No doubt he has had an interesting 32 years. What with coming up with a novel scheme that earned him N10 million at the age of 19. Caesario de-Medeiros was the brain behind inclusion of Nigeria’s name in the Guinness Book of World Records through a non-stop dance contest. His work experience covers a diverse landscape including media, wine and spirit, entertainment and food retail. His latest venture seeks to put the shine on the vocation of bartending. Vanessa Obioha reports
There are different layers to the persona of Caesario de-Medeiros.
Depending on which fabric you want to see (or the one he is willing to reveal at a time), he is like an Egungun (masquerade) wrapped in many colourful attires.
There is the young man who comes from an interesting lineage. His great-grandfather is a European Portuguese who settled in Dahomey, present day Benin Republic. He had 57 children, one of which was his grandfather, the son of a Ghanaian woman. His grandfather grew up in Dahomey, served in the French army and would later marry Herbert Macaulay’s granddaughter, Ajike Lucinda Campbell. This makes his father part Portuguese, part Ghanaian and partly Nigerian. However his father settled in Nigeria and ended up with a French teacher. His relatives are spread across the West Coast according to Caesario.
His career is another intriguing part that leaves many gob smacked. Rio as he is fondly called by friends has an interesting LinkedIn profile. It reads: “I am a marketing professional with 10+ years of experience across a diverse landscape from Media, Entertainment, Food retail, Chemical Manufacturing, FMCG Distribution, Alcohol & Spirits Marketing, Training & Development and Product Design. I have built three successful startups including Africa Hospitality Limited (AHL) founded in 2011 and over the course of my career, I have been responsible for executing successful market entry strategy for more than one global brand into West Africa (a terrain that I know very well from the expansion of AHL into Ghana & Ivory Coast) and revitalising several indigenous iconic Brands. I am always looking for the next big challenge.”
If you are still wondering what makes the profile interesting, perhaps, his age should interest you. Rio is 32 years. He doesn’t really look his age. You may walk past him and assume he is just another familiar face in the crowd. Or you may be fascinated by his long pointed nose. All that is secondary. What is essential is his ability to garner an intimidating volume of experience within three decades of his life.
It started when he was a child. Raised by a father who ran the popular French restaurant chain in Lagos, Frenchies, and a mother who was excellent at baking pastries, Rio was introduced to the world of business very early in life. At age eight, he was making a living from baking cakes, pies, and tarts for friends and family. The monies were not handsomely huge but served as pocket money for one or two needs. Often times, he would daydream that he was a rich man. He would take his father’s cheque book and write himself a cheque that had many zeroes.
It looked silly at the time but that young man’s dream would eventually be a reality.
Having completed his secondary school education at an early age, Rio applied for a diploma course in Computer Engineering at the University of Lagos. Along the line, he fell in love with Marketing while working at the entertainment arm of the Silverbird Group; the arm that organises the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria beauty pageant. He was 18 years old when he started working with the group. He tried to change his course of study in the university to Marketing but it was against the school’s rule; so settled for Mathematics. While still at Silverbird, he conceived the brilliant idea of the Guinness World Book of Records Danceathon. It was through this competition
that celebrity dancer, dance instructor, fitness coach and choreographer, Kafayat Shafau, popularly known as Kaffy, was discovered. She won the contest for dancing non-stop for 55 hours and 40 minutes. Rio was the sole brain behind that concept but because he was an employee of the group, he couldn’t take full credit.
By age 19, Rio was smiling to the bank with his first N10 million naira. He had just done the first online promotional campaign in Nigeria for Eva bottle water. Through his newly registered company, Madeira Productions Ventures, Rio hired two of his friends and together they brainstormed and came up with the ingenious idea to scout for a new face for the brand, but through the internet. It was the first of the kind and the internet was just gaining familiarity with the Nigerian public. At the time, brands got their models by recruiting students from universities who go through modeling sessions before finally being picked. Rio’s idea was a game changer, something his client needed at the time. The task wasn’t easy peas for the young man. He built a website, employed an Indian company to do some coding on the site, rented an office apartment, did some travelling and other things to ensure that he delivered a brilliant work. At the end of the day, he was N10 million richer.
“I was like wow! I was completely overwhelmed. I did what any 19 year-old will do; I had the time of my life. I spent more on travelling. I went to United States of America, Russia, UK, South Africa, Senegal, and other interesting places. I did a lot of travelling and Russia was probably the most interesting destination that I visited at the time because it was an odd place for a young African boy to end up in out of curiosity. I bought a car; a Honda accord, gave my mum some money.” He laughed as we sat at the poolside bar of Eko Hotels and Suites.
From Silverbird Group, he moved to Food Concepts, owners of Chicken Republic. He headed the marketing department and opened three stores in South Africa for the brand. It wasn’t long before Rio had another brainwave. This time, it happened across the pond. An old friend of his was having his Masters graduation in the UK, so Rio hopped on the plane to celebrate the special day with his friend. It was while they were having a meal at a restaurant in Leicester that the idea sprang up. Actually, he had been toying with the idea for a while.
“I used to think on this concept of opening a Chinese restaurant but a kind of fast food and very urban. Like a non-traditional Chinese restaurant that serves breakfast. I told my friend that the idea is really funky and something that could actually work in Lagos, Victoria Island precisely. I suggested we could also do deliveries to offices and have breakfast very early, because my biggest problem in Lagos back then was having to leave home very early and nowhere was open until 8am. But if you are on the road at 5.30am or 6am, you want to be able to grab something on your way to work. That was my value proposition, to have a restaurant that is open early for breakfast at 6am and also doing deliveries. So we agreed to put something together when we returned back to Lagos.”
