Is a pandemic the right time to start a business? For some, it just might be. When lockdown and curfews were introduced, Brenda Chepkoech’s employer in the hospitality sector told her to stay home.
“The hospitality industry has been affected globally. When I was sent home on unpaid leave, it was a bit devastating bearing in mind I had bills to pay,” she says.
One morning in March, she posted a menu on her Instagram and Twitter pages. She got positive feedback from colleagues and friends, and soon enough, orders started trickling in.
Her takeaway and catering business is run out of her apartment in Nairobi’s Westlands and she has built a following on Instagram, thanks to the photos she posts of decadent takeout boxes filled with pilau and biriani among other Swahili foods.
Customers see what she is offering from the day’s upload, call in their order, and motorbikes are used to deliver the food.
In the beginning, she used to cook all foods and organise for delivery to customers, but as demand grew, she enrolled in meal ordering apps Uber Eats and Glovo.
In a day, she gets more than 25 orders. During the weekend, she also does food catering at events such as baby and bridal showers.
The business is off to a solid start, she says. Her food business success, she says, is down to her ability to capitalise on the power of social media and word-of-mouth marketing.
“I open my kitchen on Uber Eats and Glovo at 11 am. The food delivery apps can give me 15 orders a day. More than 10 orders are placed on Instagram and Twitter. I sometimes visit offices to market my business," Brenda says.
The self-taught chef is now generating enough income to cover her bills and expenses.
Although Brenda has resumed work, she intends to keep her side hustle. She is currently working on strategising the next phase of the business.
“I have given it my best and it is picking so well. I might as well employ someone to help me because I am also a student doing a Bachelor’s degree in international relations,” she says.
Equally successful is Mohamed Zuber Ahmed, a procurement officer at an engineering firm started selling food via Facebook and Instagram after he closed down his boutique due to pandemic-related losses.
He launched Watakuja Catering in May. He started by baking spring rolls, selling to friends, and soon, word of mouth and social media posts had him making deliveries across Mombasa.
Some clients pick their takeout boxes from his family home where he runs the business.
“My niche product is spring rolls. I later added biriani, samosa, and pilau. The number of orders varies each day. Yesterday, we had only five spring rolls orders. Today we have been asked to make biriani for 50 people. We will cook 50 kilogrammes of rice,” he says,
Mohamed makes most of his business decisions with his online audience in mind, including tracking photos of past meals that sold well and received a high number of likes to guide his menu.
His most sought-after food is spring rolls. He plans to have a pop-up restaurant every month to create buzz and collect feedback from his customer base.
“I also want to approach different organisations so that I can supply food in their offices," he says.
He has employed a chef who helps with the cooking.
The spread of the coronavirus has also challenged entrepreneurs to meet new needs.
Damarys Allan Wambui, a trained chef and caterer has been in the business since 2018.
Her business came to a halt as weddings, conferences, and meetings were called off.
That is when she decided to double down on her take-out business to compensate. She runs the business out of her home. People place orders a day before for efficiency purposes.
“I sell samosa, chapati, and spring rolls. Deliveries are made thrice a week. In a day, I can sell 100 samosas and 40 spring rolls," she says.
She hopes those sales will be enough to sustain her business until normalcy returns.
Damarys says she is considering adding new menu items and delivering to different counties.
“I am also now doing small catering events such as birthday and have employed someone who helps me out,” she says.