BY VICTOR ADAR
In an industry filled with firsts, Solomon and Jeremy Obano have managed to come up with a top class service thanks to their passion for food. With their 75 year-old mum, the two brothers run Events at Savanna Garden and Savannah Garden Resort, a high-end event catering and accommodation business that was founded in 2015.
Solomon has worked with major international employers based in the city of London in their hospitality and staff restaurant including Visa, Ernest Young, Shangri la, Haymarket hotel, KPMG, and even BNP Paribas. Jeremy, on the other hand, is an IT Service Management (ITSM) consultant who has worked in top tier organisations, State Street Bank, QBE Insurance, and Cable & Wireless to mention a few. He brings his business acumen and considerable experience to this family run business.
Apart from the diverse professional backgrounds, more interesting is the fact that even though Jeremy is Kenyan born, his brother, Solomon was born in United Kingdom (UK) but they both went to a boarding school in Kenya, Kenton College, before moving to UK. The Events at Savanna Garden founders now see a niche for more international choice of cuisines but with a Kenyan twist.
“We have had several large functions,” says Solomon, a chef. “I haven’t seen anyone doing what we can do yet apart from some hotels. I have seen a few that have good food but maybe very bad desserts or vice versa, which is a good thing for us as a business. The clients that have experienced it (referring to their services) love it but I would say it’s a work in progress.”
The 42-year-old chef says that selling to the top class lot is about pressing the right buttons. It calls for not only attention to detail to grow rapidly but also one may have to re-write some rules in order to satisfy the changing consumer needs.
Although they found success in offering high-end services, having lived in Kenya as a young boy the event and party food scene is still the same so it is not easy to find clients who want to make the change. In addition, the cost of some ingredients in Kenya is a tad high, nearly three times as much as in UK or Europe, making smooth sailing difficult. However, he is very proud of what he terms “Pankenyan cuisine and refined traditional Kenyan food”, very unique cuisines they offer.
“We started with very little capital, about £10,000 (Sh1.2 million). As for numbers we can do very high numbers, coming from a background in UK where I would cook daily for 2500 plus people. Here, the last event we did was for 1800. So as long as we have space we can accommodate any number of people,” says Solomon.
For him, “home cooking and cheffing” are completely different things but if one can cook to a very high standard and cater for international palates and have the relevant experience, it pays off.
Word of mouth and social media is working magic for them – their pastries, desserts and hand crafted artisan chocolates have literally gone viral. He is behind a business located in suburb of Karen Nairobi, on 38 Muhutu road.
“This is our childhood home, HQ and also events space for functions and we also have rooms available, but we move around to different locations and plan to also have a centralized unit in town,” Solomon explains.
As more and more Kenyans travel, they are exposed to different foods and want those foods here in Kenya and as a chef; Solomon has seen that work in Europe. Kenya, so it seems, is like a blank canvas with new gastronomic possibilities, probably why Events at Savanna Garden is thriving. On getting enough qualified staff, the founders have a predilection to people who think like them.
A 2018 PwC survey on family businesses shows that just 17% of Kenyan family businesses are strong enough to stand the test of time. The report says that a majority of family owned businesses coil and collapse due to poor or lack of management skills. But sometimes, Solomon says, for one to sail smoothly as far as family owned business is concerned, finding a solution to manpower comes handy. The staff you hire matters a lot and ought to share the same values with the business owner if the many challenges are to be dealt with.
“It is not easy, get staff that are new to the industry as they would not have any old hang-ups or bad habits so they are easier to teach and mould into the type of worker that one needs,” says Solomon.