From food vendor to building Sh80m hotel


Lucy Wangare Muchiri, hotel entrepreneur in Kitale. PHOTO | GERALD BWISA | NMG

When Lucy Wangare Muchiri dropped out of Lari Secondary School in 1983 to get married after getting pregnant at the age of 15, she began a journey of difficulties.

She would never have imagined her current fortunes: The owner of a thriving ‘Mama Njuguna’ hotel in Kitale and the ongoing construction of her Sh80 million hotel near Kitale Bus Park.

Ms Wangare, who was born at Gethithia village in Kiambu County, had joined the school in 1982 courtesy of her uncle and renowned author Ngugi Wa Thiongo who later went to exile, making it difficult for her to continue with her studies.

“When he went into exile, that financial assistance ended and I had to relocate to my mother’s place where I used to go to school on foot,” she said in an interview.

Sometimes Ms Wangare relied on lifts to go to school and one such lifts cost her education and became the source of her tough challenges.

In one of the lifts, the driver could not let her alight at the school but instead took her to Nairobi where they ended up living together. The man made her pregnant.

“The man later asked for my hand in marriage after which we relocated to Cherang’any in Trans Nzoia County,” she said, noting that life was hard for them.

The man then started mistreating her

"There was a time when he beat me up when he learned that I had set up a Mokimo business in Kitale town,” she says.

The couple tried setting up a business in Burnt Forest, Uasin Gishu, but were forced to leave the area following ethnic clashes.

In early 2000, her husband’s health began deteriorating, and he eventually passed on. While this was tragic as she had lost her partner, Ms Wangare was now free to venture into the business she was passionate about.

She went back to her first love of food selling, cooking in several ceremonies, where she perfected the art of food making.

Her turning point was when a pastor gave her Sh800 for her cooking services. The cash, as little as it looks, became the seed capital that is now at the centre of her multi-million business.

She began selling food at Kamukunji under a big tree in Kitale town. But she usually incurred the wrath of the town council for violating the public health act which prohibits the sale of food in public which is a health hazard.

“Council Askaris and even the police were always on our case but we still managed to sell food,” the entrepreneur tells Enterprise.

She used to sell githeri at Sh5, chapati Sh10 and tea Sh10 to low-income earners.

"I used to buy three to four packets of flour to make Chapatis and in a day I could earn between Sh500 to Sh1, 200," she says.

Ms Wangare credits her success mainly to her saving habit. When her business started doing well, she started saving Sh600 daily. This grew to Sh200,000 that she used to set up a hotel within the town which she named 'Mama Njuguna Hotel'.

The hotel became popular, she says, for “sweet and affordable tea.”

“The hotel was an answered prayer since I made a covenant with God to diligently serve him with and asked him to boost my business. My returns went up and I offered job opportunities to many youths,” says Mama Njuguna.

At the hotel, she sold chapati at Sh20, githeri Sh10 and tea Sh20 after increasing flour from four packets to four bales daily.

The hotel soon grew to an extent that she set up another Nyama Choma joint within the town on Kitale-Eldoret road named 'Mama Njunguna Choma zone'.

With good returns flowing in, she was able to educate her four children. She also went back to school at 48.

“I had to explain to the colleagues I studied with that money alone is not enough. I required knowledge on how to manage my business and how I can interact with others when in a formal gathering,” says Mama Njuguna, who scored D-.

“I currently have 40 employees. I have also mentored several of my employees. I have helped others continue with their education. I have assisted to start their own businesses.”

“When I began as a food vendor, I had a dream of owning a big hotel,” she says

This dream is almost a reality as her modern hotel takes shapes.

The entrepreneur saved Sh3 million and she has secured loans up to Sh80 million she using to build the new hotel near Kitale Bus Park.

She bought the land on which the hotel sits for Sh1 million.

Ms Wangare is also an advocate against gender-based violence. She rallies women to rise up for their rights and always seek assistance “when it’s not too late”.

“Women are very critical in the growth of any society and they have the potential to achieve all of their dreams. I challenge every woman to be committed to her dream and to stop falling prey to abuses,” said Ms Wangare.

She is also a motivational speaker in schools and churches, giving young women and girls lessons on how to start a business.

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