Former hawker grows beer business in den of illicit brewers


The kegging line at the East African Breweries Limited plant in Ruaraka. Ms Wanjiru says Senator Keg has turned her into a successful business woman. Photo/File

After struggling for years to make ends meets despite hawking on Mombasa streets, Margaret Wanjiru decided to try her luck selling beer.

Armed with only Sh12,934, she bought a barrel of beer from a Kenya Breweries Limited depot and started selling Senator Keg.

“I began in 2005 with one barrel of beer in a small room in Bombolulu estate that could only fit eight people,” said Ms Wanjiru during an interview at her pub named The Nairobian.

With the help of her late husband who was hawking soaps, herbs, shoes and clothes, Ms Wanjiru decided to put all her efforts and finances to grow the beer business.

Despite the many teething problems, she now counts herself among the successful bar operators in Mombasa and she can comfortably fend for her family.

“After starting, I realised I was making good sales and I decided to add another barrel of beer and another. Soon, the room became smaller as more customers came in and I began scouting for a bigger place,” she says.

An empty barrel costs Sh10,000 and she pays an additional Sh2,934 after filling it with beer from East African Breweries Limited (EABL).

She says she sells a minimum of one barrel and gets up to Sh5,000 profit and this rises depending on the demand of beer. The business was not without challenges as the initial price of Sh35 per cup of beer seemed to high for her low-end customers compared to the cost of illicit brew like busaa and chang’aa.

‘‘Customers would go to chang’aa, busaa or mnazi dens where brew was sold for as low as Sh10,’’ she says. “I decided to educate my customers that my beer is tested and certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards unlike the local brew.

The information was convincing especially after many deaths were reported as a result of illicit brew.”

She also told potential customers that her bar adheres to the ‘Mututho laws’ of opening at 5pm and closing at 11 pm, helping them to control their intake and spend more time with their families.

“I love this bar because its beer has been tested and is safe for consumption plus the fact that she closes at 11.00 pm sharp. My drinking is controlled,” one of her regular customers Maurice Olal said.

The post-election period was the worst for her business. In 2008, just as her liquor business was booming, gangs broke in and made away with property worth Sh500,000.

“I had a big classic bar with polished wooden chairs, formica tables at the lounge. I did not have these chairs,” says Ms Wanjiru pointing at the plastic chairs at a nearby table.

“About 10 barrels of beer were stolen estimated at about Sh100,000.”

To make matters worse, her husband passed on in 2010. Despite the two massive losses, she says she regained her strength and reopened the pub in a small room and using some savings she bought new stock.

Her bar now hosts about 20 customers and she hopes to expand to Nairobi and other counties.

From a business that she run with her husband, she now has two workers and hopes to employ more as it grows.

“I get my money from just selling Senator Keg. It is profitable and I cannot diversify into anything else,” said Ms Wanjiru, adding that those planning to start businesses should be patient.