When the duo got back to Lagos, they went property hunting in Victoria Island and found one; started a business plan, created a brand name, Treehouse, and were almost ready to kick off the business, but temptation came. The property they rented was formerly a popular bar and night club, called 007. The duo decided to turn their monies around and open a pop up club instead.
“It was the rave of the moment. Clubs will open during December and then close later. This was mid-October so we thought if we could do a two-week renovation, tidy the place a little bit, and then face our restaurant business the following year because offices are closed in December. It was wrong timing, so we decided to start in April when businesses are picking up. That’s how we got into the bar business.”
Branching into the bar business turned out to be more than an eye opener for Rio. His penchant for excellence led him to realize the gaping lack of skilled bartenders in the industry. He was left with the choice to travel back to South Africa where he had met a couple of skilled bartenders. He was able to convince a bartender who brought two other bartenders to Nigeria to assist in the new bar called Sugar Cane Bar. The building was however called Zamunda. It was around this time that he set up the Africa Hospitality Limited- an agency that offers skills development to bartenders as well as consult for wines and spirits. In the first year, he trained 400 bartenders for free.
Running such an agency and business required formal education in the field. He attended the Wines and Spirits Education Trust and buried himself in books about bartending, and wines and spirits business. Today he is a connoisseur in bartending.
“When I walk into a bar, the first thing I look at is the counter. This is the engine room of the bar so I’m looking at the set up. Do they have running water? Clean work area? That will determine what I will order. If there is any issue, then there will either be a problem with hygiene or indicate the sort of bartender that runs the bar; if he is organised, confused, clean or dirty. There is so much you can deduct from the counter of a bar. Then I will look at the back bar. What you stock is a reflection of your understanding of spirits so what I see in your shelf tells me a lot about who owns the business. Your personality will always come through with the brands that you stock.”
With the knowledge garnered, Rio came up with another brilliant idea. Under the aegis of his new media company, HA! HA! Media which he co-founded with Chioma Onyenwe, he launched an online TV reality show: The Barman TV.
As the name implies, it is a competition centered on bartending. The competition was open only to West Africans and for that first outing, they received 85 applicants. Through series of selections and trainings from seasoned judges including him; a Ghanaian Johnson Dogbey emerged the winner. The initial plan was to reward the winner with intensive training in different bartending schools in London, Rome and South Africa. The plan however changed when it became obvious that Johnson an out-of-job bartender had already become so well versed from the pre-contest prep sessions that he did not need to go to the bartending schools anymore.
“The main goal of the competition is to give the contestants value; that self-confidence that they can actually make a living out of this. I give you an example, the other day we were at one of the top bars in Berlin and one of the contestants had issues with the barman. Can you imagine that, an African having problem with a white man making his drink. It only means that his self-confidence had gone past the roof. That’s the idea of the Barman TV, projecting that bartending is a career if you take it seriously, it will take you places. We are teaching them how to fish, that’s why we don’t have a cash prize and there will never be a cash prize. Johnson will lecture in South Africa. He is not going to learn anything because they were trained by professionals during the competition.”
The Barman TV has started receiving applications for the second season which kicks off next year. Unlike the first season, auditions will hold in five cities in West Africa: Lagos, Accra , Dakar , Abidjan and Douala but the main competition will still hold in Nigeria.
He further stressed the importance for a bartender to be trained. “A bartender can train himself but to be a qualified bartender, you have to invest in some sort of formal certification. There are bartending schools depending on your country and there are lot of online courses. The one we are affiliated to is the Wine and Spirits Education Trust which is in the UK. That is where I started off. They offer courses online for professionals and their certificates are recognised in 70 countries around the world. In fact, in the UK it is a prerequisite to get any job in the beverage industry. Certification goes up to a diploma level where you can become a Master of Wine. At any point in time, there is only a maximum of 300 Master of Wines award in the whole world so it’s a very ambitious award. You could also learn on the job, but you still need an avenue to practice what you are learning. Going beyond that, you can learn Mixology, the art of mixing drinks. Even beyond that there is something called Flare Bartending which is adding more theatre to your craft. There is Craft Bartending which concentrates on making everything from the scratch; everything is fresh, no concentrates.
“I guess there are some basic things that a bartender should know. It’s a very complex world but the basics include serving drinks in the right glass, right temperature, knowing your spirits and understanding the different spirits; and where they are made so that you can engage your guests. When a guest asks for rum and you have more than three types of rum, you should be able to suggest the right kind for him or her. No one can open your head and put that. You have to be interested in your craft. Some bartenders don’t do more than they need to, because it was not something they wanted to do originally. They refused to grow their love for the craft. You ask for a whisky, and you get it a long glass when it should come in a whisky glass or you ask for a whisky and coke and you get it in a short glass when it should come in long glass. These are some of the basics they should have.”
Looking back to his achievement so far, Rio can only say that life has been an interesting journey. He has had his fair share of ups and downs but his success story goes beyond monetary terms.
“I have had an interesting career. People laugh when I say career because they feel I’m still young. Success is personal. It has nothing to do with what the other person has or has not achieved. I don’t believe there is a universal definition of success. Success to some people is not money, to some is leaving a legacy, writing a book, it could be anything, raising your children, being a good parent. It’s really about what you define as personal success. For me success would be doing something that can be remembered and impacting other people’s lives positively. I’m not motivated by money at all.”