When and how did you come about the idea of mobile kitchen business?
I ran Sannikayz Kitchen with a partner as an undergraduate of University of Lagos (UNILAG) for two years (2013-2015). It was a good experience and we invested in the business with many expectations. My partner and I were unable to hit our target then but we needed to move ahead with the idea. The business was on for two years before we parted ways. While my partner relocated to the United States of America, I’ve graduated and kept the business on. Thereafter, I thought of rebranding same food business in a more unique and cost efficient way. That was when I conceived the idea of mobile food truck (Sannikayz Mobile Kitchen). Having realized I could bring a food truck to Nigeria, I started building and nursing my ambition towards that direction. And that becomes a dream comes through. With the help of my father, we were able to bring a Food Truck from Chicago to Lagos and I have been doing the business since then.
Could you recall at what point your mentality just changed to food business instead of being an engineer?
That occurred during my second year in UNILAG, when I decided to make sandwiches in the hostel. I was selling it for N60, while I do room delivery for N20. What I was doing then was fast food, quite different from what I’m doing now. In my hostel room (Block B, Room 231 of Jaja Hostel), I had an electronic grill, jam, breads, butter and eggs. I even called it jamwitches then instead of sandwiches because it has jam on it. At the end of it all, a lot of people buy my food initiatives with massive patronage in the hostel. The encouragement was good and I never had stress in creating new meals or dishes. For me, it is a matter of sitting down there to merge this and that to make good cooking sense. Such creativity has led us to having our new signature dish ‘Asun Pasta’. A lot of people have been driving towards our food truck to order for Asun Pasta. On changing mentality from System Engineer to Executive Chef, I want to suggest Federal Government to establish a counseling unit in secondary schools across the country. There is the need for mentoring people graduating from high schools towards what they can do excellently in life. The schools managers in Nigerian need to close to the heart of students to understands their behavioral pattern and things they love from kindergartens; there is need to pay undiluted attention to such so as to know what the child wants to be in life rather than imposing on him/her any course of study. The Nigerian culture is such that parents dictates to their children what to do or become instead of monitoring them and discover what their child is interested in. For instance, I want my son to become engineer or I want my daughter to become medical doctor may not be a good idea for any parent since such decision could limit their ambition and even jeopardize their dream in life. There is paradigm shift now and the narrative has changed. You can imagine a blogger becoming billionaire in Nigeria? Isn’t that a good one? Who would have said a blogger becoming billionaire in Nigeria; from when to when do blogging business began? In this same country there are Chefs earning a million naira (N1, 000,000). It was never like this before but through education and majorly, technological advancement, things are changing and there is the need for Nigerians to change with the trend. A lot of professions that were not seen as anything good are now money spinning. For example, if you tell your parent you want to go to culinary school. Their response could be: are you normal, you want to study cooking as profession? At the end of the day, you would not be encouraged. I think there is the need for the Nigerian government to elevate some courses in our higher institutions’ curriculum. These are the courses that can bring desired change to the society. As such, it can generate employments for the youths and reduce poverty in the country.
By estimation, could you say how much you started Sannkayz Kitchen with?
From the beginning of the business at UNILAG hostel, I started with N1, 000. I kept pushing with my partner until 2014, when we were able to invest N4 million in the cooking business. At the end of the day, it took so much of struggles and efforts to show the people that I was capable of doing the business. It was at that level of financial requirement for the food business expansion that I entered partnership with a friend. He was even the financier then. At the end of the day, we were able to bring something better to the table before we went separate ways. For the food truck, it cost about N5 million to get it to Nigeria for the starts-up then. I got the truck from US to Nigeria in 2016, while Sanny Kay Kitchen was in UNILAG from 2013 to 2016 when we started the food truck business.
As a graduate of System Engineer, how do you feel dumping you academic career for mobile food venture?
I got a job in an oil company after graduating from the University of Lagos (UNILAG). My parents were happy that their son is on employment in an oil company. At a point, I told them I wanted to go into food as a full-time business; it was a whole lot of work for me to convince them with arguments upon arguments. We fought a couple of times. Already, my father knows the kind of child he has and how much he wants me to achieve his dream to become a practicing engineer. But he later got to realize how much love I have for food business. He couldn’t just comprehend because I was too stubborn to realize my vision and goals in life. At a point, he came to understand why he needs to support my ambition. I think every parent needs to study their child and discover what they can do to excel in life.
What is your staff strength?
That is one good thing about our business. You don’t need too many staff to do food truck business effectively. I have a driver with two sales attendants plus me, the business owner.
During rush period, how do you ensure quality food preparation and delivery, especially with the few hands you have?
When people are many, we offer them chairs and make them comfortable in a cool and more attractive environment with good mix of music and interlude. Also, we have a way of managing pressure and stress. My staffs have been trained on the need to at every point in time assure customers by saying: ‘we are sorry, in another few minutes; your orders would be ready’. Sometimes, we give appetizer or cocktail-snacks to make them more comfortable. That is why I like the course I studied. As a System Engineer, we solve problems. You make the food process faster and cheaper. That is a core value of my course with automated processes. With strong mindset to solving people’s problem, the whole food processing becomes faster and we deliver to meet your needs.
From your experience so far, what would you say are the challenges running food truck business owners face in Nigeria?
