Born to a wealthy property merchant, affluence and good life were enjoyed until Tayo Asamu lost her father. After losing both parents, she took the plunge and started making lemonade of life’s lemons. Armed with an Accounting degree from Obafemi Awolowo University and an excellent entrepreneurial drive, the taste of food from the kitchen struck a responsive chord in her, as opposed to the rigours of the ledgers and balance sheets. Today, Tayo caters to royalty and her life is a testament to hard work, resilience and self-belief. The CEO Mealsworth, Ashamu tells Adedayo Adejobi how losing hermom spurred her to taking on life head-on, the contract that launched her to reckoning, and the secret to getting her undivided attention as a single lady
How did an accountant and daughter of a land merchant become a caterer?
Passion! I have always had passion for cooking. I also think I inherited it from my late mum, Mrs. C. Bola Ashamu. Growing up, my mum loved cooking for large events, be it for family, church or community. My defining moment was at the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp. At the camp, we had an inter-platoon cooking competition and I wasn’t allowed to participate and our platoon lost. Our food was terrible, I felt bad because the platoon had all it needed to be the best. I decided to pursue the profession. I do not like food prepared badly.
Coming from such an affluent family, how did your folks react?
By the time I started, my parents had passed on. However, my siblings were initially against my decision, as they preferred me pursuing the Accounting profession since that was what I studied. My elder brother was the only one who supported me both morally and financially from the onset. The story has however changed now, as I enjoy their support now.
Do your recall your first job. Share the experience?
I had informed family and friends of my new business. My first client was my late Mum’s friend, Mrs. Bakare, who gave me a catering contract to make breakfast for the women’s group in her church. That contract launched me to limelight, as I received referrals and other contracts from the job.
What does a typical day involve?
No two days are the same. The day starts typically with working on orders previously taken and taking more orders.
Did your accounting experience help you in launching your own business?
Oh yes it has, although I’ve hired an accountant once the business grew beyond me.
What made you want to launch a confectionery brand?
What was your biggest challenge in launching your business?
Having to overcome logical reasoning was the biggest challenge I faced. I studied Accounting and so, leaving that to follow my passion marked a watershed. Following my heart instead of head was the biggest challenge. I am however grateful to God having brought me thus far.
What was your start-up capital?
I wish I could remember. Starting off the catering service wasn’t capital intensive initially. Although my late mum wasn’t a caterer, but she had loads of cooking utensils, I found them very useful and I still use them till date.
How much is the business worth now in terms of billing?
It’s difficult to say because a lot of things are involved.
Did you use an agency to help you develop the brand image and packaging design?
Yes, I used my cousin’s creative agency. He was quite instrumental to our-branding and he offered advisory services for next to nothing.
What top tips would you give to someone looking to launch their own business?
Be the best you can be.
Tell me about a time you dealt with an awkward customer?
It was an awkward moment. When I newly started, I gave my customers two options. First, to buy all the cooking ingredients while we cooked and the second option was to buy the cooking ingredients ourselves. So, on this particular job, it was the clients daughter’s wedding and she opted for the first option but it was difficult getting the needed materials we bargained for from her. We started late and agreed on using cooking gas. Unknown to us, many things were left unattended. She said to me at the last minute, I don’t have gas or kerosene. I laughed because I thought she was joking only for her to say the only thing she had were petrol and fire wood. Though late at night, I insisted and my staff looked for kerosene. That singular action taught me a lifelong business lesson on honouring agreements. I have however re-jigged my business model since then.
If you were unable to provide a full delivery to a big customer, how would you deal with the problem while ensuring you kept their business?
We have the capacity to cater to big clients, sizeable audience and large gatherings, and so that wouldn’t be a problem. We would deliver value hitch-free. Besides, our mantra is similar to one Nigeria’s banks’ mantra- One customer. There are no two customers who are the same.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Be focused, don’t lose sight of your vision, and be patient.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Analytical, marketing and interpersonal skills are key skills needed to succeed.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Poor output due to hiring un- skilled staff. I overcame that by employing those with the right skillset, training more and firing without sentiments!
What were your best/worst subjects in school?
Cost Accounting. The lecturers were good and it was also very practical.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Trying out new recipes and spending time with friends and family.
Who is your celebrity crush?
Are you single?
How would someone get your special attention?
A funny person has my attention 100%
What is your ideal man?
A man after God’s heart
What is your favourite movie?
How boy crazy are you?
Nothing too crazy. Home girl the whole time
What would you change your name to?
None other than the ones I have…
What pet would you love to have?
Who is your inspiration?
I’m inspired by my late mum Caroline Omobolanle Ashamu, God and Nature.
What is your favourite song?
Put my name on it by Tasha Cobbs
Where would you like to visit?
Seychelles, the Caribbean and Cayman Islands
What single event has had the biggest impact on who you are?
Losing my mum made me smell the coffee on time. Thankfully I had learnt a lot from her so it wasn’t difficult starting a business. My mum after buying all sorts of electronics for export into parts of Africa would still bring in fairly used toys. She cared less about her status, even though she had the wherewithal to buy same quantity of new ones, she was happy doing it provided she was making money.
On several occasions I felt embarrassed that my mum was selling fairly used toys. It doesn’t matter how many times a day my mum noticed the way I felt, she would sing it to my ears that there is dignity in labour. She had different ways of saying it. When my friends visited she would ask that they come and see the toys. Those moments created mixed grill of emotions. But I believed my mum did it just to pass across a useful message. I started my catering career by providing lunch to Zenith Bank and I was able to do a good job at that courtesy.