Foodies Salone: Disrupting the Sierra Leonean hospitality industry

Foodies Salone is a Branding and Marketing Consultancy Firm founded by three young visionary women: Mariama Wurie, Aminata Wurie, and Onassis Kinte Walker.

In this interview, Mariama shares her story and thoughts about her journey as an entrepreneur.


How I turned my passion for food into a business

When I moved back to Sierra Leone in 2016, I started working for a local and an international NGO at the same time.

Since the NGO didn’t have an office, it was quite common to work from a café or restaurant to use the free Wi-Fi for the day. I spent a lot of time in my car driving between meetings and coffee shops.

Every day, my colleagues and I would work in a different place: new restaurants, new hotels, new cafes, etc.

Coming from Montreal where the food scene and customer service culture is amazing, I noticed this was not the case in Freetown. Everywhere I went, there was always a reason to complain to the manager, or ask to speak to the owner.

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Very quickly I realized that the same complaints were coming up wherever my partners and I went. We summarized that these problems were usually around product and service.

  1. In most restaurants, there was a lack of consistency in quality and menu variety – most restaurants served burgers, fries, pizza, pasta, shawarma.
  2. Most restaurants didn’t adjust their menus to focus on local ingredients.
  3. A lot of waiters were poorly paid and managers often did not invest in hospitality training.

We thought solutions to these issues will help restaurants achieve variety and consistency. Services like menu consulting, branding and customer service are just what many Freetown restaurants needed.

With Foodies Salone (Foodies), we decided to build something that would motivate establishments to step up their game and improve their standards.


How we started Foodies Salone

We tested out our business model through a lifestyle Instagram account. Our strategy was to highlight restaurants that were building Sierra Leone’s dining culture. Any featured restaurants had to be locally owned, pay fair wages and have good customer service.

With Sierra Leone’s small economy, restaurants rely on a limited customer base to make a profit. Within months of running an Instagram account, Foodies Salone began to influence consumer behavior.

Our social media test allowed us to establish ourselves as an authority in branding, marketing, staff training, online listing and advertising, and business development to the multiple restaurant owners who began to reach out to us to improve their product and service.

Soon enough, demand became bigger than 3 of us could handle. With our business model tested and validated, we created our service package, registered our company, and opened a bank account.

Lessons we’ve learned

Educating the market

At the beginning, restaurant owners did not understand what we were trying to do.

We were talking about apps, websites, and social media, but they barely knew how to use Pinterest. We worked extremely hard to find simple ways to explain what we did and how it would help them.

Factoring in knowledge and infrastructure gaps was not something we had initially considered. For startups looking to innovate in unstructured markets, this should be something to consider in your game plan.

Be patient with your monetization plan

As three young African women trying to run a business in our own country, we faced a lot of hostility. On top of that, my own friends were quite skeptical about what I was doing.

The beginning was quite hard because I had no money. I was dead broke for the first nine months.

Most people knew about the Foodies Salone Instagram page, but they did not understand how we planned to monetized the brand. They were constantly asking me: “do you even have a real job? How do you make money? How can you afford to travel?”

When we started, we made a conscious decision not to touch the money we made and to re-invest all the profits into the business. I was living on my savings and nothing was coming in. It’s only when it became hard to put gas in the car to drive to a meeting that we started using part of the profits.

When you start a business, times are going to get hard. But, just stick with it. Forget the haters. forget the gossip. You have something good here and it's amazing – @MariamaWurie_ Click To Tweet

Just stick with it. You’re broke? Yeah, it’s a start-up. It will get better.

Advice for anyone looking to start a company?

  1. Solve a problem. Necessity is the mother of invention. If you are looking for inspiration on what kind of business to start, think about things that are lacking in your routine.
  2. Do NOT accept freebies. Some people will try to get you to work for free with gifts. Always assess the value of what you are given and the reasons why they are given before accepting.
  3. Stay professional. As a woman, people will be more critical of you. Make sure you keep everything professional. Stick to business.


Looking to boost your business/career? Sign up for the Motherland Mogul Insider program here.

The Tourism Queen of Botswana


Reinventing tourist experiences in Botswana

Cynthia Mothelesi is blazing a trail and carving out a unique space with bespoke experiences in the tourism landscape of Botswana.

She is somewhat of an ‘evolving soul’, constantly seeking out ways to deepen her life experiences and provide an opportunity for others to do the same with her travel agency, Happy Soul Adventures.

Trained as a graphic designer, she spent three years lecturing before deciding to expand her horizons. She applied for a job at the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), where she served as Marketing Manager for seven years.

Her experiences at BTO were an opportunity for her to travel, sharpen her marketing and PR skills and forge valuable relationships.

She then realized that there was a gap in the tourism sector, which became the catalyst for her foray into business. 