The major challenge is environmental, especially when it is raining. Power supply is another challenge as you need to have a standby power generating plant whenever the light is off. Fluctuation on the price of food commodities is another challenging factor to consider in food truck business. If prices of commodities skyrocket in the market, you cannot just increase your price at the same time. In such situation of hike in prices of food stuffs; you will still have to maintain the profit margin so as to retain your customers.
How much does it cost to get such licence from the government?
It is not costly but will like to keep such to myself. The fee is also relative to the operational area. The cost will be lower on the mainland compare to what is obtainable on the Victoria Island here. But the bottom-line is that it is not too expensive; it is affordable.
What is your daily turnover like?
For now, I will like to keep answer to your question private and for security reasons, filing or documentation purposes.
Would you say you would have done better as a professional Engineer than in your current role as a chef?
I don’t think so. I did my internship programme with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). That time, it was not all about the money. It is all about doing what makes you happy and what you enjoy doing. I think it would be hypocritical for me to be in an office just to get salary. It is not all about getting money; it is about getting fulfilment with what you do. The essence of taking employment is to add value and be productive to such organization that employed you. But you can imagine what you are doing that your mind is not even there! That means you are getting paid for doing nothing. At the end of the day, you are not delivering what you are paid to do or what you signed for. For me, I like and enjoy what I’m doing now. I have even being on the global map because of this food business. I am a recipient of a number of awards including: Under 30 Achievers awards 2013, Creative Man of the year, University of Lagos (Engineering Society Awards) and Best Entrepreneur in 2014. I was also nominated as Sheraton Entrepreneur of the year at the African youth choice awards (FMR Ping Awards) 2014 and Nigerian Achievers Awards for Most enterprising youth 2015. Sannikayz was also endorsed by Punch newspaper as one of the young C.E.O in 2015, which created great opportunities for the brand. University of Lagos also awarded me as most enterprising student at the UNILAG Awards 2015. At the end of the day, I have been exposed to big platforms in the global space, appeared on major Television stations. If you put all these together, I don’t think I could have got one third of these achievements if I refused to follow my aspirations. I’m serving as inspiration to others as a young man because I am not 30 yet. Imagine milestones I have covered by the time I become 40 years old.
I went for further training after catering school at one of the biggest culinary schools in West Africa (Culinary Academy, Lagos) and this brand is built on attracting Nigerian youths by appealing to their passions for new and creative cooking. In order to meet the needs of my customers and service my mobile crowd, I promote this brand by hosting regular hang outs for young entrepreneurs since 2014 such as “The Entrepreneurs Experience” which is a platform for young entrepreneurs to network and showcase their multiple business experience. This has empowered a lot of entrepreneurs through networking and has also brought investment opportunities for the young entrepreneurs.
How has this mobile catering business given you chance to demonstrate your culinary skills?
There are kitchen compartments in the food truck. It is a special experience when you come around to see how the cooking is done in your presence. It is one of the best eating experiences one can have. For instance, if you come to the food truck to get fresh and hot pasta, barbeque or chicken grills and you see how the chicken is been grilled and you can hear the seasoning sounds, frying and other cooking related activities at your instance, you will be fulfilled and be happy with what you are doing. You serve yourself fresh and ready-made food in the mobile kitchen. That experience alone is phenomenal and like never before! A lot of people are now accepting patronizing us as a culture. Although, there are couples of food trucks now but not many of them could be seen around. And Nigerians are beginning to buy into the idea of mobile kitchen/restaurants.
How about funding and acceptability of your delicacies by customers?
In terms of patronage sake, people have been encouraging us by referrals. They come to us and invite us to serve them at different events. People in the corporate world place order and we deliver to their offices through dispatcher. In terms of funding, the most challenging part of the food truck business is actually getting the truck on the stand. Before you could get it on the stand, one needs to consider foreign exchange rate which is around N360 to USDollar. And to get a food truck from the US, it will cost between 35,000 to 40, 000 USD. But the good thing there is that once you get it, it becomes your property. It is one-off equipment that comes with all you need to do the mobile food business. All it required from you is regular servicing and general maintenance. I have come to prove that I will not let down my parent that supported my vision with money and moral standard. I was able to get support from other friends as well and we are all doing fine as I keep the business going.
What is your vision for Sanny K Kitchen in the next 10 years?
In another 10 years, we are taking over Africa. From Nigeria to Ghana, South Africa and others, we are taking over food truck business by putting to the table African dishes for Africans and beyond. It is a long term plan and goal we are pursuing. From Nigeria, we are connecting the world.
Mobile catering business in Nigeria, how does it look like?
Catering business is as old as mankind. But the idea of mobile catering (food trucks) is very new in Nigeria. It is only a few that have invested in the business so far. It is a unique and cost effective way of running food business. What we do is that we run a mobile food kitchen (restaurant) where we move around with a truck that has tables and chairs where people can come to dine, wine and feel the natural environment where the cooking is being done. At the close of business for the day, one can actually come to meet an empty land. Mobile restaurant negates high cost of space, rents and other running costs of normal restaurants in Nigeria. That is the major opportunity that made me to invest in the modern way of doing food business. The heavy rents and high cost of operational expenses in the normal restaurants actually made me to opt for mobile restaurants since I have passion for cooking as business.