Thursday, 24 May 2018 22:51:11

Chapati Millionaire

Ideal Jobs vs Available Jobs

In January, I moderated a workshop of young people in informal business. The organizers wanted to create a forum where young entrepreneurs could share their business stories and learn from one another.

Here is one of the stories:


My name is Brian Momanyi, but my customers call me Chapati Millionaire.

They gave me the nickname not because I am a millionaire but because they think I can become one.

I live in a bedsitter in Ngara, and it is from here that I run my chapati empire.

I sell tea and chapati to Nairobi's night workers. My clients include security guards, construction workers, and sex workers, and most are in the city centre.

My work starts at 10 pm and ends at 3 am every day. It is risky being out in Nairobi streets at night, but someone has to do it. I sell a cup of tea for 10 shillings and one chapati for 20 shillings. Most of my customers are poor, so my price has to be competitive.

I got into this hustle by accident.

When I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from a public university two years ago, I hoped to find a good office job. I sent hundreds of applications and visited many offices, but I was not lucky.

One evening, I did not have fare to take me to Ongata Rongai, where I lived with a cousin. I had left my phone at home, so I couldn't call anyone to ask for help. I asked passersby to lend me 100 shillings, but most shrugged me off or told me they didn't have.

Luckily, a security guard on Kenyatta Avenue allowed me to spend the night on the pavement outside the shop he was guarding. Later, his colleagues from nearby shops joined us, and we discussed politics, sports, and personal journeys. Two of them were university graduates. Both said they had taken up the security jobs because they had no choice, so they were still looking for good jobs.

"What are good jobs," I asked.

"I want an office job," said Joseph, who graduated a year after me. "I want to sit behind a desk, signing papers, giving instructions, and attending meetings. Spending nights in the cold like this is not a good use of my education," he explained.

I told them they were lucky to have jobs. "If I had the opportunity you have," I said, "I would thank God."

At midnight, a middle-aged man joined us. They called him Karis, and everyone on the street seemed to know him. He carried tea in a 10-litre plastic container, chapatis in a straw basket, and moved from shop to shop, selling to night workers. As he handed me a cup, I told him I did not have money; but one of the security guards said he would pay.

"Thank you so much," I told him.

I had not eaten anything for the whole day, so I was starving.

"In this world," he said, "we should be our brothers' keepers. I have been in your shoes many times, so I know how it feels."

As I watched Karis go about his business, I started having ideas.

My mother runs a food kiosk in Kisii. As a child, I helped her out with cooking when I was not in school. She taught me how to make chapatis, and I turned it into an art. It is one of the top five things I enjoy doing. I still help her out when I am at home, and she says I make the best chapatis in the world.

I told my new friends about this gift, and they said they wouldn't mind trying out my chapatis.

The following morning, they gave me bus fare, and, as I sat in the matatu going home, I thought about their big hearts. They don't have much, yet they are so generous.

When I got home, I called my mum and asked her to lend me her giant flask and 10 cups.

"Why do you need a flask and cups?" she asked.

"Mum," I replied, "I can't tell you right now, but I will, soon."

Mum trusts me, so she didn't insist. She sent them by night bus, and I collected them the following day.

Ten days later, I arrived in Nairobi's city centre at 11 pm, carrying chapatis, cups, and a flask full of tea. I got to Kenyatta Avenue before Karis, and my security friends said they loved my cooking.

That was my first sale.

It is now 15 months. I have expanded my territory from Kenyatta Avenue to most of the city centre. I also moved from Ongata Rongai to Ngara to be near my customers. I sell between 80 and 200 chapatis every day. It takes me three hours to prepare them, and, at 10 pm, I begin my four-hour distribution journey across the city centre.

On a bad day, I make a minimum of 1,500 shillings from my tea and chapati sales; but I can make up to 4,000 shillings on a good day.

Three months ago, I decided to diversify my clientele. I have approached several city centre restaurants and asked them to outsource their chapati making to me. Two of them have given me orders, which has made me hopeful. Both pay on delivery, so they have helped improve my cash flow.

Even as I diversify, I am still committed to the night workers. They gave me the first opportunity, so I'll not stop serving them.

My four security friends still work at the Kenyatta Avenue shops where I first met them. They are the ones who nicknamed me Chapati Millionnaire. I serve them every day, but I don't charge them. It is the only way I can thank them for coming through in one of my lowest moments. If it is not for them, I would probably not be doing what I am doing.

I save most of my profits. Next week, I plan to buy a motorbike to help me with the distribution.

My biggest challenge is security when I walk around the city centre at night. Thugs have mugged me twice, and, on both occasions, I lost all my day's proceeds.

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