Godson studied and worked in medicine before making the decision to pursue an entrepreneurial path as a restaurant owner in Yorkshire; a county in Northern England. He believes his background in medicine and current career, as an entrepreneur will provide opportunities and conditions that not only impact himself and his family, but also generations to come. He is clearly emboldened by this belief as my first question to him for this interview was “What do you do?” and he immediately responded saying, “I am one that works with people in all fields. My work involves a diverse range of people”. This statement is further echoed in his journey, starting with a dream in which he is inexplicably sat at a table, amongst a diverse range of people to visions of fostering globalisation through African-Caribbean gastronomy. With huge hopes for the future and a particularly peculiar journey to entrepreneurship, I hope his story is one that educates and entertains you alike.
I was coming close to the end of my time in medical school when I had a dream. In the dream, there were 14 people sitting around a long table including me. I was the youngest and least qualified in terms of life experience. There appeared to be people from diverse backgrounds; doctors, engineers, bishops etc. and I couldn’t understand why I was in their midst or how I got there.
We were at some sort of meeting and everyone at the table was getting hungry and remained so until the end of the meeting; at which point, food suddenly appeared in buffet style across the table. However, no one could eat as the food needed to be blessed before it could be eaten. Naturally, everyone thought one of the bishops would bless the food, but the bishops didn’t want to bless the food and no one else offered to do so.
At some point, we all looked above us and there appeared to be an angel hovering over us. It hovered around the table and stopped above me a few times. The third time it did this, people at the table thought it was a sign that I should bless the food. Everyone around the table looked at me and someone said, “Who is going to bless the food? We are very hungry”. I looked up again to find that the angel was now stationary above me.
Instinctively, I felt I should concede to the expectation and bless the food. So I said a prayer and as soon as I was done, the angel hovered again, stopped above me and pointed to me and said “This is all yours now”.
The room we were in was transformed into a beautiful restaurant. I woke up very confused and realised it was a dream. I didn’t have any ideas about running a restaurant before then. The dream was the first time anything related to catering came to me and I wouldn’t remember it for a while.
The Foodie life
I work in the hospitality industry, specifically in catering. I own and run a restaurant with dine-in and takeaway services as well as outside catering. The outside catering services I offer include catering for weddings, baptisms, funerals, festivals and market events or food stalls. I pretty much cover all available outside catering services. I’ve travelled to different cities in the UK to provide catering services via food stalls, with the aim of publicising my restaurant. In addition to providing catering services, I also provide entertainment in the form of traditional African music. This involves music from a Caribbean steel band or African drumming. I have provided entertainment at weddings and festivals and even hosted workshops and training for African and Caribbean drumming. However, my background is medicine. I went to medical school and specialised in clinical pathology prior to owning a restaurant.
The Kitchen Apprentice
I completed my medical studies at the University of Sheffield. One year, there was a long holiday coming up and I wasn’t planning on leaving Sheffield for the holidays. A lot of students, including my friends, were returning home for the holidays and so I had a lot of time to myself. I was determined to find a job to occupy myself so I didn’t get bored.
I got a job as a pot washer at a high-end restaurant in Sheffield. Although I was primarily responsible for washing the kitchen utensils, I went a bit further than required and took up more responsibility in the kitchen, for example, cleaning up the entire kitchen area, getting involved in the daily kitchen activities and sometimes overseeing general kitchen activities. Consequently, I learnt a lot about the workings of a kitchen and restaurant management. I gained knowledge on everything from pot washing to order processing and stock control.
Following my success in the role, I was offered a restaurant manager position. I rejected the position as I was a full time student and was on track for a medical career. I knew nothing about running a restaurant and didn’t intend to do so in the future.
I worked in the kitchen for nine months and never took a day off. I was really shocked by my work ethic and how much I enjoyed working in the kitchen. I had never worked in a restaurant or kitchen before then. What was supposed to be a job to pass time, became a really enjoyable experience. Through this experience, I gained a lot of knowledge in the restaurant business but little did I know that the knowledge would come in handy in running my own restaurant business.
An Unexpected Blessing
During the same holidays, I got a flyer come through the mail several times, advertising a free two-day business plan development workshop. I decided to take the course as I figured it was a good opportunity to fill in my time.
