The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme run by Fidelity Bank Plc. to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. In this episode of the Fidelity SME Forum, Kola Dosunmu, Founder of KD Prime, an indigenous culinary business in Nigeria was yet another guest on the Fidelity SME Forum. In this in-depth interview, Dosunmu shared valuable insights on how to transform a simple idea into a thriving business.
Question 1: How did you become and entrepreneur?
Kola: Wow! I think I’ve always wanted to be self-employed even from when I was in college but my mother in her infinite wisdom said that before you start anything on your own, work with Nigerians so you know how they are and that’s how I got into the banking industry.
During my youth service, I worked with 3 different banks, I will not name them obviously. I was a banker for 7 and a half years then I crossed over to the engineering sector because I hated banking which I shouldn’t be saying but I do.
I have always liked working with my hands and that’s why engineering was ideal for me. When I was a kid and I bought toys, I always take them apart and try and put them back together but through the whole thing, cooking has always been there with me. I started frying eggs for the family from age 7 and what got me excited was that you take ingredients put them together and it becomes something from fabulous to sexy to indulgence.
Question 2: There is something about you and cooking and we are just curious. It’s one thing to start at 7 making eggs and it’s another thing to say I want to cook for others for a living. What was that reflection point?
Kola: Woohoo! And this is a 30 minutes show? Without going deep into it, I started cooking at 7, I was forced to cook for the family at age 14. My sister got a job in college and my mother came from Nigeria one day and said your sister can’t be working alone and feeding you. Go and boil rice. I was terrified!. Rice? At the end of the day, it came out very crunchy. I took it as a personal challenge to learn how to cook and from there I started watching cooking shows, I started dabbling in other cuisines and I got better and better at it. I found it so satisfying because I mean I didn’t play sports when I was in school I became a biker later in life, that’s for another show. Every time I cooked I got some reactions from people that was so satisfying. Now going to the fact that I am now cooking professionally, a year and half ago I had a discussion with someone who’s older than me and he started talking about retirement. I’m gonna be 44 in November and I’ve never thought about retirement before, ever!! And it just dawned on me that wait a second, with the way the Nigerian economy is going, you have to have a plan B and a lot of my friends have been telling me that look, you should be selling your food and that’s where it came from. I said okay fine let’s start this. So my first professional gig, I like calling my cooking things gig because as a professional chef I kind of like to add a rockstar appeal to what I do. So, my first cooking gig was an Igbo Romanian wedding.
I lived in Port Harcourt for 15 years so I’ve been cooking south-south and eastern food for about 10 to 12 years. So, I have a good grasp of their flavor profiles, how to orient it and how to ‘sexify’ it. For the Romanian dishes, I have been cooking European, southern European and eastern European cuisine for a very long time. So doing a Romanian dish is not difficult.
Question 3: How have you turned this into a profitable business?
Kola: That’s the million dollar question. I will be honest with you. My price for being a private chef and I know the type of cuisine I cook and the flavor must importantly so my price point is not mid-range. I will be honest with you because if you want good food and if you want good flavor, you have to use premium ingredients and premium is premium value and premium price. So my food is not cheap, I’ll be honest with you. But it is extremely satisfying. The clientele I have, it is cheap for them. Having said that, I do a lot of food festivals as well. I enjoy food festivals because I can play. It’s like the way rock stars do jam sessions. I can just play with things and offer it at much cheaper prices. I like to champion Nigerian food. I grew up in the US but I don’t think Nigerian food is done as well as can be done.
Native rice is one of my signature dishes. What a lot of you people call concoction. Every dish ever made by man is a concoction. I don’t like calling it rice concoction because it is palm oil, crayfish and Ugu, it is not a concoction, and it is a dish like any other. So when I do food festivals, I like offering that because it is something I can tweak and a lot of people can relate to.
Question 3: How do you manage your time and work us through how you are structured?