Cynthia Mothelesi uses her creativity and business savvyness to create bespoke experiences that allow her guests to engage with the soul, beauty and people of Botswana in an unimposing, intimate way. 

Connect with Cynthia and her business on her website and social media


What inspired you to go into tourism?

I saw so many opportunities and I realized that there were a lot of gaps in the industry that we were not tapping into.

In Botswana, we see tourism as going on safari, and we really only see it as valid in the Chobe or Okavango. However, I think that tourism has so many facets – @mothelesi Click To Tweet

While I was at BTO, I followed the AirBnB culture because I love hosting. Then in 2017, I decided to venture out on my own because I realized that I could grow. It could be enough for myself and I could do more with the experience and passion that I have.

How did you come up with the idea for Happy Soul Adventures?

I began by focusing on my Airbnb listing, and every week I would have guests from all over the world coming to stay with me. Most times, I would host them at my house, but I didn’t just want to give them accommodation.

I wanted to share what Botswana is all about – @mothelesi Click To Tweet

I wanted to tell them my Botswana story, especially in terms of our people. Not wanting them to just see Botswana as wildlife and safaris, but rather for them to come away knowing that we were more than what the Western media depicts us to be.

That experience taught me a lot and I decided that I would focus 100% on Happy Soul Adventures.

What kinds of tours / experiences do you offer?

Sometimes I take my guests on a city tour. It would include going to nightclubs like Zoom, or to a local pub, George’s, for karaoke night. We may go to Kilimanjaro, which has a place that sells really amazing local food.

I also have clients who come to learn how to milk a goat or bake bread the traditional way. Guests can learn how to do pottery or make a tapestry. It really goes to show that we have a beautiful story to share and that there is value that can be found in it.

What do you keep in mind when you design your tours?

I really want my guests to immerse themselves in our stories. I feel like we Africans can do more to celebrate who we are as people. We tend to shun our own culture and I want to rather celebrate what makes us unique.

Happy Soul Adventures also engages with communities. I don’t want to run a company that is only about me making a profit. So it is more of a collaborative effort.

With collaboration, we are able to build and grow more. Happy Soul Adventures is about connecting people.

What is the most important thing that you want your guests to take away from your tours?

I want people to be able to interact and break down social divides. I feel that at the end of the day, we are all human. – @mothelesi Click To Tweet

I want my guests to be able to experience this. I realized that people are looking for something new for the soul. People love simple, soulful and enriching experiences and I am happy that the responses have been great.

What does Botswana have to offer the world that is unique?

I realized that what we at home think is ‘backward’ or ‘unsophisticated’ is actually something that is unique about us. The fact that we take things slow, and keep things organic is something that people actually love about Botswana.

Guests who visit Mogobane village for example, really love the peace and quiet because it isn’t something that they get to experience often. They really get time to connect with themselves.

So, the most unique selling point about Botswana is that we are very peaceful, quiet and laid-back. It gives people the opportunity to reconnect with their soul and really get to love themselves even more.

Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, from one of Africa’s poorest countries to a vibrant, developed, middle-income African state.


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The Art of Customer Service every business should adopt

As important as branding and advertising are, one of the most important elements of selling a product/service is customer service. Excellent customer service puts your business ahead of the competition as it is something that is often missing from the a lot of countries, especially the Ghanaian business model. Small businesses tend to jump straight to digital marketing or advertising without taking a moment to fully understand their business model and industry and how their product (or service), pricing, place (online store or brick & mortar store) and people (service personnel) intertwine and affect the overall brand and ROI. In case you didn’t know, people are one of the most important aspects of the business, that is service personnel across the production line or yourself if you are running a run man show. Customer service does not begin and end at the point of transaction and as a small business owner, you must consider the pre-purchase experience, purchase experience, and post-purchase experience

So what does this mean for your business? 

