Gambian food vendor expands roadside stall into full-service restaurant

20 March 2024
ITC News

Fatou Bah started her business selling sausage rolls, meat pies, slices of cake and shawarma. She had one small table to offer customers along a busy road in Jarra Soma, where two of the country’s main highways meet.

She didn’t go into it blind. Fatou started her business journey with a bursary from the International Trade Centre (ITC) to study a nine-month catering course at Gaye Njorro Skills Academy.

With her diploma, she returned to ITC in 2022 and applied for a grant to buy start-up kits. Fatou described that funding as ‘the beginning of the expansion of my business.’

‘That support was crucial in helping me start and grow my restaurant business. It also gave me the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge and skills I learned while studying at Gaye Njorro,’ she said.

Fatou worked hard and started earning more money. In addition, she started creating jobs for other young people and women. With an ambition to grow more, take more orders and create more jobs, she applied for a grant.

Convinced by Fatou’s clear plan and ambition for growth, the ITC, through its European Union-funded Jobs, Skills and Finance Programme, in 2023, awarded her with a grant to grow her business. She said this support, jointly awarded with the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), was like a ‘tool for my success.’

‘I received restaurant chairs and tables, a big refrigerator, a cooking stove, bowls, a microwave and an electric grilling machine. These materials now make my work fast and easy,’ she said.

Before receiving the grant, Fatou Bah faced several challenges keeping her food fresh because she did not have a big freezer or a microwave. Few chairs and tables meant the restaurant could welcome only a few people at a time. The old grilling machine she used emitted a lot of smoke and was slow, causing problems for her business and a risk to her health, too.

Now, she can prepare food in less than 30 minutes, take more orders and make more sales every day.

‘Now I receive requests for orders from customers across The Gambia. I take orders and deliver to workshops, schools and local events, companies, and conferences,’ she said.

With a bright smile, she said that she’d just completed an order in the town of Basse, halfway across the country. As her income grew, Fatou hired more staff. She now has three people in addition to her siblings working with her in the restaurant.

Fatou Bah has big plans for the future. She wants to expand and open more branches outside of Jarra Soma. She also plans to change the current look of her shop. Fatou’s dreams are big, but she is excited about what is to come for her in the future.