Rasheed Jaiyeola, a banker turned restaurateur and co-founder and managing director of Bukkha Hospitality Limited, trading under the brand name Bukka Hut and BH Lounge, one of the high rising quick service local brands, spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on his life’s journey and the dream of building a Nigerian quick service brand among other issues. Excerpts…
Rasheed Jaiyeola who hails from Kwara State, He attended Federal Government College (FGC) Ogbomosho, Oyo State and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, Osun State, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting. A qualified Chartered Accountant, a feat he achieved in his first year at the university, this extraordinary academic feat, gave him a head start later in his banking career.
He had a stint as the deputy head of Internal Audit at Investment Banking and Trust Company (now Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc.); A pioneer management staff, to start-up Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers Limited in 2005; Financial Controller and later Head, Fund Administration. But in June 2008, he left the bank and in July 2008 he ventured into the stock market by investing in Nigerian International Securities Limited; a stock broking and investment advisory firm. He was the Executive Director/C.F.O of the firm but in September 2016 he resigned from the board and moved into an uncharted terrain; food and restaurant business.
He is today the Managing Director of Bukkha Hospitality Limited; trading under the brand name Bukka Hut and BH Lounge; a quick service brand he cofounded in July 2011, with a friend and business partner. The success is phenomenal as from a single outfit they now have 10 major outlets spread across different locations in Lagos.
What attracted you to the banking sector then?
I was attracted to the banking sector and IBTC in particular while I was writing my ICAN exams. I was intrigued by the stories I heard about the institution like their stringent entry requirements, attractive compensation package, relatively flat and autonomous structures along with their strong reputation as the best investment bank in the country. So, I was extremely fortunate and excited when I was offered employment by IBTC.
What attracted you to the food/restaurant business?
I have always loved eating out since my secondary school days and I was always intrigued by the different types of soups especially from Eastern Nigeria. So, I actively explored eating at different bukas (eateries) just to have a feel of the different cuisine available. I would say the attraction to bukas started at a young age and this interest grew over time. I also used to see a lot of Lebanese owned retail businesses in Lagos and I used to wonder why more Nigerians didn’t set up similar businesses, so it was a sector I always felt needed more indigenous participation.
What gave birth to Bukka Hut and the name Bukka Hut?
I moved to Lekki Phase 1 in Lagos in January 2008 and I gradually noticed a steady increase in the number of people living and working within the environs. My entrepreneurial spirit just kept thinking of what I could offer as a product which people would be willing and happy to pay for. Then sometime in early May 2011, I was eating at a buka on Lagos Island and I had a light bulb moment that I could set up a buka style restaurant on the estate. At the time, there was only one restaurant outlet on the estate and their offerings were not rich or attractive enough (at least by my standard). I usually had to drive to Victoria Island to get a decent Nigerian meal then and it was usually pricey, so I was able to identify with the need for a buka-style restaurant which was affordable.
How did you then get started on the Bukka Hut journey?
After I shared the idea with close family and friends, I proceeded to write the business plan and we were then thinking of a name that depicted Nigerian cuisine. We were at a family dinner one evening and playing around with different catchy names for the business and my sister-in-law came up with the name and it sounded perfect, so we adopted it.
What is the structure and business model you are operating on?
Bukkha Hospitality Limited, (BHL or the company), trading as Bukka Hut, is a Limited Liability Company and there are two arms to the business. We have the Bukka Hut Restaurant which is a Quick Service Restaurant and the other is the Bukka Hut Lounge which caters to lovers of nightlife. We currently own and run all our outlets; however, we are exploring opportunities to adopt the franchising model at some point soon.
What was it like breaking into the market with your first outlet?
Opening our flagship Lekki store was a real eye-opener. It took us about three months from idea conception to when we opened for business. However, my past experiences while in paid employment and subsequently being a business owner in the finance world had prepared me for starting up the business and this is why we were able to commence operations within a short time. I quickly had to learn a lot about the restaurant business as I did not have any prior experience in that sector other than my love for local food. We were, however, fortunate to be able to hire more experienced hands that helped us in building the brand in the formative years.