Pre-purchase experience This refers to the experience your customer has with your brand before they decide to purchase anything. Is your website appealing? Does it have enough information to allow the customer to make an informed decision – or are your photos outdated? How is your advertising? Are people speaking positively about your brand? Purchase experience This is the actual moment of transaction where you exchange the product (or service) for payment. If you run an online store, you must consider your interface – is your website easy to navigate? How does your customer pay for their purchase – do you have Mobile Money integrated? Can they use a Visa Card? There are many services in Ghana that allow you to develop a website that allows your customers to shop online. A personal favorite is Storefoundry, it works very well for small businesses in Ghana. If you run an actual brick & mortar store, what is the ambiance like? Is it easy for customers to locate the products in your store? Are they on high shelves and do they always need an attendant to help? Is your store so small that your customers can only come in one at a time? Is your shop attendant interactive, willing to help and offer alternatives? Or are they constantly on their phone? Post-purchase experience This covers your follow-ups and interaction with the client after the transaction. Are you bombarding them with irrelevant SMS messages and emails? If you provide a delivery service, was your delivery driver dressed appropriately? Below are practical tips you can put into action to make sure your customer service is top notch.
  • Recruitment & Training – Recruitment and training is the beginning of providing excellent customer service. Even if you are running a run man show, you need to stay up to date on customer relationship trends and train yourself to always put the customer first.  If you are hiring others to handle the customer interaction, make sure you hire people who know and understand the vision of the brand and are willing to be brand ambassadors both inside and outside the workplace. Personnel must also be conversant in the industry-speak as well as in the product itself, in order to serve as a salesperson.
Hiring the right people will allow you to build the right company culture that is well aligned with the brand Click To Tweet
  • Go the extra mile – The data you collect from your customers serve many purposes. One of the main ones is to compile a mailing list for your newsletter but another important use would be to study your customer’s purchasing habits and stay a step ahead of them all the time. Group your customers by date of birth and send out a personal message to them via text message or Whatsapp, which has become a popular medium for business communication in Ghana. Get to know your customers personally, are they parents? Do they celebrate religious holidays? Make sure to reach out to them accordingly.
Reminding customers that you have them on your mind will make them feel involved with the brand. Click To Tweet
  • Feedback is key – Receiving feedback from your customers at least once a quarter is important. Simple tools such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey are helpful for designing easy to use surveys which gives you direct feedback from your customers and clients. This way, your clients feel involved with and connected to your brand.
 
  • Appearance – You and your staff’s appearance is one of the most important elements in building a strong brand. Ensure that staff (and yourself) look the part at all times. Customers appreciate a smile and a helping hand, as difficult as it may be on some occasions.
The best way to make sure your customer service is on point is to align the pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase experience to ensure a smooth transaction! Go forth and provide an excellent service!

Facebook Live chat with Anita Ottenhof: How I built a world class hospitality business(Aug 23)

It’s certain that one thing that can make or break your business, is your approach to customer service.

Gone are the days of saying “This is Africa” as an excuse to mediocre and bad service delivery. It’s all over Jackie.

 Join us for a Facebook Live discussion on Wednesday, Aug 23rd, with hospitality and customer service expert –  Anita Ottenhof, who will teach you how excellent customer service can help you build a world class hospitality business.

Learn how to build a world class hospitality business with excellent customer service(Aug. 23) Click To Tweet

Anita Ottenhof operates a luxury boutique hotel in Ghana –  Villa Monticello which has a 100% female management team and has recently been nominated by the World Travel Awards in the category of Africa’s Leading Boutique Hotel.

Being in operation for  6 six years now, Anita wants to prove to the world that excellence can be achieved in Africa by an African woman.

Register below to join this session and ask Anita all your pressing questions.

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • Breaking into the Hospitality Industry
  • How customer service can make or break your business
  • Training your staff to be customer service champions
  • 5 steps to having a customer service focused culture

Facebook Live Details:

Date: Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Time: Accra 1 pm // Lagos 2 pm // Joburg 3 pm

Where: facebook.com/sheleadsafrica/

Watch video here:

How excellent customer service can help you build a world clas…

She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Anita Ottenhof ( Senior Guest Relations Manager) – Villa Monticello. How I build a world class hospitality business. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting SheLeadsAfrica.org/join

Posted by She Leads Africa on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

About Anita

With almost ten years of extensive experience in the hospitality and travel industry within Europe and Africa,  beginning  her career in Amsterdam with KLM, Flying Blue, Anita Ottenhof has a natural flair and passion for exceptional customer service, and for the past three years has been a part of the management team at Ghana’s premier luxury boutique hotel Villa Monticello.

Stemming from a credible background, she holds a degree in Travel and Hospitality Management from ROC College Leiden- Netherlands and a certificate for strategic marketing for hotels and restaurants from the Cornell Hospitality School in Ithaca, New York.

Having completed first class training at Africa’s leading boutique hotel – “The Saxon” and various hotels within the continent, Anita is well equipped to take on a challenge.  She is an innovative and versatile professional with excellent interpersonal skills and a drive for consistency with an eye for detail.

With a profound understanding of the hospitality industry, Anita foresees the need and acquirement for quality-trained hospitality personnel’s within Africa.

She is currently studying a HR course at the International Hotel School in Johannesburg, which will enable her to facilitate programs that will support the Human Resource division in her industry.

Anita Ottenhof: Bringing world-class luxury to Accra through Villa Monticello

Anita Ottenhof Villa Monticello
We look for the very best talent and often for us that has happened to be a woman Click To Tweet

Villa Monticello is Accra’s premier luxury boutique hotel. It’s run by a team that comprises mainly women in leadership positions. One of them is Anita Ottenhof, she’s the Deputy General Manager at VM with nearly a decade’s worth of experience in the international hospitality and travel industries.

