Growing A Chain Of Restaurants

 Even though Sweet Sensation has been in existence for 17 years, we have been operating for 27 years when you include the ten years spent at the backyard shed. Today, we have about 25 locations with three new ones coming up in the next few months. The fact that we have not gone out of business in a difficult market is something that makes me glad and appreciative. The Nigerian business environment works like a two edged sword; there is a side that can encourage a business and a side that can also destroy it.

I’m also glad that despite the significant increase in competition over the last few years, Sweet Sensation has managed to maintain a respectable position in the QSR industry. Competition, despite having the potential to shrink the profit margins of hitherto dominating players in any industry, is not meant to destroy businesses but rather enhance them.

The good thing is that Sweet Sensation has been favored with customers who, in spite of the entrance of many competitors into our industry, have remained loyal to our brand. This is the landmark of our success. Our customers seek us out wherever we are regardless of the competition around us and that keeps us on our toes because no consumer can be taken for granted in today’s business world. We have received a lot of laurels and accolades too many to mention. This is valid evidence that we do have the favor of the almighty God and a fantastic workforce.


From The gatehouse to Victoria Island

The difficult space situation at the first shop at Ilupeju prompted me to start dreaming of a second location. In that ‘dream’, the second location was going to be classy, bigger and better. That dream led to the search for a property at Victoria Island, Lagos. That seemed like a ridiculous thing to do because how was I going to find the money to rent a place at Victoria Island not to talk of equipping it to the high class standard of the environment?

 The VI outlet was opened on the 26th of November, 1996. That was about two years after the first outlet was opened at ilupeju. It was thefirst ‘big plan’ so to say. As I’ve indicated, the first Sweet Sensation outlet was almost like an accident. My attitude with regards to the first outlet was “Let’s just get out there. Let’s re-present in a professional way something that has been happening at a backyard. Let’s look different”.

There were not many cake shops in town then, maybe just one or two as a matter of fact.I was very limited in my scope, experience and ability to multiply things. Despite my drive and ability to work hard, I was naïve about creating a chain of stores and replicating systems and processes especially when I didn’t go to school to study it, neither had I worked at the head office of a multiple chain restaurant to have acquired that experience.

The starting of the VI branch was different. I was a bigger thinker who envisioned a very classy outlet.  VI was the perfect location for what I saw in my mind and it didn’t scare me to go for it. I took the liberty of dedicating a short chapter (Chapter 15) to Femi Olutoye, the son of the owner of the property we finally rented and opened up in Victoria Island. Our move to VI would probably never have happened if it were not for his confidence in us and his assistance in getting the property on fairly favorable terms.  


Stuck In The Mud

The birth of the Victoria Island outlet was tough. I’ll liken it to that of a woman who, because of difficulties during child birth, had to undergo Caesarian Section (CS) to deliver. CS was for her, an alternative way out of a tough situation. But really, which woman wouldn’t take the natural birth option if it were easy?

When it was two days to the official opening of the VI outlet, we were nowhere near ready for the D-day and we were flat broke. I had no one to turn to again since I had exhausted all my ‘Save Our Soul’ sources. The only people around were the contractors who needed to get paid. Now this might be hard to believe but it was to them I turned for different favors including loans!

I got all sorts of help from them – payment deferrals, contribution of materials and yes, cash loans! That’s why I can’t forget some of them till today. There was Baba Ibadan, the mason, Baba Dudu, the painter, Baba Omosah, the electrician and Ben Udaeze who supplied us gas and is today, a major gas supplier in Lagos. The last two I mentioned are still, today, important suppliers and service providers to Sweet Sensation.

I remember there was a necessary external cladding we had not yet ordered from an aluminum company as at two days to the D-day and we needed to do that before the day ran out since it was a Friday and the aluminum company was going to close shop for the weekend. That was just one of many ‘last minute’ emergencies that needed immediate attention before the D-day arrived.  It is interesting to note that despite all the renovations that have taken place at the VI outlet, that particular old fashioned cladding has not been ripped off and is still there today. Perhaps as a symbol of the sacrifices that took us up to the big league.

