I had the sweet privilege of meeting Olivia last year in Paris at her restaurant. I tell you what, it was simply great being able to eat well cooked home food whilst on holiday. Olivia is a warm and accommodating person and you feel like you have known her all your life in only a couple of minutes. I was so (and still am) inspired by Olivia’s story. I am very pleased to be able to publish this write up from urnaija.com (with their permission) on my own blog. Her story tells our story about life in the diaspora. Enjoy reading!
Urnaija had the privilege to speak with, Olivia Mutae, owner of ‘African Kitchen’, who couldn’t get even a cleaning job about twelve years ago when she arrived in France but now owns a restaurant located at 92, Rue Saint-Maur 75011, a high brow neighbourhood in Paris, France, that has hosted the likes of P-Square, Davido, Julius Agwu, Seun Kuti, Kunle Afolayan, Kuku and Nneka just to name a few.
Davido had a private party at the restaurant and Olivia was in charge of the catering when Julius Agwu was in Paris for his ‘Up Close and Personal’ show last year, 2013, which Seun Kuti also attended as a special guest.
Olivia agreed to tell us her inspiring story because she believes that if she could make it then anybody else can. After all, for everybody who achieves a feat it becomes easier for others to achieve that feat because ‘impossible’ is no longer an issue. Olivia is in her early thirties, originally hails from Delta State but was born and brought up in Edo State by hard working parents. Her dad worked with the National Shipping Line and that was what got Olivia interested in travelling abroad. Throughout her secondary school days all she ever dreamt of was travelling abroad.
“My first trip abroad was in 2001 and it was to Paris.”
“I fell in love with Paris. It is true what they say, ‘see Paris and die’. I saw Paris and never wanted to leave.” Olivia said with more than a hint of nostalgia in her voice.
After Olivia’s first trip to Paris she also went to Holland to visit an uncle but she longed to return to Paris and that was exactly what she did.
“My uncle had prepared me mentally to be ready to work hard in Europe. That contrary to the opinion I had when I was back in Nigeria, Europe is not a bed of roses so when I got back Paris I was determined to work as hard as I could”.
“Unfortunately, I only learnt basic French in Nigeria, you know, bonjour, Je’ mapplle Olivia. Nothing much,” She recalled. “Because I didn’t see any reason to learn another language since I thought every white person could speak English”. She said with a laugh.
“So it was very difficult for me when I came back to Paris because I couldn’t speak French at all. I couldn’t get any job, not even a cleaning job. So I enrolled for a programme where I learnt how to speak French”.
At that point she talked about the first person to plant the entrepreneurial seed in her.
“At the school, I met a young lady. She was a teacher from one of these North African countries…, Tunisia I think”,
“She was the one who told me that it’s the mentality we Africans bring to Europe that hold us back because we come to Europe with the intention of doing menial jobs just to make some money to survive”.
“She was the first person to make me realise that I could start a business in Europe and succeed. My mentality changed after I had that conversation with her.”
Olivia, however still had a long way to go from having a changed mentality to actually making a success from her new mindset.
“I got my first cleaning job at Emmanuel Ungaro, a designer’s shop in Paris. I did my cleaning in the morning and went to school at night”.
“After completing my French course we were given work references and I was fortunate to get a job at a supermarket in Paris.
“It was at the supermarket that I practised my French. As you can imagine, it wasn’t polished. No, not at all”. Olivia recollected with a chuckle. “I was speaking French with a strong accent and was laughed at several times by my colleagues”.
“I put in my best at the supermarket and my employers appreciated my services. They didn’t want me to leave but I learnt that in France, by Law, after two years your employers should send you for further training.
When I made a request to be sent for training my employers were reluctant to send me so I quit”.
By the time Olivia quit her job she had worked with them for about three years.
“After quitting my job I wanted to do something different so I started working as a waitress at this Irish pub in Paris known as O’Sullivan. It was very close to the famous Moulin Rouge.
I had the waitress job at night and had another day job but I realised that the night job at the pub was very interesting.
The other thing I noticed was how much money they were making on selling foods, drinks and providing entertainment and that was where I got the idea to set up an African restaurant”.
At this point we asked if she quit immediately to set up ‘African Kitchen’.
“No, I didn’t set up ‘African Kitchen’ immediately.
“I quit and decided to get a better paying job so I applied at Gallery Lafayette and got a job with Swarovski. That was my last job before I quit to set up the restaurant business.”
Did she require any paper qualification to set up a restaurant business in France?
“No, an eatery business is the only business you can do in France that you don’t require any paper qualification for but that is about to change”. She replied.
“However, you need to go for security training, food hygiene training and obtain licence to sell alcohol. For instance I cannot buy meat from just any butcher. It has to be from a designated one who has preserved his meat at a certain temperature.
Right now, I don’t have the license to sell alcohol without food. The license to sell just alcohol (without food) costs Seventeen thousand Euros on its own.”
What were the challenges she faced and probably still facing?
“Finance,” Olivia answered. “The money I saved up wasn’t nearly enough for the project. I had to borrow more from friends and family. I thank God now, however, that things are looking up.”
Concerning present challenges, Olivia said, “my restaurant is located in a high brow area of Paris where you don’t usually have Africans but I want to showcase Nigeria so the challenge is to find a way of introducing people who have never tried Nigerian foods before to it”.
So how has that been working out?
“It’s been fun,” Olivia said. “I’ve been imposing Nigerian food on them. The good thing is that white people are very adventurous and would try anything for the first time. Luckily for us most of them like what they eat and come back”.
Apart from Nigerians do other Africans frequent ‘African Kitchen’?
“Yes, about a month ago, November 2013, we introduced other African dishes like the famous Cameroonian grilled fish, poisson braise and the Zimbabwean Community have had their end of year
party here for the second year in a row”.
So what does the future hold for Olivia?
“As soon as I’m confident that ‘African Kitchen’ can run itself with little or no supervision I intend to set up a coffee franchise.
You see the coffee franchise was my first idea and I got the license for it but I couldn’t find a good location to start off from so I decided to go for ‘African Kitchen’ because I didn’t want the zeal in me to die.
My next step is to set up a coffee franchise business to be known as ‘Alto cafe’ and the idea is to compete with Starbucks”.
Word of advice for budding African entrepreneurs in Europe:
“Dream on!” Olivia advised.
“Don’t ever let your dream die. Persevere and watch your dream gradually but surely come to pass.
Things don’t happen like magic in Europe. Start the day a pauper and become a millionaire before nightfall. No, that’s not Europe. It takes time to build a business in Europe.
As long as the business is legitimate and you work hard to build it with patience success is surely not too far away”.
culled from urnaija.com