“I Want To Become A Household Name Like Chicken Republic, KFC or Dominoes” – Aina Pasta Cafe
Aina Pasta Café, is one food business that is no longer stranger to Brownites, after launching in the Alexander Brown Hall in December 2021. ABH Press had an exclusive interview with the business owner, Ajagbe Aina Oluwatosin, where she spoke about her love for pasta, and how she translated that into a business amongst other things.
Good afternoon. I am a representative of the ABH Press. Can you kindly introduce yourself?
My name is Ajagbe Aina Oluwatosin. I’m from Oyo state, but I was born and bred in the north. I’m a graduate of Educational Management Political Science, University of Ibadan. I graduated in 2018. I love to cook and also count money.
How did you get started in this food business? What inspired you?
My mother is a caterer, but this is not majorly why I wanted to do it. I have always loved pasta and noodles. It has been my best food right from childhood. I had an Instagram page while I was a student, now @ainapastacafe where I used to post about my love for pasta and also facts about it. In 200 level, I decided I wanted to make a business out of it. Prior to that, I had not seen any pasta cafe in Nigeria where they deal primarily in pasta. I had gone to restaurants where they sell pasta but it wasn’t their major selling point. It was later on I found out about Korede Spaghetti in University of Lagos. He was making other things but spaghetti was his major dish.
In UI, I would ask people if they wanted me to make noodles or spaghetti for them and cook it per request. But I had other businesses I was doing as a student. I would get contracts from faculties to make Chapman at their dinners and other events.
My first major deal.
I got my first major order for pasta in 400 level. I wasn’t Aina Pasta then. At the time, the person got to know I am someone that loves to cook pasta. It was her boyfriend’s birthday and she wanted me to make 40 packs and I said Yes. The pay wasn’t very great but I did it because I just loved to cook pasta. Funny thing is, I stayed in a UI hostel, Queen Idia hall, where cooking with gas was prohibited, so I had to cook it with my small pots and stove, making batch after batch.
Transitioning to Aina Pasta Cafe.
Before graduating in February 2018, I went for a service in my church where my Pastor made a statement that God is giving some people insight, concept and ideas and I heard the name “Aina Pasta Café” clearly. Though I didn’t start the business immediately.
After that, I got posted to Jos for Youth service but I still didn’t start Aina Pasta Cafe there because I didn’t want to settle down in Jos. It was going to be a start-up and it wouldn’t do well to have someone else run it while I wasn’t there. I couldn’t start something online and do home/office deliveries because the terrain in Jos is different from this place. People would ordinarily not order food in Jos. But I organised a Pasta Hangout for Corps members while I was there.
And then in 2019 after youth service, I relocated back to Ibadan where I worked for a number of companies up until after the COVID pandemic. I eventually launched Aina Pasta Cafe on 1st of October 2020. People would order online and I would deliver the Spaghetti. There was no physical space yet so I made the spaghetti in my house. My menu was somewhat different from what I have now. It was in #1500, #2000, #2500 and #2700 packs. You couldn’t customise your pack like you can now.
While I was doing the home and office deliveries, I was working alongside of which I eventually resigned officially in December 2020. I marketed my business to banks and corporate offices and I got positive responses. But it’s tricky having an online food business because you are unable to determine the number of your orders per day, which makes your cost of production unpredictable and invariably affects your profit margin. What helps is having a proper structure which only comes with time. To be honest, there were days nobody ordered but I knew I wanted Aina Pasta Cafe to be big. It was my dream. I was done looking for jobs as at December 2020.
How did a physical space in ABH happen?
I started scouting for physical spaces in Ibadan late last year. And then one time in church, my Pastor mentioned the suya guy in ABH while preaching. He mentioned it in passing but it spurred a realization that people actually sell food in ABH. Prior to that, I had never been to ABH. I just knew it was a medical students hostel. Then, I decided to come to UCH to look for spaces. I wanted to be sure it was somewhere my business could start. I also knew quite a number of residents in UCH. I asked them for suggestions and ABH came up. Then I went about the process of securing the space in ABH.
What was your greatest challenge transitioning from home deliveries to setting up the business in ABH and subsequently catering to Brownites and residents of UCH?
I wouldn’t say this is a challenge per se but in transitioning you have to be very sure. It must come from you. It must not come from people’s validation and people’s encouragement.