Kola: Because I was a banker for so long, I might not have liked working in a bank, but I do like the banking industry because it gives you a very good business foundation. It gives you that structure that you need to do any business. My engineering business, I modeled it, after my banking career so my marketers send me call memos and something like that. My food business works in a similar vane because I am the one that actually cooks everything. I don’t contract anything out. I cook everything. So what I do basically is in the morning, I am an early riser, that’s how I could make it to this place on time. I have my own little structure in my head. I usually buy my ingredients in the morning because my brain is freshest in the morning, I cook towards afternoon and then finance and admin is for later in the day.
Q: How many people work with you, you can’t do it all yourself especially for the Igbo/Romanian dishes?
Kola: I am very lucky to have good staff. People that work with me tend to like me. The people that work with me in my engineering company, substitute as my Sous-chefs.
Q: What are your challenges and how have you overcome them?
Kola: A lot of challenges. First and foremost. I was lucky to break in because my food is fantastic. That’s one of the few things I can brag about in my life, my cooking is something I can brag about. My cooking is utterly fantastic so people that have tasted my food go whoo!! hoo! hoo!
I’d say the largest challenge has been financial. Being able to gathers funds and cash to do everything that I’m doing and it has not been easy
Q: So what is your source of financing?
Kola: Okay this is a morning show. Family has helped a lot. A lot of financial discipline. It is not easy. I am not rich but I’m happy.
Q: Do clients pay upfront for your services?
Kola: Yes! Money for hand, pot for stove.
Q: So it’s your business profitable now?
Kola: Yes! It is.
Q: What sets you apart?
Kola: One of the things that makes my operation the way it is, I cook on site. I am a big buy I have a lot tattoos and scars all over the place and when people see someone like me come into the kitchen and setup, they are like “na this one wan cook?” Abeg abeg abeg!!! And then when I start. When the oil hits the pan and “aromatics” hits the pan, it creates a whole theater.
Q: What is the prospect for the future of the catering industry?
Kola: First things first. For a long in Nigeria, the “chefs” were non- Nigerians and that was the go to point. I want to take this opportunity to hail all of my fellow chefs out there, you guys know who you are. You are tearing down boundaries, you are making Nigeria proud. A lot of the chefs right now are people that have trained abroad so they’ve taken that discipline and that spin and they brought it here. They’ve done a lot of good things with Nigerian ingredients and on Nigerian food and it’s coming up. Where we are coming from is very little compared to where we are going to. In the last 2 to 3 years alone, the onslaught of funky chefs, I’m not talking of big baba with big belly, I mean funky guys, funky woman out there that are doing what they need to do and making people smile.
Q: How do you sustain the quality of your food, what’s your supply chain?
My supply chain is quite simple. I enter my car, I drive to the market, I gist with market woman. I get on my knees, I select the ingredients myself. I don’t rely on suppliers per se I prefer going there and meeting the people upfront and pricing on my own.
Q: That takes a lot of humility?
Kola: I like shying away from the term “Humility” because we are all human beings when we look at our DNA is all the same. So talking to market woman, I don’t see it as anything big.
Q: Do you have a restaurant?
Unfortunately I don’t have a restaurant. I’m a private chef. I come to people’s houses and cook but having said that, I actually do pots of soup so if you want a pot of soup, you can order it from us we deliver it to your home, and you can have it picked up.
The main reason I haven’t opened a restaurant is exactly as you said. My overheads have been cut tremendously. I would like to take this opportunity to hail all the restaurants out there. It is not easy. Everyday they don’t have full capacity, it’s tears. Because you are looking at your ingredients go down the drain. It’s not easy. They have guts doing that. At some point, I will have a restaurant. Watch this space!!
Q: So you set up every aspect of the events, even the drinks?
Kola: I’ve been drinking heavily for over 20 years, I know a lot about drinking.
Q: What advice will you give young entrepreneurs entering the business?
Kola: Stay true to the discipline. Stay true to the food. It’s all about the food at the end of the day. Good food will always speak for itself and if you pick a line, let’s say Nigerian food. Do it as best as possible. Don’t cut corners and make sure that all your diners smile.