Ever had the dream to start your own cafe? Thought about doing it in the wonderful city of Nairobi? But have no idea where to start?! We sat down with Anhar Essajee, owner of new coffee shop Coffee Casa in Parklands to find out her top tips on starting your own cafe in Nairobi.
Tell us about Coffee Casa.
My cafe really is an inspiration of a family’s dream to have a home away from home. That is how, as owner and manager, incorporated word ‘casa’ meaning home into the name.
What were the first steps to getting your coffee shop up and running?
First step for me was to develop a unique identity. It was crucial to give consumers a reason to choose your establishment over a generic high street café by pushing my independent credentials. With the emerging trends customers are enticed by the intimacy of an independent. I needed to put myself in the customer’s shoes and see what a customer’s viewpoint is in looking for a good coffee bar. My vision for the vibe and atmosphere of the coffeeshop determines my niche and that in turns points to my location.
How did you decide on the location?
Coffee Casa started with the location proposal first. Being nestled between hospitals and situated inside a medical building, the market research for what the nearing community wanted began. It is really crucial to capture the foot traffic, the customers that are willing to travel to come to the coffeeshop and does your idea cater for all? A good coffeeshop success lies in being able to give proper service to all its customers, from a quick donut grabber to a couple celebrating their 1st anniversary wishing to dine in style.
And how did you create the vibe and design?
Getting the right construction team! It is really important as an owner to be able to get a team that can visualize your vision! Knowing your budget and communicating that to the carpenters, electricians, plumbers, architects is of real essence. Once that is established time to look for suppliers that meet your quality standards. From vegetables, to kitchen equipment, to crockery and cutlery, décor pieces, packaging materials. Nairobi’s cottage industry is thriving, and I fully support it when it comes to sourcing my food ingredients!
Once the exterior is set, it is crucial to know your management. Most owners choose to hire consultants and managers to run their businesses. A good staff team is crucial to any business, loyalty, dedication and passionate is what you are looking for. My family and I want to be hands on in all operations and I feel we can achieve our vision more easily. It is important to have standard operating procedures in place, this is essential to give your business the direction it requires for its growth.
What was the greatest challenge?
Being the sole coordinator, I took the DIY approach to everything. From choosing and designing the furniture to sourcing for local suppliers. Challenges arise in following up and pushing workers to meet their deadlines. Trying to get all the specifics into place and looking for décor that can enhance your vision, unfortunately the market is flooded with similar décor pieces and that really limits imagination. I had to source a few pieces from abroad to just create a different look. It takes a lot of personal investment of time and initiative to search online and go visit so many shops and factories to see what quality you can afford and be able to make a brand for yourself that is unique.
And what surprised you as being the easiest?
Funnily, I kept pushing the dates of the opening, thinking we are not ready yet. Until one day I just decided “let’s do this!” It really helps to have a good team on board with experience. The first day I sold a cup of coffee and it was deemed wonderful and he was an Italian so he definitely knew his coffee! It was such a great boost to us and from therein everything fell into place. Suppliers of various natures came and offered their services that I so desperately needed and wholesalers with so much better prices, it all worked out fine. So sometimes it is better to take a leap in faith and dive deep and surprisingly it just works out better!
What is your advice to others looking to set up their own coffee shop in Nairobi?
Nairobi’s food scene has changed astonishingly in the last few years. People want new things and they want trendy food too. It is important to set the ambience, introduce something new, provide good service and have fresh ingredients that is so readily available everywhere.
You need to have a passion for it. It was always my dream to own a coffeeshop. I started out with getting the required education, then experience in the hospitality industry. Personality is the key in this industry. As coffeeshop owner and manager it takes personal investment and time, how much are you willing to sacrifice? Are you able to lead a team and maintain your standards?
My approach was literally “let’s try this” and mistakes happened but good mistakes happened too and it was a learning curve all through. You just need a vision and passion and to keep yourself and your employees motivated. It is really important to invest in a good team, once they coordinate that will leave you room to expand and grow your business.
If you could go back to the start, what would you have done differently?
I think it is important to have a timeline and a good drawing of your vision. This helps streamline a lot of problems out of the way, especially concerning the structural issues of plumbing and electricals. Be involved and be aware of market rates. Other than that I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of my family and friends who have been my backbone in this journey. I am proud of this achievement. I got a lot of “you’re not ready” “ you need to seek professional help” “are you sure this will work” and more than anything – “this is no place for a woman”
As a young female entrepreneur it takes courage to be in a site in progress full of workers guiding them on my vision – sometimes I got admiration and sometimes I got neglect. But either way I will always say “you can do it”
There is still so much more to come…Coffee Casa is full of surprises and it will always be a home where we laugh, live and make dreams come true.
Coffee Casa is a fashionable and charming cafe, located in the heart of Parklands in Doctors’ Park (Third Parklands Ave). They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, happily serving you Monday to Sunday 7am to 11pm. Call 0725 110110 to reserve or enquire further.