Chichi Equomah of NyoNyo Foods: Doing Contract Catering Like a Boss (Part I)
She caught the cooking bug from her mother at a young age and as they say the rest is history. I met with Chichi Equomah, a Ghanaian food entrepreneur who has found her niche in contract catering services. Even before we met, from our chat and phone conversations, I had fallen in love with her personality and I very much looked forward to meeting her. I would finally meet her one fine Thursday morning for breakfast at Melting Moments, a popular restaurant in Labone, famous for their breakfasts. Chichi is a bubble of joy, easygoing and will bring out the fun side of you when you hang out with her. So world, I present to you Chichi Equomah. 😊😊
NyoNyo is a word she coined from her Ewe middle name Mawunyo which means “God is good.” Nyo means good, so in essence “good good food.” What makes NyoNyo Foods a unique service is that when you think NyoNyo you don’t only think of their tasty and healthy foods, but also as a one-stop shop for all confectionery and banquet waiting service. Her clients has included MTN Ghana, Cummins Ghana, National Petroleum Authority, Lancaster University, Esiche Life, Ghana Water Company, Ghana Electrometer, EIB Group of Companies (Live FM, GH One TV), Purple Wheels and Cocobod.
Nyonyo Foods is not a restaurant; they are a commercial catering service that is focused on catering for individual clients and corporate bodies who contract them for their weekly meals, coffee breaks, lunch, workshops, and large corporate gatherings. They deal with numbers, hundreds of people, and this is evident when you visit their Instagram page. Their services include local Ghanaian dishes, continental dishes, finger foods, salads, protein side dishes and sandwiches and juices.
Chichi grew up in a big family with her two older brothers, a younger sister and lots of cousins around. She admits that growing up, her mom was tough on her which made her think that she didn’t like her. She now says those were childish thoughts. You should see her and her mom now. They are the best of friends. “When I look back I am so thankful for the way she brought me up; in a God-fearing and respectful way. She would literally match me to my neighbors house to apologize if a complaint was lodged about my behavior.”
Chichi, who has an Igbo name, has a Ghanaian mom and a Nigerian dad. This is what she had to say about the conflict between her name and being a Ghanaian. “People from afar think I’m a Nigerian till they get to meet me or hear me speak Twi. Surprised, they ask, “You’ve been here for long eh?” Then I’ll go like “I’ve always been here.” My name and the notion of being a Nigerian hasn’t been an advantage or disadvantage in business. The only thing it does is that it gets me to explain myself too often.”
Chichi had her basic school education at Christian Home School and continued at Okuapeman Senior High School where she studied General Arts. She had her tertiary education at Central University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Human Resource Management option). She plans to go for formal culinary training to master the skills she’s acquired on her own and learn new ones to improve her craft.
How much did food and cooking play a role in your childhood and upbringing? Any memorable food experiences that impacted you as a kid or teenager?
My mom is a great cook, so at home there is always something exciting to feed on. I’m a food lover whose jaws leak for simple unadulterated foods like fresh grinded pepper with salmon served with banku. That is a favourite meal which my aunt whom I once lived with in Mataheko prepares so well.
At what age or stage in your life did you know you wanted to become a food entrepreneur? What brought you to that decision?
Ever since my mom started her small scale food business in the early 2000s, I knew I wanted to go into the food business too. I had always thought I will start with a restaurant, but this is where I am now. In 2013, the urge grew stronger after my weight loss journey. By early 2014, I knew I really wanted to start something on my own. So I took a year off social media. I deleted my Instagram account and stopped posting on Facebook. On May 4th 2015, Nyonyo Foods was born.
Are you into this business full-time? Anything else you are doing on the side?
Yes, I’m into this full-time now. Until March of this year, I was working with a multinational market research company known as TNS Global as an HR Manager, and at the same time running NyoNyo Foods. Now I’m an independent HR practitioner and hoping to operate an HR consultancy firm in the future.
Who has been your biggest influence in your journey to becoming a food entrepreneur?
My mom has played an instrumental role in my decision to enter the catering business. Like myself she’s built a successful catering business with no culinary training. She’s a great source of inspiration for me. She’s a big role model. She’s a woman with gifted hands.
