A small business is never easy. This was me, fresh out of school deciding to be a pseudo entrepreneur. Pseudo, because my mother owned the business, but I was the brains behind it. She more or less left everything to me but she was the investor, and I was on a salary. That did not stop me from registering a business name. One of the perks of working with my mother was that her business gave me a customer base to work with. I did not need to buy equipment because she already had everything. Orders were coming in mostly from people we knew; they wanted my new designs. Now they could get something different that was not so pricey.
I began to feel restless when the orders coming in were not steady. I needed another source of income as a buffer. I was born in Port Harcourt, and I loved to indulge in the popular delicacy of roasted yam, plantain, and fish. When we moved to Lagos what they had here was different. Roasted plantain popularly called “Boli” with groundnuts. Those who sold roasted yam with stew had cow skin (kpomo) in it. It is nothing compared to the delicacy in Port Harcourt. Driving home with my mother one day, we stopped to get some roasted yam that was barely manageable in taste. I said to her that day,
“Mummy, I could start Port Harcourt style roasted yam in Lagos o!”
Pictured above, Uzezi
Just like that, the idea was conceived, and I started making plans for it. I spoke to my father who was still subtly insisting that I got a job, but he set out to get me space by the roadside. It was not going to be the regular roadside business; it was going to be one with class. Setting up this business taught me to appreciate all business owners including the least of them. I was sinking in money into a business I considered small and yet it was not enough. I was gifted some money from my father and my cousin, but my mother still had to make up because the one hundred and twenty thousand naira I had was not enough.
Eventually, I got the place fixed up, and I had a grand opening with family and friends in attendance. When the real business kicked off, I knew I had gotten myself committed. The first day at work, my young worker and I roasted under the scorching sun until a neighbor beside us advised that we got an umbrella. I drove home for a short break in my parents’ black bus which had become my official vehicle, and my neighbors didn’t miss out on telling me how sunburnt I was.
I could feel heat rashes all over my neck in just one day. They told me it was no job for me, but I was not giving up. A week later my only worker quit, and I was disoriented. I could do the job because we learned how to do it together, but that was never the plan since I still had cakes and pastries to bake. By the next morning, my mother the fixer had a solution; she had someone else for me, someone more reliable.
Selling by the roadside was not as easy as I presumed. The location was all wrong. I had people pricing my quality product lower than I could afford to sell them. I was running my money in a cycle without making any profit for myself; all I made was the salary for my worker. I pushed on hoping things will change since it was just a new business. It got worse when old yam was drying up, and new yam was coming into season. The cost of yam during this period almost became double the average amount. Still, people wanted to buy it at a cheaper rate.
My baking business was still flourishing at its own pace. Then I was able to get a connection in another university during my usual Valentine’s Day marketing, yes it did not stop after I had graduated university. I continued to advertise in my alma mater, so this second school was a bonus to me. It meant a broader market. I had mentioned to one of my customers at this new school, about my small roadside business. When she learned about it, she wanted me to bring it to their school as well. It seemed like a good idea, so I took the opportunity and started shuttling the two places. I picked two days in the week to go to her school and the rest I went to my stand by the roadside.
Selling at the school was way profitable. I was no longer selling per piece of yam; I was now selling per plate of food. It was a step ahead for me, and now I could afford to save some money after paying salary and rent. I could use the other place to pay salary and then save from the school. The only problem was I was physically drained; going to the market frequently is not for the faint-hearted. The market I had to go to get things for cheaper was a good two hours from my house if I consider traffic, this is Lagos.
Not long after I started in the school and just four months after my business at the roadside kicked off, I took a hard break from it. It was not profitable, and I was angry. I was wasting my efforts on people who did not appreciate it enough to buy at the set price; meanwhile, the students were in love with the product and enjoyed it. It was a decision I took on the spot and never looked back. I had the support of my parents on this one. I thought it would be a short break until the price of yam stabilized but, I never went back. I was done with it.
I got my first outdoor catering contract later that year.
One of my cake clients was celebrating her son’s one-year-old birthday, and she wanted “Boli,” Yam and Fish. I did not know anything about setting the price, and she was even going to buy the supplies. Once again my mother the fixer, who had been catering for parties all her life, came to my rescue. She handled the bargaining with the woman, and I was set to go. I baked the two cakes for the birthday and provided my signature, Port Harcourt style—Boli, roasted yam & fish.
I then got a more stable contract with a company to provide them with fish, chicken, and chips. I was happy and scared. I was not afraid about the quality of my product; I was just fearful of attending personally to clients. But I swallowed my fear and drove out there to do the job. I had to juggle between baking cakes, providing services for the company and college students. I was grateful for the opportunity, even if I had little to no time for myself.
Looking back, it has been an incredible journey.
Going from pastor, to lawyer, to air hostess, and now becoming a baker. But the journey has not come without its fair share of hardships. I have had times when I would go into a fit of tears wondering if I made the right choice. There are times that I feel guilty for spending my mother’s money on the cabin crew course. Sometimes I look at the work of other bakers and wonder if mine is even comparable. Other days my father throws hints of how his friends wonder why his daughter finished school and went into the food business.
They were surprised that my father let me follow my passion or even supported me. Some days I am so burnt out I don’t even know what to think other than ‘there is dignity in labor.’ At some point, I stopped dreaming, and it hit me that I was no longer that girl with a dream. I started to make conscious efforts to reiterate my dream and where I wanted to be.
Now I have plans to travel out of the country to enhance my cake decorating skills.
Even without necessary funds at the moment to do so, I am confident that one day, it will all fall into place. I have learned to appreciate my work in this journey, so much so that I believe, this is just the beginning. But guess what? I am still that small girl with big dreams to take on mountains in whatever large city.
We have come to the end of Uzezi's personal journey, to discovering what she is passionate about. Do you connect with her journey? leave your thoughts below. Also remember to like, share, and subscribe never to miss an update.
About The Author: Uzezi is a 25 year old baker, caterer and writer. She is a young lady of many talents. Her creativity spans across different aspects in life. Whatever she sets her heart to do, she accomplishes it. Her dream is to work with TLC’s Cake Boss one day, and she is well on her way, as she keeps honing her baking skills. Uzezi is also the Creative Director at Let’s Talk Nation for Short Stories, as she is talented in fiction writing. Look out for her stories, as they make their debut on LTN. To learn more about Uzezi, visit her Instagram pages on @uzaizie and @FlawlessFlour