What has been the experience run-ning Bukka Hut over the years?
Like every other business, it has been challenging but extremely rewarding. We have grown from one to 10 outlets in about eight and half years without any external equity funding and in the process, I have seen a number of our staff also grow in their career depth and breadth of experience. We are also able to offer a lot of people gainful employment while allowing them to further their education. This mainly is what has made the journey worthwhile for me.
What would you say has kept you in the market?
I would say our commitment to providing customers with topnotch product quality and our undivided pledge to create an exceptional customer experience while ensuring customers get value for their money. We also treat all our partners fairly and honestly and ensure that we take good care of our staff and ensure they are treated with respect.
What segment of the market do you cater for?
Our target market is lovers of Nigerian cuisine that care about quality food and food hygiene standards. There is sufficient variety for all age groups to patronise us and our meals are very affordable which makes us attractive to a large segment of the population.
How do you recruit and train your staff?
Our recruitment process is free and fair and dependent on the role we are trying to fill; we leverage on our internal and external community. When recruits are brought on board, they go through the mandatory onboarding process which covers every aspect of the business. The recruits are attached to a trainer as well as a training tracker that guides the process. For older staff, we have a continuous learning and development calendar that guides training all year round.
What is your staff strength and any special treatment or packages for your staff?
Bukka Hut Restaurant and Lounge have staff strength of close to 500 direct and indirect employees. As a brand, we understand that people are at the core of what we do. Regardless of our service promise to our customers, the people to drive this commitment are the internal customers (staff) hence the need to intentionally invest in them. We have a variety of staff packages which include but are not limited to Incentives and bonuses, health benefits, group life insurance, varied opportunities for growth, work-life balance, the Bukka Hut Employee Scholarship Scheme, the Singles Mothers Initiative, the BHL Mentorship programme, an inclusive and diverse structure and the continuous investment in training and development for staff.
What are some of the most challenging elements in the market space and how do you cope with them?
Running a business already in Nigeria is challenging due to the lack of basic infrastructure which we have to provide ourselves. We also have to invest a lot in human resource training due to the nature of our environment that impacts the quality of the available workforce. Technology is also a challenge as unreliable internet service and phone networks impact quality service delivery. This means we are continuously exploring alternatives to ensure we meet the commitment we have made to offer our customers quality service.
What is the future of your firm, and any plan of setting up outside Lagos State?
As the business expands, we hope to establish additional outlets within, and outside Lagos as led by customer’s demand. We will also adopt the franchising model to enable other Nigerians to benefit from our experience and know-how.
Why have we not been able to develop a Nigerian food culture exportable like the Chinese and Italians?
We have been able to export the Nigerian food culture to a small extent and in certain geographies/communities but we still have a very long way to go. That being said, Nigerian restaurants are opening all over the world and while these restaurants are mostly set up to serve a largely Nigerian population in the Diaspora, there is a gradual growing interest among non-Nigerians for Nigerian cuisine. I believe that with additional government support and incentives for business owners, we could see a lot more restaurants making a foray into this area.
How can we achieve this status?
To achieve what the Chinese and Italians have achieved with the spread of their restaurants and cuisines around the world, Nigeria has to apply similar approaches to what these countries did. Culture whether in the form of meals or attire or language is spread through commerce, books, movies, entertainment, travel, and many more areas, as well as through a deliberate policy by a government to promote such. With Nigeria’s growing acceptance in the international entertainment industry, I believe this may be an effective avenue for spreading the Nigerian culture globally while increasing the demand for local cuisine. Demand sparks enterprise. Therefore, when people around the world start demanding Nigerian meals, the needed funding for the exportation of our food culture will show up and the rest, as they say, will be history.