I found out from your Instagram account that you are celebrating your first anniversary. That’s a great milestone. Congrats! How has the journey been so far?
Thank you. We are one year old and we can’t keep calm. The journey has been a fun experience, though tough at the same time. It’s been a great and exciting journey, with a great and reliable team God has blessed me with.
You seem to be an Instagram superstar. With 25K followers and 1000+ posts, you definitely are in the top ten list of Instagram accounts dedicated to food in Ghana. How relevant is Instagram to your business?
I don’t even know how that happened and what inspires people to follow. It’s only been a year and our page have received some great support and love from our followers and clients. It’s humbling to see the number of people we have checking us out. We were recently listed as one of the top 10 Instagram food handles to follow by Bra Perucci. Social media especially Instagram has really made life easy for business. We can advertise and promote our business at virtually no cost.
Who are your clients? How do you reach them? How are you leveraging social media to promote your brand and reach new customers?
Our clients ranges from individuals, small teams to clubs and corporate bodies. For us, word of mouth and referrals has been our biggest source of contracts. People also find us through our website and social media pages. I regularly post pictures of events we cater for, so our followers can keep up with how we are evolving and expanding. I don’t check my Facebook often. But I’ve linked my accounts, so I post on Instagram, it is sent to Twitter and Twitter sends it to Facebook. That makes my work easy.
When you win contracts, do clients tell you word for word what they want or you suggest foods for them?
I have my standard rate card package that I share with my clients, and we make room for customisation. That is clearly spelt out in the rate card. We do advise them and make recommendations per their guests. We ask them for an idea of the people to come then we give them an idea of what will be suitable for them. If they come up with their own menu, we recommend what to take out and what to add. Some clients also give you a menu and it’s perfect and you can even adopt it as your own.
Where do you envision the NyoNyo brand in the next two years? What can we expect in the future?
Nyonyo in the next 2 years should be a household name and among the top 3 commercial catering companies who offer excellent and quality confectionary services. Also we are working on starting a bakery department soon. So our fans should be on the lookout! Fancy cakes are about to hit the capital! (laughs)
Will you ever have a restaurant?
I had always thought I’d rather run a restaurant not a contract catering service, ‘cause I love eateries. Buka is one of my favourite places that I draw so much inspiration from. I love their setup and the way they do things. I can’t say for now if I’ll start a restaurant. But I’m working on having private dinner services at the request of my followers who want to have a taste of food from NyoNyo’s kitchen.
How do you recruit your employees?
The NyoNyo team is made up of 13 permanent workers and 18 contract staff. I’ve never posted “We Are Hiring” before. While I was doing my nine-to-five job, whenever I go to a restaurant, I try to get to know the waiter by name and I still do this when I eat out. You know names are very important. If I like the food at a restaurant, I ask for the chef and commend him or her. Through that I have made friends at almost every place I’ve eaten. So when the time came, I called some of my contacts and they made referrals. I engage some of these friends on independent contracts even as they continue to work for their original establishments.
You’ve built a successful business at such a young age. At this stage in your life will you ever go back to looking for a job?
I’ve had four to five years of corporate experience and I feel that’s enough. My time in the corporate world was good. It was extremely beneficial. I learned to be accountable to a superior.
I believe that everybody has to be accountable to someone. Accountability makes you upright and productive. As a Christian you should be accountable to God. As a student you should be accountable to your parents and your lecturers. As staff, you should be accountable to your employer.
When you are able to show accountability, when the time comes for you to manage your own business, you will feel like you are accountable to someone. I don’t want to have that kind of attitude where I go like “yeah it’s my business, it’s my life.”
If you get an opportunity to work for someone before you start out on your own, take it and be diligent, even as you help the business grow. The stage of working for people will instill in you a sense of discipline. Till date, I sleep on time, get enough sleep and wake up at 4 am to do stuff cause that was my routine during my days at TNS and I’ve become used to it.
Read the second part of our interview, where we get into Chichi’s kitchen and learn some even more interesting things about her.
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