I would say it’s that phase of you deciding and building your confidence. This comes from the place of prayer. You must be sure also because you don’t want to go back to the place you are coming from. Also convincing yourself that this is what you want irrespective of positive or negative responses from people. My family was not in support, at first. They didn’t understand at first why I would rather start a Cafe than earn a steady salary from a corporate job. They eventually came along after having certain conversations with them.
My decision didn’t come from the validation of knowing how to cook or praises from other people, it came from prayers, words of prophecies from my pastor and having peace with what I chose to do.
You set up in December, last year, It’s been months. Has there been any challenge so far after setting up in ABH?
The strike. It encompasses everything because there may not be light or water sometimes.
What was the reception like in ABH? Did it meet your expectations?
I had expectations of enjoying my stay here, making sales and also making a lot of friends. And those expectations have been met, of course not immediately I started. I would say I am a bit of a fun person and I was able to recognise some people I had seen in Idia hall before. People in my set then in UI, that is, the 2K16 set, are the ones finishing House job very soon. I have a lot of friends and loved ones here now. They are people I laugh and play with. For some, it has even extended beyond buying food from me.
Have you had any formal training as a Chef?
Yes. While I was serving in Jos, at the restaurant of an hotel there. I also participated in a training organised by someone in my church. I would also say I had formal training from my mum because it helped my mind a lot, seeing that I had seen someone cook in bulk and seen that the person could handle it. It helped build my confidence to cook in bulk. She employed me at some point as a staff and paid me.
Any further plans to develop your skills and enrol in more culinary schools?
Yes. There is one culinary school in Ibadan called Royal Spices along Ring Road. I actually have a list and Red Dish Chronicles tops it because alongside cooking they teach the management aspect of food business, but it’s in Lagos. I also watch YouTube videos and podcasts on business.
What are your long term goals for Aina Pasta Cafe?
I want to eventually become a household name just like Chicken Republic, KFC or Dominoes. So very soon, everyone will know of Aina Pasta Cafe. Not that I won’t add other things to the menu but pasta will be the major selling point.
I hear you do not have eggs in your menu, how so?
I have boiled eggs in my menu. However I do not have fried eggs there because I cannot stand the smell of raw eggs. I also do not eat fried eggs.
Speaking of menus, can you give us a rundown of your menu presently?
I have Spaghetti, potato fries, yam fries, BOILED EGGS. Prior to coming to ABH, my menu was quite different from this. It came in packs of #1500, #2000, #2500 and #2700.
The menu changed because I wanted people to be able to get food from me with whatever amount they have. If I fix it at 1,500 or #2,000 for example, I would have cut out people that just want a particular thing from the menu.
Are there any new additions to your menu for Brownites?
How I add things to my menu is by asking people what they would like. Most people have said egg sauce but I haven’t yielded to that call yet. I would prefer to ask and know before I add something I will end up eating by myself.
You don’t come on weekends, is that going to change?
I don’t come on Saturdays and Sundays because of my place of worship which doubles as my place of primary assignment, outside Ibadan. However plans are ongoing for the Café to start running on Saturdays as well, in the coming months.
Would you consider yourself a foodie?
I like to cook. I like good food and I enjoy eating good food. I do not think I am a foodie. I love to enjoy food. I think a foodie is someone that likes to eat everything. I don’t want to eat everything. There are things I don’t eat. A foodie is one that also likes to explore different foods. If I go somewhere new, I would rather stick to the food I am familiar with.
What is your favourite way of eating Pasta?
I enjoy stir fry Pasta. I also like Pasta and sauce, that is, roughly blended pepper (ata rodo) and onions with a lot of finely chopped beef. Not tomato sauce like in bolognese sauce. I’m not a fan of creamy pasta because I like pepper. Adding pepper to creamy pasta kills the creaminess.
What do you enjoy doing apart from cooking?
I don’t really like to read. I read because I have to. For cooking, I can be very tired and still cook if I see a need to cook. Apart from cooking, I like to care for people. I don’t go out a lot. And I am also not a social media person.
Can you share a pasta fact you think not a lot of people would know?
There are actually over 365 shapes of pasta. That means you can eat a different shape each day in a year without repeating one which is one of my life goals actually.
Do you also plan to go to Italy (the hub of pasta)?
Definitely. My other goal is to manufacture my own pasta, so I will not have to buy pasta from other people.
In a few sentences, why should Brownites patronise you?
My food is not just about you eating, I want you to enjoy yourself eating and my food is healthy, which is why I have veggies infused into it. Also because I am a sweet person.