Adwoa, you were a chef at a Ghanaian restaurant before this…
Adwoa: Yeah. I was between courses at university, and dilly-dallying at different jobs, when the opportunity came up at a West African restaurant.
Before I joined they were doing sandwiches – not very authentic – and I introduced a new menu
Before I joined they were doing sandwiches – not very authentic – and I introduced a new menu. It was successful for a while after that, but it wasn’t managed very well so it eventually went out of business.
So we decided to do our own thing.
And Lloyd, it was quite a change to go from software engineering to running a food stall…
Lloyd: Well we enjoyed entertaining people, having them round for dinner.
We also wanted to be in control of our destiny – so starting this business brought these two things together.
We tested the water by starting a stall in Hackney, for just one day a week. I was working in Rugby at the time, so I’d just come down for a weekend, just so we could get a feel for if this was something we could do full-time.
We had a really good response, and Adwoa was the first to quit her job.
Adwoa: Before Jollof Pot, it was quite hard to hold a job down. I was an international student paying a lot of fees and I kept on dropping out of my courses.
I worked everywhere, even in McDonalds! I worked in IT recruitment, but it was too cut-throat. You also get micromanaged and I hate people looking over my shoulder all the time.
As soon as this opportunity came along, I went part-time. I remember saying to Lloyd, “Quit your job! Quit your job!” But it wasn’t as easy as that, because for him it meant giving up a career.
Having given up a well-paid career, Lloyd, was it hard making ends meet at first?
Lloyd: We didn’t have savings or anything, but because we started slowly it was a lot smoother than it probably is for most people.
Adwoa: Yeah, Lloyd was still working full-time and I was still part-time, and we didn’t have a mortgage or kids. I would say to people that if you haven’t got those ties, then go for it.
How many people do you employ now?
Lloyd: There are three us. We hire agency people as well when we do large events.
Adwoa: It seems to me that when you are a small business, hiring agency staff is the most affordable way.
We started in Lloyd’s mother’s kitchen, and she brought a bit of authenticity to the business. Now we have an industrial kitchen facility for the prepping.
We are also a catering company and get catering contracts during the week.
How big a proportion of your business is corporate, festival and wedding catering?
Lloyd: It’s a seasonal thing with the festivals: during summer they’re a large percentage of the business.
Adwoa: I think we did about a festival a week for about three months.
Are we seeing the slow demise of the sandwich as the lunch of choice?
Lloyd: The sandwich will always be there, but I think that with people travelling more and seeing different cultures, people are up for trying different types of things.
Adwoa: When we started it was difficult – people couldn’t get into their heads around the idea of full-on hot food at lunchtime. Slowly but surely, though, we have turned people around.
Do you think you would have started Jollof Pot if the restaurant you worked at had kept going?
I just wanted to learn as much as I could, and then do my own thing. I learnt a lot – including how not to run a business!
We also learnt what customers want.
For instance, we do vegetarian options now, even though, traditionally, Ghanaian food would always have meat in it.
Lloyd: We did a bit of research around Hackney and we knew there were tons of vegetarians. So from day one we always had at least one vegetarian option.
Do you experiment with the menu much?
Adwoa: We tend to experiment with special offers, every other day.
We’re thinking about doing a rabbit stew and guinea fowl.
Lloyd: Just to keep it interesting.
Is there much Ghanaian cuisine around in London?
Adwoa: Yes, but it tends to be in Ghanaian areas like Dalston and Tottenham. We wanted to bring Ghanaian food to a wider audience.
Lloyd: People say, “why Ghanaian food? It’s too specific”. People are a bit lazy in their understanding of Africa: they think it’s all the same.
That was a motivation – to do something specifically Ghanaian, to show that there are differences.
I don’t think there are any Ghanaian stalls in London.