Like most other industries, hospitality and travel tend to be male-dominated. Villa Monticello stand out despite never setting out to hire only women. They’ve just found that the best talent aligned with their goal to bring a world-class luxury experience to Ghana are women. Nothing beats that!


Was it a conscious decision to have women in key leadership positions at Villa Monticello?

Although we have several men on our team that have worked with us since we’ve opened, most of the leadership roles happen to be held by women. The women on our team are also some of the top talent in the world!

Take for example our Executive Chef, Ruby Paintsil who has over 25 years’ experience at a number of prestigious companies in the UK, such as Sanctuary Spa, BBC Television Centre and Restaurant Associates a division of Compass UK. It is rare to see a woman as a head chef and in countries such as the US, there are reports that there are less female chefs than female CEOs.

We have never said, “We only want to hire women” but we look for the very best talent whose vision is aligned with our mission to be a leader in African hospitality and often for us that has happened to be a woman.

Was Accra ready for a luxury business when you launched Villa Monticello? How has Villa Monticello being received since launch?

The idea for VM came about through our desire to create an establishment that paralleled some of the international 5-star niche boutique hotels that we loved in cities around the world such as New York, Marrakesh, Johannesburg, and Provence where luxury and service were not mutually exclusive.

This sort of hospitality experience appeals to a very unique clientèle. Accra is a very cosmopolitan city and we believed that people who live in and travel here would appreciate our vision. It was a new concept in Accra but we have been very well received by guests and recognized by international hospitality industry vanguards such as World Travel Awards, Conde Nast Johanssens and Trip Advisor.

Villa Monticello was the first to introduce the concept of intimate luxury hospitality to Accra Click To Tweet

How has Villa Monticello changed Ghana’s hospitality industry?

When we first launched in 2011, we were the first to introduce the concept of an intimate luxury world class experience in hospitality. Over the past few years, the luxury landscape has really begun to develop in Accra —in real estate, hospitality, retail, and dining. It’s still at early stage but we believe we have contributed to its growth.

Customer service is another concept that is still growing in Ghanaian business. Impeccable customer service is core to VM’s values. We strive to provide an unforgettable experience for our guests. We are beginning to see a more customer centred service being adopted by others in the hospitality industry and across sectors.

zambezi-01-rikki-hibbert-photography

How has your “unsaid commitment to women” (mentioned here) translated in running your business?

Although we don’t discriminate based on sex in any way, we have attracted a very powerful core group of women leaders who share the same values, international outlook and passion for excellence.

The way we approach our customers is the same way we work together as a team. We are constantly meeting, reviewing feedback and making necessary adjustments as a team and as a business.

We have attracted a very powerful core group of women leaders who share the same values Click To Tweet

Tell us more about The Lady initiative, why did Villa Monticello start this?

We understand that it can be challenging for many young women to get the opportunity or nurturing that they might need to excel. Working in collaboration with Ghanaian businesswoman Isobel Acquah, we launched The Lady in January as an empowerment initiative for young women aged 18 to 25.

Through the initiative, young women participate in practical foundational courses covering key topics such as wellness, confidence building, financial awareness, social and business etiquette, and personal grooming. The Lady, is an effort to impart to young women the ethos and values that have driven Villa Monticello to a leading position in the Ghanaian hospitality market.

At the end of the program (which ended last month), we granted internships to participants and to one promising young women at the university level, a scholarship to further pursue her education.

the-lady

You offer a number of services including The Koncierge and Bespoke Weddings. How do you ensure that you maintain the same values and quality in everything that you do?

Our ultimate goal is to deliver exceptional service and provide an experience for our guests which is second to none. This outlook is applied to all aspects of the VM brand.

We are constantly striving to play a significant role in transforming the standards of the hospitality industry in Ghana and the role of women in the industry. We also want to have a positive impact on the next generation of African women business leaders.

What are three hidden treasures in Accra that visitors tend to miss?

  1. Chapter One Restaurant! Even if you don’t stay at VM, experiencing a meal at our fine dining restaurant is a must. The African fusion inspired menu combines flavors from Africa, Asia, India, and Europe using locally sourced ingredients. Enjoying a traditional tea, classic brunch or an exclusive bottle of wine from our Barrels Wine Club cellar can be a highlight for any visitor’s trip to Accra.
  2. Legon Botanical Gardens. There are very few green spaces in the city and this gem provides a necessary respite. Escape the hustle of the city for a picnic with friends. Or a simply a walk in the park to view the local flora, birds and butterflies. They have recently expanded to include an amazing play area for kids.
  3. Night Market in Osu. Several times a year, arts organization ArchiAfrika hosts a free all-night party in the streets of Osu. ArchiAfrika brings live music, lights, outdoor seating, and a great cross section of professionals, artists and local residents together. There attendees enjoy local food such as kenkey and grilled fish from vendors.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.