There were a group of young people at the workshop and we were asked to propose ideas for which we would build a business plan over the duration of the workshop. In order to stir ideas amongst the group, one of the workshop facilitators started to say, “Think about a dream you had. Imagine that dream comes true. Imagine it turning into something you never thought it could be. Make you business plan based on the dream”. He kept mentioning things around a dream.
That’s when I remembered the dream about the restaurant. I had this dream a long time before the workshop and I’d totally forgotten about it. Based on the dream, I presented a business plan proposal for an African-Caribbean restaurant. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the group after presenting my proposal. People were intrigued as there was nothing like that in Sheffield or even Yorkshire at the time.
I was stimulated by all the interest and immediately started working on various aspects of the business plan. By the end of the second day of the workshop, I had created a business plan for the idea. The enthusiasm and support from everyone who heard the idea encouraged me to pursue setting up a restaurant. I started thinking and praying about the idea a lot. Eventually, I was convinced that opening a restaurant was something I had to do. Coincidentally, the job opportunity as a pot washer came just after completing the business workshop.
Whilst at university, I received £21,000 yearly for my tuition and upkeep. I was young and didn’t use up all that money in a year. I was saving over £7000 a year, for 7 years. At the time, I didn’t realise I would need this money later on for the restaurant.
The first bank I went to for a loan rejected me. The second bank liked my idea but thought I was too much of a liability due to my medical background and lack of experience in the restaurant business. The third bank offered to support me if I could match half the amount I was asking for. I needed £60,000 at the time. It wasn’t long before I matched the money and returned to the bank for the loan. It became apparent that they thought I couldn’t raise the money as they rescinded their offer.
Regardless of this set back, I carried on taking actions towards opening the restaurant. I started looking into securing a building for the restaurant. I found a building that housed an old children’s clothing store and was told it would cost me around £27,000 to renovate it and transform it into my desired restaurant layout. The £27,000 covered just the renovations. I still had to make regular payments for leasing out the space. The renovations took two months and by the end of that time, I had furnished the restaurant and was ready to start business.
My university savings covered the majority of the capital. I also got a grant worth £1000 from the Sheffield ethnic minority business initiative (SEMBI). The Prince of Wales Business Trust was also an option for getting some capital. However at the time, you had to be no older than about 20 to get funding. It took about 6 months to process my Prince of Wales application and by that time, I was older than 20 and became ineligible for the grant. I missed that opportunity by about a month. For every staff you employed, The Prince of Wales Business Trust would give you £2000, so for the 15 staff I would later employ, I would have received £30,000. I believe God didn’t want me to have that grant, but wanted me to have faith because ironically, after I launched the restaurant, the age limit for obtaining the grant was raised to 25 and I became eligible to receive the grant, but didn’t need it.
Meal Restaurant Prep
There were different food regulatory requirements and certificates I needed to consider for successfully opening the restaurant. These included requirements related to health and safety, environmental and hygiene aspects. I gathered a lot of information on what it takes to run a business and then employed an accountant to take care of the finances and an architect to draw out the layout of the restaurant I had designed. In less than no time, I had the restaurant building set up.
I put out job vacancies for various roles within the restaurant and had about a thousand people apply for roles in response to my advertised vacancies. I was able to get some support from the job centre in conducting interviews and staff selection. As a result, I ended up hiring 15 people.
I developed a food menu which covered a lot of the African-Caribbean cuisine. There were dishes from South Africa (Zimbabwe), West Africa (Nigeria, Cameroun and Ghana), East Africa (Kenya and Zanzibar), North Africa (Tunisia and Morocco) and the Caribbean islands.
Before the restaurant opened, I held several cooking and tasting sessions over three months. I chose people with different tastes and asked for their feedback on the meals they’d tried; if they would buy it from a restaurant and what they would be willing to pay for it. I used this information; alongside feedback and suggestions from some chefs I’d hired, to develop the food menu. I also figured out details like food presentation and portions.
In my final year of university, two months before the end of my course, I officially opened UK Mama Zanzibar.
In the same month the restaurant opened, I had my first hospital appointment. The first week and year running the restaurant were particularly difficult. I was still working at the hospital at the time and most of the money I made was invested in the restaurant.
