Meet Nigeria's Pastry King... Well, Arguably

16 Feb 2013

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Tosan Jemide

Tosan Jemide started baking 30 years ago but has been in commercial cake baking for 13 years  when he started from a room in his sister’s small flat. Now the cake boss sells bread – Top Crust - and it’s a hot sell.  Jemide discusses the root of his passion with  OMOLOLA ITAYEMI

Held at the Banquet Events Centre, Ikeja, last month, it could be likened to a birthday party or wedding reception. But it wasn’t. It was Top Crust Customer and Stakeholders Appreciation party. The white marquee was a beehive of activities as customers, stakeholders and staff of Top Crust Bakery all gaily dressed, settled down to an afternoon of entertainment and appreciation. With soft music playing in the background, gold and dark blue decorations straddling the hall and sumptuous meal with choice drinks, it offered the perfect ambience for this.

No strata was left out; suppliers, distributors, vendors and members of staff as they were all well-rewarded. From “best buyers” to “long distance buyers”, there were glowing testimonies of immense growth and success. Same as “most consistent customer”, “buyers with progressive growth”, “distinguished staff”, “most “consistent” and “honest staff” and many more other rewards.

“Most consistent new entrant” was won by Moyo, a Chelsea fan; “long distance buyer” was won by Cream Resources of Abeokuta. Mrs. Shobukola and Rhoda clinched the award for “buyers with progressive growth”. Oladele Olorunfemi was “best team leader” and Simon Awe won “best team member”.

Appreciation parties for staff and stakeholders have long been discovered as huge morale boosters generating greater outputs in future endeavour. Little surprise, management tapped into this. This is part of a business improvement programme embarked upon in 2011 as Jemide revealed in his speech that day and it seems to be working. With sales at over 23,000 loaves of bread a day, management must be smiling to the bank.

Top Crust Bakery shares the same premises with the events centre. On the other side sits a large expanse of land - ware house type that is home to the bakery. Despite on-going construction work in some areas; the sheer volume of workers, buyers and bread exchanging hands is a further testament to their achievement from their debut two years ago.
We departed from the party area for this interview and we were constantly interrupted by staff and buyers who intermittently sought his opinion and help on different things.

Mind you, Top Crust Bakery and Cakes by Tosan are two independent companies run by the same management. While Cakes by Tosan, a premium brand in Ikoyi was established 13 years ago, his first and more popular foray into this area of business, Top Crust Bakery, started 15 months ago in Ikeja. Still very much in touch with Cakes by Tosan, he divides his time between both, he revealed.
So why the need to expand into bread-making? “I run Cakes by Tosan; I have been doing cakes for 12 to 13 years - that is bakery line - and the decision to go into bread is still expanding into the same business and also the need to bake edible bread for consumers. There are quite a number of bread brands out there but not many are edible. I’m not a bread lover but I wasn’t enjoying eating bread, whenever I had to eat bread, it was like I was being forced to eat bread. I think that also was an opportunity for us,’’ he revealed.

He does concede, though, that insights from mistakes made by Cakes by Tosan, where he was doing everything at the same time smoothened the start-up process. “With Top Crust Bakery, I’m able to put the right structures and people in the right place and the business basically runs itself. Experience they say is the best teacher.’’

Bakery business is no walk in the park, well not in the way Jemide runs his with modern gadgets and up-to-date baking accessories. While the interview was on-going, an automated track to ease movement of goods around the bakery was being fixed. ‘’It’s quite expensive; we started slowly, got one industrial oven built and we are now on the fourth,’’ he revealed. Each oven has a retail price of between five and eight million naira.

He believes Flour Mills produces the best quality flour in the country and Flour Mills pays him similar compliment. The Flour Mills national area manager admits Top Crust Bakery is the best indigenous bakery in the country. “Top Crust bread has a soft texture and fluffy, taste wise, it has a nice bread taste and no offensive odour. The classic white bread is also very affordable and thanks to our vendors, it has spread to some parts of the South West region like Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode etc,’’  Jemide said.

Switching gears, the conversation turns to the topic of Cakes by Tosan. His clients list comprises the rich, celebrated and fashionable in the society and he seems to be the preferred cake-maker for the well-heeled of the society. He doesn’t quite agree with me on that, saying his clients cut across various segments of the society.

Trying to get Jemide talk about the most expensive cake he has ever baked is akin to trying to squeeze water from a stone. The more I probed, the more he moved away from giving exact figures. Finding out the most challenging cake was much easier and I chose to toe that line. He paused for a short while, pondering before he said, “the most challenging cake I have ever baked is the first chandelier cake I ever made.’’

His cakes don’t come cheap and considered very expensive. I asked why? Speaking in a low voice, he said: “A lot of technicalities goes into making of these cakes. We’re not charging for the content of the cake. What we charge for is the process, technicalities, time and energy spent.”

He is indeed a thorough and principled conservative who really prefers the past to the present in terms of growing-up days. The fifth of six children, he admits his growing up days were good, wholesome and complete. “Our mothers had more time for us than what happens now. We were instilled knowledge, discipline and we learnt a lot from home. We had good morals, we went to school, we observed siesta and so little time to play,’’ he recalls.

Still reminiscing, he described his late mother (an educationist) as very homely and his father, a lawyer. He also attributes his success to strong family values. According to him, ‘’I come from a family where value of family was of utmost importance, very closely knitted, strong bond. My mum baked and I guess that rubbed off on me in a way’’.

His journey into cake-making can be described as accidental. “A few years after my mum’s demise, my older brother was getting married and refused paying for a cake because he believed so many cakes have been baked in our home. He actually imposed this on me, though I was as good as a novice because all I knew were bits and pieces I had learnt from my mum in the kitchen,’’ he recalls.

He continues: “Upon graduation from the University of Ibadan, where I read sociology, I went into clothing. I had a flair for clothing and even while I was in school, I was already running a small clothing business. Meanwhile, I was still doing a lot of cakes and I was getting orders. I found it quite interesting but I was very handicapped because I had just raw talent. I had not done any training. There are lots of things to learn especially in the more technical aspects and I felt lost. Then, I decided to embark on some sort of training. I went to the United Kingdom where I was for four years. I worked with different cake companies including Gloriette in Knightsbridge. At that time I was still doing my private work in England. It got to a point when I could not cope anymore and I had to quit my job. I had a choice of staying there to start a business or coming to Nigeria to set up a business, so I opted for the latter,’’ he revealed.

Some professions are seen as never-do-wells except one individual or individuals up the ante. Jemide has been able to do that successfully with baking cakes and mindsets are changing with people taking it as a serious profession. “When I started, I started with one worker in a room in my sister’s small flat, it was very hard work, sleepless nights and passion for the job. Lots of sleepless nights, toiling has resulted in what I am today,’’ he says. In a sense, his entire career was driven by that energy.

Jemide is certainly not one that can be boxed, he has no favourite book and is not motivated nor inspired by a particular person. “That’s very hard, they’re some questions I can’t answer like who is your mentor, I cannot answer that question because there are many people that have shaped me and a  myriad of different experiences,’’ he recounts.
“I like to travel a lot. I am a very lazy person and I like to stay at home. I am very family- oriented so I just want to stay with the family and relax, go to the beach, the cinema. I do the odd partying infrequently. I am not in for big society parties,’’ he concluded.

Tags: Life, Life and Style, Tosan Jemide

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