Café Deli goes green in bid to grow in cutthroat sector

Café Deli managing director Obado Obadoh with the Koinange Street branch manager Jane Tito during the interview on October 26, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

It is a city restaurant but the furniture is nothing close to modern. At Café Deli in Nairobi's Central Business District, the founder is considering the environment along with their cuisine.

The furniture is made from hyacinth, a notorious weed that has invaded Lake Victoria, and the local cuisine is made using solar energy.

“We don’t just want to be known for providing organic cuisine but also being part of environmental conservation,” says Café Deli Chief Executive Officer and founder Obado Obadoh of the dried hyacinth ropes woven exquisitely into seats.

Apart from fighting climate change, he says he is promoting Kenyan businesses. Sourced from Dunga Beach in Kisumu, one chair goes for Sh5,500 and the restaurant has bought 90 pieces for a start.

He says they have been able to save on costs as buying restaurant chairs from China would have cost him Sh15,000 a piece exclusive of shipping and other fees.

“I am happier to have my furniture made in Kenya. It is cheaper. We are looking to roll this concept to our other branches,” he says.

Café Deli has also invested in solar energy as it moves to wean itself from overreliance on the expensive electricity mains.

Before deciding to go green, 10 percent of his costs would go to settling power bills against acceptable margins of between five and six percent.

But since the partial transition, electricity costs have dropped by 30 percent and he intends increase the savings by scaling clean energy adoption to 80 percent.

The solar panels at the restaurant produce close to 33 kilowatts per hour and are in use for eight hours daily.

“Clean energy is the future. The world is moving in that direction and the earlier we adapt the better,” says Mr Obadoh.

The entrepreneurship journey for the Café Deli boss began over three decades ago at the Norfolk Hotel as an apprentice chef in 1990 before turning into a pastry chef where he stayed for five years.

He would then spend the next seven years going through different hotels including Sarova Hotel, Safari Park, and Nyali Beach Hotel, formerly Block Hotel. In 2002, he decided he'd had enough with being employed and started preparing for his own employees, and in 2004, he resigned.

But it was not smooth sailing as he thought. Started with a coffee shop in Westlands after pooling resources together with two friends, a serious disagreement over a differing vision for the business saw it collapse after two years.

“The disagreement was over sharing of resources. When money came in I wanted it to be ploughed back into the business but the partner would want the money to go into their pockets,” he recalls.

Mr Obadoh then decided to go it alone and also changed course to start a production kitchen aiming to sell to established restaurants.

This went on for two years before he decided to go back to the coffee business, opening a coffee shop in Westlands in 2007. He ran the business for four years before an opportunity arose.

A restaurant along Moi Avenue he used to supply food was closing shop. He approached them and struck a deal. Armed with Sh12 million from private equity, he bought off the owners in 2011.

“That is how I transitioned from a pastry chef to a manager. I remember I only had Sh40,000 in my bank account but I was never going to let the opportunity pass me by. I came up with a business plan and approached the private equity and they liked my idea,” says the Café Deli owner.

And with that, Mr Obadoh’s journey as a restaurateur began with Café Deli Moi Avenue branch.

The business picked up and in 2013, the private equity pumped in more money, and a second branch along Aga Khan Walk was born. Two years later, the third one along Kenyatta Avenue joined the fast-growing family.

But it did not last for long as they had to move from the premises. The decision led to the birth of the Koinange Branch in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We made mistakes during the negotiations as we were not keen on many details. We ended up with a large and expensive space that we could not fill up. Revenues could not match expenditure and we decided to shift,” he recounts.

Mr Obadoh says this has been a journey marked with several challenges and learning on the job. He cites a disjointed supply chain as another setback.

To overcome this, Café Deli has contracted 40 suppliers and farmers who have helped the business grow over the years.

“Once you contract them, they understand the quality of products you need,” says Mr Obadoh.

Externally, Café Deli is facing cutthroat competition from mushrooming restaurants in the central business district.

But to weather the storm and stay profitable, the business has been innovating while also keeping the quality of its cuisine high that others cannot match.

“We keep in constant engagement with our customers to understand their changing tastes so we can give them what they want but nobody should ever lie to you that there is a business that easily makes abnormal profits.”

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