I wrote some time ago about our plans to scale up our food business in Abidjan (for previous posts on the biz, see here). After convincing two additional friends to invest in the project, we are beginning to realize those plans.
The latest development: we have a location! Up until now, we have been operating out of the Toits Rouges allocodrome in Yopougon, which is more or less an open-air space concentrated with food stalls. We had little money when we first started the project and the allocodrome offered the cheapest rent while also providing adequate space. We opted to focus on deliveries to the business district as our main income stream – this allowed us to have a bigger client base and also a higher price point – and we started making modest profits after a month in the allocodrome.
The project continued to grow in the following months and aside from one major setback, we took the concept of allocodrome food stall to new heights. But we were limited in a few respects. While the deliveries gave us a larger client base, we only had access to them 5 days a week and only at lunch time. That’s 20 days in a month and sometimes less, depending on the number of public holidays (today is in fact a public holiday. Happy birthday, Cote d’Ivoire! Oh, and tomorrow is a public holiday as well. Eid, marking the end of Ramadan. Eid Mubarak!).
In addition, the Toits Rouges allocodrome is not frequented like some of Abidjan’s other allocodromes (alloco is a food by the way. Fried plantains. Allocodrome is like a house of fried plantains), and it’s difficult to count on clients sur place. So we decided to relocate – continue with the deliveries in the new location and also operate an open-every-day-for-lunch-and-dinner restaurant.
Finding a location for this restaurant was a mostly miserable process. I had originally planned a short trip back to Bamako around the elections, but I had to cancel the trip as the location search became more complicated by the day. Narrow criteria, dishonest brokers and shifty proprietors caused most of the frustration.
We actually thought we had a location several weeks ago. We put up half the money (typically, 6 months of rent need to paid up front – 3 months advance on the rent, and 3 months security deposit) and signed a document stating that we would return the following week to conclude the payment and to fill out all of the necessary paperwork. When we returned the following week, the proprietor told us that we could no longer rent the house because they decided they didn’t want a restaurant on their property. We recuperated our money, but we lost a week on the location hunt because we thought we had secured a place!! A week later, we find out from the broker who dealt with the house that the proprietor’s refusal to give us the house had nothing to do with our restaurant plans. She had found a higher bidder.
We dealt with several networks of professional and freelance brokers that rarely had our interest in mind. We were outbid on several occasions. We were lied to countless times. All of this was made worse by the fact that property prices in Abidjan, for purchase and for rent, are suffering from rampant speculation as the market anticipates the return of the African Development Bank, which has been absent from Abidjan for nearly a decade (it was originally headquartered in Abidjan, but relocated during the crisis).
After a month of fruitless searching, the clouds parted and one of our freelance brokers received a tip about a house in our price range that was located at a large intersection in Angre, a neighborhood in Cocody, which is on the opposite side of the business district from Yopougon. We arranged for a visit immediately. When we arrived, we knew it was the place for our business. The location was ideal, but the space itself was already laid out well and the house was in good condition.
We also learned that there were two other parties already in talks to take the place. Not knowing whether or not the other parties would try to outbid each other (or us), we opted for the following strategy: be the first ones to put money on the table. We knew it was what we wanted and we didn’t hesitate. This worked. We have the place!! (see photo at top of the post)
While it may seem strange to transform something that is very much a house into a restaurant, many businesses in Abidjan follow this model, partly due to a lack of zoning laws. Our new neighbors are a bar and a daycare center, both of which are transformed houses.
I will be writing about the process of transforming this house into a restaurant and you will be able to follow along here. We expect to have a more or less finished product in the next several weeks. While the heavy lifting starts now, the team, which has stayed intact for the move across town, is excited and ready to take this project to the next level.
Updates to come