I wanted the restaurant to be a franchise and I knew that for this to work, I needed to focus a lot on the restaurant, so about 6 years ago, I started working full time at the restaurant and I quit all other engagements at the hospital.
Food is Medicine
In developing the restaurant, I had to learn things I had no experience of very quickly. I combined this knowledge with what I’d learned from my science background, what I’d watched others do and generally from various experiences in my life. Everything inexplicably came together. I really didn’t know all I needed to make it a success prior to starting but I was quick to learn, willing to listen and always asked a lot of questions. My knowledge of medicine has helped me on my journey to running a restaurant. Food hygiene; the ability to cook food healthily and passionately, has come from my knowledge of science. The ability to respect humanity and cook to the heart came from the knowledge of medical care and the knowledge of what people need to stay healthy. The understanding that food is actually medicine and it should be cooked mindfully, in such a way that it does good to the body, is medically influenced.
UK Mama Zanzibar was the first African Caribbean restaurant in Yorkshire and so it attracted a lot of attention. It attracted lots of people from different backgrounds – Africans, Caribbeans, British, Europeans, Asians etc. I remember when Nigeria played against England, some of the football matches were screened in the restaurant and people came to watch matches whilst having a meal. It was well known in Sheffield and that led to it being noticed by several TV programmes.
We were part of Tony Blair’s (Former British prime minister) new deal commercial at the time. New deal was like an apprenticeship scheme to drive employment for young people. The initiative was driven by the Tony Blair administration, to have employers give opportunities to young people. The conservatives renamed it ‘Apprenticeship scheme’, as it is more popularly known now. In those days, new deal had some commercials airing and they selected some companies to be part of those commercials. UK Mama Zanzibar was one of them. It was one of the first businesses in the hospitality industry to be chosen. We were also involved in BBC Business breakfast and Living icons programmes by Channel 4 and ITV. There were a few more TV features. Regardless of some harsh critics, the exposure got the restaurant noticed. There is nothing like bad publicity in television. Bad publicity gets you even more attention.
All of this is nothing to boast about as I am convinced that God made all the provisions for UK Mama to become what it is today. It was all achieved by faith and the Grace of God.
The symbolism of ‘UK Mama’
UK Mama represents multicultural integration – an awareness of multicultural Britain and an addition to it. The UK in UK Mama stands for United Kingdom. It also represents the first two letters of my middle name, ‘Ukawike’. This translates to ‘Ukawike’s Mama’; which is representative of ‘African Mother’; cooking for the United Kingdom, for all generations and for all people of the world. UK Mama represents the whole of Africa and possibly the world if God willing, we expand that way. UK Mama is food fit for people of all nations. It represents African food emerging into the globe.
Vision and Reflection
My aim is to maximise my potential by helping as many people as possible and creating as many jobs as possible. I would like to own more restaurants and have UK Mama Zanzibar as a franchise. The grocery market is also something I am interested in. I want to develop grocery stores similar to Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, but with an African-Caribbean cuisine focus. The food items will include but are not limited to ready meals, fruits and vegetables and raw ingredients. We will be able to provide cuisines from other countries as well. For example, if a client requires catering for a mixed nationality wedding, we can provide food to suit both states. Although the focus is African-Caribbean food, we would also be able to cater for European cuisines.
In some ways, I miss practising medicine but I haven’t left it for good. I think I will go back to practising full time. It wasn’t possible to maintain my career in medicine and build the restaurant at the same time. Medical work requires a lot of attention and focus, as there’s a lot that can go wrong if you’re distracted. Currently, building the restaurant is what God wants me to do, so when I’m done building it, I will most likely return to the medical field and look into supporting countries in Africa and the Caribbean with my medical background.
My journey has been filled with so many great experiences and it’s difficult to list them all. However, my greatest experience has been growing in the Christian faith. This experience has developed my confidence in God and allowed me to truly discover God for myself. With everything I’ve experienced so far, I feel like nothing is out of reach. I have not reached my zenith and there is still more to my journey. I won’t stop until I accomplish all I have been called to do.
Story: Godson Ogwudire
Photos: Godson Ogwudire
Find out more about Godson’s restaurant at www.ukmama.co.uk and be sure to visit if you’re ever in Sheffield or spot UK Mama at a market stall!