Hey lovely people. Welcome to another wonderful edition of the Be Inspired Series where we speak with young, talented minds who are breaking barriers in their chosen field. They are professionals as well as entrepreneurs; creative individuals who are adept at juggling multiple tasks.
In our last edition, we interviewed the beautiful natural hair queen, Kemi Lewis, owner of KL’s Natural Hair and Beauty Salon. If you haven’t read it, then you are missing a lot as she had so many things to share particularly for those wishing to open their own natural hair salon.
Today, we interview the beautiful caterer extraordinaire, Tosin Ipaye, otherwise known as “Alase Eko”.
I first heard about Tosin through a mutual friend. My friend kept going on and on about this friend of hers who could cook like no man’s business and was also a lawyer. I was intrigued as I couldn’t quite figure out how she could juggle these two demanding jobs, lawyer and caterer. Then I put on my stalker cap and went to her Instagram page to browse through her feed. And I must say, I was really impressed.
I asked for an interview and Tosin graciously granted my request, and as you will note with her response to the questions, she is a truly a hard worker. So, sit back, relax and enjoy my chat with her.
What does “Alase Eko” mean? And why that name?
“Alase Eko” is a Yoruba word. “Alase” means Caterer, while “Eko” means Lagos. So, combined together, it can be called Caterer from Lagos. It was actually my mum who gave me the idea for the name. Every time I was cooking, she would call me “Alase Eko”. So, given the fact that I am from Lagos State, I could think of no better name and everyone seemed to like it.
I’ve always loved cooking and sometimes I would have friends and family members ask me to cook food that could last them a week. One time I was cooking for a friend and my mum told me I would soon start paying for using her gas. She was joking about it at first, but later took it serious because I would finish her gas within a week. Lol… I would then joke with anyone who wanted me to cook for them that I had started charging for it and they had no objection to it. So, that’s basically how it began.
I always make sure to plan, prioritise and avoid procrastination. Also delegating tasks helps out. There was a time I would want to do everything myself because I was afraid of mistakes. But, I just had to learn to trust and delegate tasks (with respect to the food business). This is not to say mistakes are not made here and there, but I just correct and teach them how I want things done.
I look for someone who is competent and dedicated to work. I also look for people who can use their initiative to do things and don’t have to wait for me all the time to make a decision especially if it has to be made urgently. I want to be able to run a business that can thrive even in my absence.
Yes, I have turned down a client once. The reason for this is because the lady had called me by 10 a.m., saying they needed food to be delivered for 12 p.m. sharp (she was very particular about this time) on that same day. She had forgotten to contact a food vendor to order food for this day and they were having a seminar at her office. I informed her that I could get some finger food ready for that time but she was specific as to what her bosses wanted and gave me a list of things that would not be possible for that time. So, rather than having to get there when the seminar was over and people had left, I had to turn her down.
The prices of food items have sky rocketed and this increase in price doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Every market man/woman wants to blame it on the foreign exchange (sometimes I wonder if they truly understand what they are talking about LOL). So, I have had to make some changes in the prices of my food services. If not, I’ll be running at a loss.
Yes, I cater for events such as weddings, birthday parties and so on. As a matter of fact, we major in catering for these kinds of events.
I’m always very sincere with clients when it comes to their budget and request. I look at what is attainable in the market and if their budget doesn’t cut it, I work with them to create alternate menus that are still great and will fit right into their budget. At the end of the day, they are always happy with the decision (That’s very important for me).
Honestly, no I didn’t think so. Although I love cooking and I’m such a foodie, it never crossed my mind while growing up. It just happened that I saw the opportunity for it, got the encouragement/ motivation for it and the rest is history.
Yes, sometimes we have leftovers. If there are leftovers at an event we cater for, we inform the client about it and put them in take out packs for them. Sometimes, clients are not interested in the leftovers, so we give them out to guests at the event (Some of them usually request for it) and if there’s still food left after that, I allow my servers share the remaining.
I wish I knew how important it was to have a mentor even in the food service business.
The best advice I have gotten is to go for what I believe in despite my fears. I still have fears but I never let that weigh me down, I just go for it. I’ll either win or learn from whatever mistakes (I never see it as failure).
The worst advice I got was to wait for the right time. There never really is a right time for anything. Time waits for no one. So, you have to make hay while the sun shines.
It has been very important. I have learnt that employees can either help to make or break your business. As I mentioned earlier, having competent staff is very KEY. That is why I make room for incentives for good performance. This seems to work most of the time. I also make them understand that if the business thrives, they also thrive.
There are a lot of skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur but my top three skills will be, being able to plan and prioritise, Having good communication and customer service skills, and being resilient.
It’s both. Sometimes I brain storm with my employees with what to bring into the menu. I am always open to their suggestions. Also, certain meals are incorporated into our menu based on requests from clients.
I’m always up very early because presently I run the cafeteria of a company. So, I’m up as early as 4am to make sure the food is ready on time and everything is going according to schedule. Then when I’ve inspected all the food going out for the day (food leaves as early as 6:30am to some places) I say my Salat (I’m Muslim, so, by then it’ll be time for Fajr prayer) and get prepared for work (my 9-5). I usually don’t have to worry too much on deliveries of food while I’m in the office because I now have someone who manages that for me but I check in on all activities of the day from time to time.
I’m usually back from work by 7pm, so I say my remaining Salat (prayers), ensure that everything we need for the next day is in place (I sometimes have to get to the market on my way home). If I bring home any work from the office, I get that done and go to bed. On days I am not so busy, I workout in the morning before heading to the office.
My greatest fear is not being able to get back up after I fall. I manage it by talking to God about my fears and asking him to give me necessary tools I need to conquer whatever challenges come my way. Then I focus on giving it my all and I constantly think of ways to remain consistent with all I do as a caterer and a lawyer.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who doesn’t not feel afraid, but he who conquers the fear” – Nelson Mandela. These words have stuck with me for a while because it tells you that although it’s okay to be afraid, you have face those fears in order to get to where you want in life.
So, if I could talk to one person from history, it would be him because despite all the hurdles he faced in life, he never wavered in what he believed in and that is inspiring.
I’ll say one of the biggest mistakes I made was in respect of costing. I was not vast in costing the orders made and sometimes ran at a loss. With time, I got the grasp of things through someone I now look up to in the food service industry.
Hmmm… I have a couple of businesses I admire. I admire those into event planning/ management and event decoration. It takes a lot to pull off a successful event (weddings, birthday parties etc.) We mostly see the pretty pictures of the whole event but some of us have no idea what goes on behind the scene. Being a food vendor, I have been opportune to work with some planners and trust me, it’s a lot of hard work.
I see myself venturing into other businesses still within the hospitality sector. In 10 years, I see my business as one of the top food service providers in Nigeria any beyond, God willing.
To contact Tosin, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or through Instagram, Alase_Eko.
I’ve been accused of only interviewing lawyers. No, that’s not really true, or is it? Well, maybe it’s because I meet a lot of lawyers everyday, but John-Paul Iwuoha of Smallstarter Africa is an engineer and I loved speaking with him.
If you know anyone who would be interested in being interviewed, you can let me know in the comment section.