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FROM A MUSTARD SEED TO A MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESS

Olufunke Awobokun, a trained barrister ditched her gown and wig to pitch her tent in the hospitality business. She stumbled on, Cocktails In & Out/Grills In & Out, which started as a subsistence outdoor caterers to become a growing concern with outlets in Lagos and Abuja. Awobokun tells how she made a fortune out of following her passion. Excerpts.
 
How did you get into catering and hospitality business? 
My journey into business started in Lagos, as a newly married wife, ready to explore and succeed, I didn’t see myself going to the court for a long period of time in my life. I wanted to create and build a business, but I had no idea of what that business would be. So I started reading business books. I read and read again but there was no inspiration. In fact, I didn’t get any idea from anywhere. While I was busy searching for inspiration, I had no idea where the money for the business was going to come from. I was just day dreaming about building a business.
 
However, on my child’s birthday about 14 years ago, I experimented with the cocktails I made for our guests and the feedback was inspiring. My husband actually became my first client because he paid for my experimentation! From then on, I have been expressing my passion for cocktail as a business. Almost immediately after that, I started getting orders from friends and extended family members, so I had no choice but to recruit fresh hands to assist me. The demand was too much that I couldn’t continue to run the business from my backyard. So we decided to get an office that could afford us the luxury to have meetings, train and mix.
 
How did you find your niche area?
Cocktails In And Out is a mobile bar service, we are a team of project managers/coordinators/bar staff and floor staff who work together to provide some of the most exciting cocktails at functions. While we were doing what we know how to do best at functions, I observed that people never used to get excited at the choice of food being served at most events.  I sensed boredom when they engage with these foods. All the joy that comes with eating out was missing. Then I began to ask myself, ‘were these caterers not good enough? Is there something missing in the menu?
 
I have always loved the idea of dining. Fuelled with my passion for hospitality, I began to think of how I could identify the gap that existed in the world of exciting times at parties. As fate would have it, my last daughter’s birthday was coming up, and I needed to create magic with this event. I remembered people were always talking about grills in a special way and I thought to myself, why don’t I serve grills instead of the regular Rice, Iyan, Amala etc. So I ordered for the equipment and it came in at a good time before the party. The idea of serving only grills was a master stroke, every guest wanted an extra plate. I was pleasantly shocked! Another business idea has been given birth to.
 
And the line extensions? 
I remember my husband telling me about a Mongolian restaurant he visited, he wanted me to have a look anytime I was chanced. So when I travelled to Chicago, I made sure I visited a Mongolian restaurant. Alas I have found the missing gap, I can now fill up the vacuum. I was so excited that I could not wait to get back to Nigeria and start looking for a location for my restaurant.
 
Grills In And Out became a reality in Abuja, where we opened our first outlet in the cosmopolitan city of Abuja. It was a fresh breathe of air and the acceptance was very encouraging. We created an experience that had never existed in Abuja. In our bid to give more value to what we were offering our customers, we decided to add Boli (Roasted Plantain) to our array of exciting menu. Boli became the darling of our customers. The garnishing and packaging was enough to make you order for an extra bite.
 
How did you arrive at the idea of Boli on your menu?
I laugh to myself anytime I remember how the idea of Boli came to the equation. While I was pregnant with my third child, I always craved for Boli. I would go round Abuja looking for where I could buy. Often times I never found anywhere to buy. So I devised a means of making one for myself. I would buy the raw plantain and roast it with the oven. And that did the magic, Boli became an available experience for me.
 
So the journey been so so easy? 
I would say NO but I’m grateful for the lessons. About 14 years ago, during one of my children’s birthday, I decided to serve some other kind of drinks aside the carbonated drinks that we are accustomed to taking at parties. When I look at Grills In & Out Lekki and Abuja my mind pace down memory lane. It all started from a sitting room. An idea so small like a mustard seed, nurtured by passion has grown to become a multi-million naira business. Hmmn. It’s been God though but most importantly, I followed my passion. Follow yours too and create your path to success.