Esme Millar Jaja
Co-Owner, Bambukka and Management Team at Switch 1922 Restaurants
17 Adedeji Adekola St, Lekki Phase I / 1 ladi alakija street, lekki phase 1, Lagos
@bambukka_lekki / 0814 953 3621 /@switch1022loungeandgrills
Esme has been in business for about 16 years and she has run a few businesses: She has run a travel agency, a management Consultancy company and a few restaurants. Her drive for the hospitality industry has her running two restaurants simultaneously and in partnerships.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background –
My name is Esme Millar Jaja. I’m married with 2 kids. I started business when I was in college; I used to supply fresh produce like vegetables, tomatoes from Jos to Lagos.
I have been in business for about 15-16 years and had run a few businesses before this to name a few : travel agency, management consultancy company and some restaurants. I remember while running the travel agency, my family and friends kept saying the business wasn’t a good fit for me; they had imagined me running a restaurant. The Travel Agency building got demolished by the government for some reason and this was the catalyst for me to follow my passion and go into restaurant business.
I have always loved grilling; I’d get small orders from family and friends and thats how i got into catering. The business grew, orders increased and i was slowly building my brand. About 6 years ago, an opportunity came up in Lekki 1 at “ SWITCH ” a Lounge/ Restaurant. My business partner and I took over the operations, revamped and turned the business into the success that it is now.
Starting days for business including funding?
Our management group is called 1922. Before Switch, we managed Café Maison in Lekki 1.
‘Bambukka’ is a new concept we introduced in December, 2017. It is an African grill spot and this is a project I am building with my sister from scratch. This has taken some investment as we had to rebrand a whole new building in lekki and furnish it with necessary equipments.
I have always wanted to do more of native food kitchen because I enjoy making good food. So, when the opportunity came, I took it.
Where do you see the brand in 5 yrs- 10 yrs?
Hopefully, we will have opened other branches.
What steps have you taken to make sure your brand remains relevant and competitive in market place?
As for this business choice, the quality of the food matters a whole lot so we provide quality home cooked meals and we keep our costs moderate.
Can you give us the most challenging experiences you have had?
Staffing has been my greatest challenge. It is almost an element of our culture – “the Nigerian factor”. There are rarely people who would treat your business like you would. I once had an experience where a former manager schemed with a 3rd party and offered our landlord more money for the space we were using at the time. We ended up having to match the offer, just like that our expenses went up. It is paramount that selection of staff should be done carefully.
What is the worst entrepreneurial moment you ever had and how did you recover?
Sometimes the experience of working hard on a dream and the reception from customers are slow or not as promising.
Why do you think most food entrepreneurs fail in their businesses?
- I would say inconsistency
- Failure to give customers what they want
- Lack of constant monitoring of the business process and growth.
Biggest lesson you have learnt so far?
Put your brand first and do not ever compromise on that. I have been in business situations where the 1922 brand wasn’t fully accorded the credit it deserved for a job well done.
I have also learned that getting a lawyer to make sure everything is spelt out is vital.
More so, due care must be taken in the choice of a Manager as they become threats to the business in some cases.
How do you treat recipes and intellectual properties?
I don’t have issues with my recipe. I let my Chef know the recipes. I had a Chef who left to work for another restaurant and they tried replicating our recipe, but it didn’t work. Truth is, yours can only be yours. One might have your recipe but the processes in your restaurant brings about the differences and the uniqueness.
What advice would you give your young self?
Be less afraid, be more daring. I’m quite daring but would have loved to be even more then.
Book and Resource recommendation:
My mother is my source of inspiration. She was a restaurant and hotel owner so I learnt a lot from her about staffing, recipe etc. The knowledge came from her.
- Put your brand first and do not ever compromise on that
- Get a lawyer to make sure everything is spelt out
- Businesses fail due to inconsistency and impatience
- Failure to give customers what they will lead to business failure too
- Lack of constant monitoring of the business processes