Thirty three -year-old Nelly Ingabire dreamt of running her own hotel but after observing the less fortunate lives of the children at her aunt’s orphanage, she changed that dream to opening a restaurant. “I was tired of seeing these kids eat basically the same food on a daily basis,” she confesses.
Born to the Late George Kalisa and Hellen Nkerenke, Ingabire was born and partly raised in Uganda, completing her primary at St Helen Primary School. She later went to Immaculate Heart High School and when the family came back to Rwanda in 1995, she went to Rwanda International Academy and later, Lycee de Kigali.
Not done with formal education, Ingabire continued to Light Bureau of Accountancy and later, Blue Mountain International in Cyprus, where she majored in Hotel Management.
With a husband in Sweden, she was forced to balance her activities in Rwanda and Sweden. But in 2010, she made up her mind and settled in Rwanda. After all, there is no place like home. It is then that she opened her restaurant-bar, ‘Stone House’.
“Before coming to settle in Rwanda, I never used to work. But after I settled in, I invited a couple of friends over to my house for a bottle party and they literally came in their hordes. I realised I had enough people to help get my business started and jumped at the opportunity,” she narrates.
You would think that one business is enough to deal with, but Ingabire does not see it that way. She owns another business called ‘Beautiful People’, which aims at helping students in different schools identify and develop their talent, and not just focus on what they are taught in school.
Running a bar is quite a challenge, something very few people realise. Some customers are hard to deal with, especially when they are consuming alcohol. But Ingabire does not see this as a problem because it is what is expected and she is always well prepared when it comes to dealing with difficult customers.
“When some of our customers start behaving a disorderly manner, the only logical way to solve the problem (and help them in the process) is to stop serving them. We order them to leave the place because they are likely to cause even more commotion,” says the entrepreneur.
Her challenges do not include the fact that she is a woman running a bar as some people might assume. “I have visited many bars owned by men and I noticed that the owners are hardly ever present.
This creates a gap between the owner and the customers. It is imperative that my customers are given the best service, but how is that possible if I am never around? If you run a business, be a part of it and do not just make orders in absentia.”
“Without a doubt, my biggest challenge is rent but I have made plans to open up a place of my own. I already bought a piece of land, and in all honesty, bars still operating in residential areas have limitations – complaints and accusations by neighbours leave us at the mercy of the authorities,” she reveals.
“Also, and I think this is everywhere, language barrier continues to sabotage my business. You just never know what language a customer speaks, and the inability to communicate with them efficiently is frustrating, for both the workers and the customers. Poor communication is a recipe for bad customer service”, Ingabire continues.
As for the people still lagging behind the rest of the Rwandan community, with their poor mindsets about who should do what, she has strong words for them.
“Working in a bar is not ‘being cheap’ as some people call it. It is all about your heart’s desire, your passion for something and your determination to do it. I am not saying all women should open up bars just like I did. I simply believe they should do whatever they feel they want to do, regardless of whether some people approve or not. Take control of your life and do not let others run it for you,” concludes Ingabire.
The mother of two starts her day by watching news on BBC and Aljazeera. A daily Bible verse fortifies her for the day ahead. When she ends her day, sometimes at 4am, reading another Bible verse is the last thing she does before falling asleep. We all know how sweet sleep can be, and Ingabire takes hers very seriously. She also loves meeting up with friends who have the same entrepreneurial mindset to share experiences and ideas. Her ultimate idea of fun is hanging out with friends for a drink.