The proprietor of Murisanga Restaurant and Workshop Limited, Pauline Nampijja, also known as Mama Jackie, feeds not less than one hundred customers on any given day.
The Ugandan mother of three, she narrates to Women Today’s Doreen Umutesi, how she came to Rwanda and overcame the challenges she met in the restaurant business.
“I first came to Rwanda in 1997 to stay with my husband who was working here as a blacksmith. Given the fact that I had not completed school I was unemployed. So, I started working with my husband,” the jovial Pauline Nampijja alias Mama Jackie narrates.
The 42 year old native of Mukono District attended Lubiri Senior Secondary School for her O’ Level before joining Progressive Secondary School. She later went to Namasagali University where she failed to complete her Bachelors Degree in Journalism because of the challenges that life threw at her.
“It’s funny how I started this restaurant - it was really small. I prepared milk for my daughter Jackie at my husband’s work place. However, when my husband’s clients came to visit him, I would offer them some of the food I prepared. It was these same people and the workers around the area who advised me to start charging money for the food I offered them. They told me to start a business,” Nampijja recalled.
She said that her business started small and has now grown in leaps and bounds.
“I started this business without any guarantee that it would succeed. Customers encouraged and advised me on what to change and several other things. I can’t say that I had serious capital when I started – in fact I’m not even sure how much I stared with. All I know is that I was just a mother preparing milk for her daughter,” she disclosed.
She revealed that between 2007 and 2008, she realised that her ‘small start’ was going to be a huge success.
“With my small means, I couldn’t do some of the things my customers wanted. My husband‘s finances were also tricky, therefore I had to find a way of expanding the business. There was a man called Fred who introduced me to Rwanda Microfinance and they offered me a loan. I was excited given that I had earlier tried other banks and they all turned me down because I had no collateral,” Nampijja explained.
With that loan, she rented more space, bought seats and tables and other restaurant requirements.
“I attribute the success of this business to my customers because their advice made the difference. They will never hesitate to tell me if there is need to change something or if something can be done better. When I got the loan, I wasn’t extravagant and made every penny count. I paid back the loan and got another which I used to buy a car to transport food and other requirements for the restaurant,” said the entrepreneur.
She added that she would also get small loans from friends from time to time and refund the money. A group of Ugandan women formed a small association to support one another financially and emotionally.
“I receive many clients everyday. Given the fact that our dishes are African, we prepare the food and when it is almost finished, we prepare more so that no customer misses out. We literally avoid having it in abundance and putting it to waste,” she explained.
She has 18 employees and ten of them are permanent staff.
Just like any business, Nampijja had to face hurdles but that did not stop her from working hard to turn her business into the success it is today.
“When there is a challenge, I fight to beat it but also learn from it. For instance if the number of customers goes down, it’s my duty to find out why the turn up is low and then make suitable changes. Challenges are part of our work.”
“My advice is, as a woman, is try not to be selective and think that some businesses are more profitable than others. Do not over burden your husband because the power to do this or that is in your hands. Business does not mean living an extravagant life, so be realistic. Also, be involved in your business instead of assigning other people to it. For example, some women report to their own business whatever time suits them and don’t even sit around to monitor the workers,” said Nampijja.
She also said that it is hard to monitor a business when you’re not there in person. It is even harder dealing with the challenges faced in the business when you don’t really know what happens in your absence.