New Growth: Scaling Up our Abidjan Restaurant and Catering Biz

by phil on June 19, 2012

Restaurant and catering biz? If you want to get caught up, see these posts:

1. What it’s like to Start a Restaurant and Catering Business in Abidjan
2. Early Successes and Failures of Running a Business in Abidjan
3. Our Fight for Power and a Look at the Informal Electricity Economy in Abidjan
4. Kedjenou: an Ivorian dish that we serve at our restaurant

While I am not in Abidjan at the moment, I have been having some action-packed skype sessions with my business partner there. In my last two updates on the blog, I talked about the ups and downs we were dealing with in the months after our launch. Most notably, Cote d’Ivoire’s electric company had cut power to our storehouse after accusing the landowner of illegal power distribution, and at the same time, we were fielding more orders than ever before.

This post is going to be all ups and no downs. We have cleared up our electricity issue, consolidated our client list, hired a new delivery man, bought a bike, and we are starting to find new clients in another part of Abidjan – Yopougon, the neighborhood where we prepare our food. That last bit is what I want to focus on in this post.

One English speaking Ivorian blogger accurately (I think) describes Yopougon as the “craziest, busiest, loudest, most awesome neighborhood in Abidjan.” While it is my favorite neighborhood in Abidjan, and it is also where I stay and where our business is based, we neglected it as a potential source of clients. We figured that we wouldn’t find a market for our lunch deliveries in working class Yopougon. We thought our prices would be too high. We were wrong.

We landed our first client in Yopougon as a result of our efforts to keep a client in Plateau, the business district. A few weeks into our lunch delivery service, David and I went around to all of our clients for feedback. This turned out to be a very good move. We did receive valuable feedback, but we also sent a message to our clients that we were invested in them. A lot of folks remarked that they were impressed by the gesture.

One of our clients was a small optometry office. They had ordered from us initially, but they had stopped. The office only had 3 employees so losing their business would not have been devastating, but as they were located next to some of our other clients, we decided to check in on them and see what happened. They told us that the menu was too limited and that the quantity was too small (a complaint we heard from several others). And one of the girls in the office more or less said that she wanted to eat soukouya or suya, a Nigerian dish of spiced meat skewers, every day.

We listened to these requests and by the end of the following week, we were serving larger quantities and we were offering an additional menu item each day. We also started serving suya and it has gone on to become one of our most popular dishes.

Our response to the feedback earned us some loyalty among our clients, but it also opened up new doors. The suya lover at the optometry office rang up the company’s branch in Yopougon and told them about our service. The next day, the Yopougon branch calls us and says they want to place a lunch delivery. We scrambled. We had already sent our delivery guys to Plateau, so we called a friend of ours who drives a taxi. We were able to pull him off his shift – to make the delivery for us – in exchange for a free lunch.

Jeremy, our taxi driver friend, would not be able to do this every day. We needed to hire a new delivery guy. But we couldn’t justify hiring a new delivery guy for one small optometry office. With the same approach we used in Plateau, we started to solicit new clients in Yopougon. We soon realized how stupid we were for neglecting the very neighborhood where we prepare our food. Telecom offices, banks, pharmacies – all of these places have employees that can meet our price point, and yes, you can find them in Yopougon.

We now have 3 new clients in Yopougon. We hired a new delivery guy and we bought our first bicycle. Kone, our mason/carpenter extraordinaire, is fashioning a box to mount on the bike as we speak. Our team is now 8. Everyone has bought in and it’s really starting to feel like we can set our own ceiling. Or not set one at all.

More updates to come. Also got some non-resto/catering news to announce in the next post.

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