apart from manpower issue, what are the other challenges that you have?
Interestingly, I have gotten used to all of them now. If you had asked me this question about 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have stop talking, but now I am already used to the life. It is already like a part of us. Sadly, we don’t have middle markets or middle-vendors here and whoever decides to go into that kind of business would make a lot of profit in this country. Our product is gotten straight from the market to the restaurant, unlike what you have in places like the US, where the products are not gotten from the market. They are gotten from another company; the company prepares it, packages it and then ships it off to the restaurant. So, about five or 10 restaurants would be ordering rice from the same company.
Let’s compare starting your first branch in Amuwo Odofin and expanding to Ikeja this year
I believe that money-value is one thing and eating in a beautiful environment is another. You don’t have to go to the Sheraton to feel that you are in a cozy and classy environment where you enjoy your food at a reasonable price. My price is not difficult; it is just that I want to offer class with it. You are best at what you have the passion for; it is natural.
You studied Economics at the university. How does this impact on your business?
The same way education impacts on everyone’s life. You know how to add and subtract, common sense, that is all. What do you learn in school? Interestingly, you find that at the end of the day, all what we are taught in the school, we really can’t remember. Even if you are an accountant, at the end of the day, it is the calculator that is working.
How do you survive with the high price of foodstuffs in this recession?
I think this is general. You have to go with the flow. You still have to understand that we have people that are in need and their pockets have to be considered. What is the point having all the big building for food and a lot of people cannot afford it? I am reaching out to everyone.
Is there anything else that you are passionate about?
Yes, politics is a good one. Eventually, I hope to go into politics to serve.
How do you relax?
Sleeping. If you give me the honour, I can sleep for 14 hours but I just don’t have such luxury.
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