Henry Ogbonna, a product of the Nnamdi Azikwe University [UNIZIK] and by training a lawyer, is the owner of TATAFISH AFRICAN SEA FOOD RESTAURANT AND BAR. In this interview with Lucky Onoriode George, he bares his mind on the challenges he had to face before setting up his restaurant business, while being mindful of creating jobs for fish farmers, vegetable growers and other related supplies for his menu. Excerpts:
Why the name Tatafish?
The name TATAFISH was a combination of my concept then with fish being the king of sea food, and the name I call my fiancée then now my wife TATA because I am a typical local and traditional man.
For the fact that she was also the brain behind the recipes, I thought she deserves it. That was how Tatafish brand was born.
I started off with just N70.000.00 initial capital and before we realized it, people started coming and we suddenly became well known.
However, the enthusiasm and my efforts fell short, and we were forced to close shop due to economic reality at that time. During the close of shop though, I started sourcing for money, and when my father retired as an Assistant Commissioner of Police in 2007, he had to help me financially with some of his savings and gratuity as well as my mother and mother-in-law that came together to support me, and that was how I returned to business.
On December 21st, 2007, a new Tatafish reopened and it became a bang. Since then, we started introducing and expanding our menu-from pepper soup, to vegetable and several others.
As time went by, we incorporated the bar because of my Afrocentric thinking when I favoured open air restaurant and bar that is more suitable for our environment, unlike the west that indoor setting is more idea.
At What Time Did Tata Come Into Your Life?
Oh! We met during one of those my visits to see a friend in Asaba. Then, she was doing her service as a corps member at the government house in Asaba, and that was how faith brought us together.
When did expanding out of Owerri come to you?
It was a sad and an unfortunate event that led to that, but because the hand of the Lord was in the business and our movement out of Owerri was divine, I have no regret. In fact, people were collecting tickets to get their orders and we also pioneered viewing centre in Owerri which no doubt made us more popular.
Whilst the business grew and Tatafish became wll known, it also generated lots of envy or how else can one explain it, that mere allegation that my customers were obstructing traffic that caught up the convoy of the former state governor, Ikedi Ohakim and the following morning without any notice or warning, someone called me to tell me that my popular Tatafish thatched restaurant is being bulldozed.
Meanwhile, I had 25 year lease agreement with the former regime under Achike Udenwa and the place was still destroyed, so also was the 83 workers that lost their jobs.
With mixed feelings, I relocated from Owerri to Port Harcourt and in April 2011, Easter period; Tatafish was opened on Aba Road. Again in 2014, Tatafish opened another outlet in Calabar, Cross River State and come December this year, Tatafish franchise package will be ready.
We are also looking at the possible ways of enhancing our efficiency because our entire menu are A la Carte’ that their preparation can only be enhanced through technology, because most of the ingredients have to be pre-prepared and kept in refrigerator.
Also in the making is software to help us manage our accounting and human resource systems respectively because of the impending expansion.
How many branches do you have now?
At the moment, we have just Port Harcourt and Calabar. However, Port Harcourt is bigger because the demand for sea food and purchasing power in that city is also much higher as well as population wise.
Interestingly too, the bar in Calabar performs better than in Port Harcourt.
Where next are you targeting?
Certainly, it has to be Abuja or Lagos. However by April, I will decide where to go first because I have people doing research for me on both locations. Again, Abuja offers a great deal of interest because it’s closer to the ingredients like pepper, cabbage, onions and the rest.
However, Lagos is the market and I hope when we are opened, we should be able to have a package for N500.00 or a meal for N1, 000.00 because food is not supposed to be expensive.
Apart from initial financial challenges that you faced in the beginning, what else affected you?
Getting people with the right attitude was a difficult task. Another one is the issue of government policies.
How have you been coping with the many taxes?
My experience with the tax officials has not been very painful because we have been up-to date with our tax responsibility. To put it well, even the demon fears correctness and there was no room for extortion.
But as we are thinking of deploying more technology; such as cold room to store the ingredients, that would enable us to cut down waiting time while meals are being prepared, we are also anticipating more investment in that area.
Cross River is regarded as a tourism paradise of Nigeria, how has this impacted on your business?
Tatafish is in the heart of Calabar and I can tell you that we have the biggest crowed in the last two Carnival Calabar celebrations. We run almost 24 hrs daily because people stay here till 4 am and sometimes 5 am. They have been able to continuously do this because security here is fairly better than most parts that I have been in the country.
If you are to suggest anything to the government here, what would that be?
Let me say this, I have a package that is called Tatafish Self-Empowerment and Acquisition Programme Centre: It’s a Civic Skill Empowerment and Acquisition Programme [TATAFISH SEAP] which I will need a location from the government of Cross River State for its set up. When fully operational, people can come there and be trained on how to work in restaurant with the help of modern technology, as well as farming catfish, snails and their likes.
Tatafish will serves as sales outlet where produces from the farmers can be sold. The public can walk in and make direct purchases and through the above mentioned programme, several thousands of jobs can be created.
Presently, we motivate the fish farmers by asking them to call us whenever their fish is six months so that I can buy them up as well as ensuring that the right feeds are giving to the fish instead of steroid that would be dangerous for consumers’ health.
What is your message for the customers?
Just to let them know that they our customers come first before my profit, and they should continue to patronise us.