Despite all the teething problems, the VI outlet was opened and it is still there today. Whenever I go in there for any reason, it always reminds me of those frantic days prior to its official opening. Remembering those days makes me appreciate God more and also those staff that were with me back then and are still at Sweet Sensation till today. People like Daniel Egwu who was my first Personal Assistant and is today the Manager, Supply Chain; Kemi Adewole-Ojo who is now the AGM Operations; Ben Eboh who is the oldest serving staff at Sweet Sensation (he came in just about 14 days before Daniel Egwu resumed) and is today the Manager, Housekeeping; Oluwatoyin Saka who is today the Deputy Manager, Research & Development; Kemi Idowu, who is today the Assistant Manager, Ilupeju Hub; Jackson Ofili, who is today an Executive, Supply Chain and Tope Oladeji, who is today an Executive, Production, Ketu.




A Background That Set Me Up

Two For The Price Of One:

I was born into a rather conservative family. My father was a minister of the gospel and one of Nigeria’s foremost educators. He was one of the most outstanding Principals of the famous Church Missionary Society Grammar School (CMS Grammar School) - the oldest secondary grammar school in Nigeria, formed on the 6th of June, 1859 by Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay. 

Reverend Macaulay was a descendant of freed African slaves, who was one of the first two educated African clergymen, the other being the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther. My mother, as well as being the proprietress of Eva Adelaja Secondary School, was a serial business woman. She was an exceptional woman who, together with my dad, gave me the foundation I needed to get a chance at having a good life.   

I was born a twin. That was in 1961. My twin brother and I were the last of six children. But since we lost one of us about fifteen years ago, we became the last of five. I can still recall the scenes in my father’s quarters at CMS Grammer School, Bariga, Lagos. You can imagine what the home of a Pastor and a strict educator looked like. 

My nursery school was at the International Women’s Society Nursery School. My primary school was UNILAG Staff School and the years there were wonderful even though I can’t remember so much.  Like the experiences of many other people, nothing particularly stands out during those earliest school days.

I remember just going to school to learn and play, period. Maybe nothing stands out because I wasn’t naughty at school. But a few things stood out at the home front. During those primary school years - Christmas, Easter and New Year celebrations used to be exciting. It’s hard to forget those special days and celebrations if you grew up in the house of a pastor. There was never any Christian celebration that we didn’t celebrate twice as much as most other people.

 While serving at CMS Grammar School, my father was also the pastor in charge of an Anglican church which unfortunately wasn’t domiciled in the school premises but was at about 500 meters away from his official quarters. I remember my dad would have left the house with his car, much earlier than the rest of us because he was the pastor. We would then walk to and from church. 

That happened every Sunday consistently. Ours was not like what happens in the life of so many young people today who choose whether or not to go to church on Sundays. For us, there was always church and there were always activities after church that had to be attended to even if such would not end until 7pm. Those church activities were not always pleasant. 

For example, we found the Sunday school sessions monotonous and boring.  Apart from the students of the school there were other people who attended that church and many of them just sat through the classes half asleep!  The services were always conducted in Yoruba and we, the children, didn’t like that.  

However, that introduced us to deep Yoruba words and songs. My father was very good at speaking Yoruba. He always sang a lot of songs in Yoruba while praying. Because of that I can recite a lot of things in Yoruba. 

One of my mum’s siblings who always came around to celebrate Christmas and Easter with us was Dr. Adebonojo who had eight sons and no daughter!  His boys brought out the tomboyish nature in me because whenever my father was serving outside Lagos (at a point he went to be the Archdeacon in Ijebu and came back to hold the same title in Lagos at St. Paul’s church), my parents would send my twin brother and I to my uncle’s house and that’s where the boys got me initiated! 

Apart from already having boyish tendencies, putting me amongst the nine boys including my brother, almost turned me into a boy!  On that Sasegbon Street in G.R.A., Ikeja, Lagos, there was nothing we didn’t do, from pole vaulting to football. I was always the goal keeper. I was the Gordon Banks of the team! 

Because I was very flexible and lightweight, I could move fast and that made me good at many of the sports we enjoyed participating in.  I tried football eight years ago and ended up with a broken leg. It was the tenth anniversary of Sweet Sensation and I thought I could still play football. I got seriously involved in the game and broke a leg. I forgot I was getting old!