Isatou Jobe’s secret ingredient for success
A restauranteur’s success shows young people can ‘tekki fii’ – or ‘make it here’ – in the Gambia
Tap-tap-tap went the knife on the chopping board and two more finely diced onions were ready to be thrown into the crackling oil in the pan. Onions are essential for bringing out the flavour of jollof rice, a popular menu item at this restaurant in Farafenni, outside the Gambian capital Banjul.
The interior appears rather unassuming. Simple tables and chairs neatly laid out around a hall tell the story of an owner who ventured into the restaurant business with limited means. Next to the cash counter is the door to the kitchen, where two women can be heard talking in the Wolof language. It is Isatou Jobe giving instructions to a team member selecting tomatoes to be added to the popular West African dish.
Like most restaurants, Firadaws also thrives on the passion of Jobe, its 21-year-old owner. All she ever wanted was to be her own boss. As a young Gambian woman, the journey to turning her dream into reality has not been an easy one.
‘I have done everything,’ she said, sitting at a table in her 18-month-old establishment. ‘Being on a salary was fine but not special. Inside, I always knew that I would be more secure if I were running a profitable business.’
Why a restaurant? We were curious, given that running a restaurant is never considered an easy project. Solid cash reserves along with a constant supply of passion are the most basic of the requirements.
‘Helping my mother out was a great learning experience,’ Jobe said with a confident smile. ‘I would go to market fairs and sell different items ranging from soaps to watermelon. I not only learned about customers and but also identified my true calling in the process. The day I started working at a restaurant, I was very clear that I will be running my own very soon!’
Jobe wants to achieve more than just earning a profit from her business. She feels strongly about empowering women, a proof of which are her two employees, a man and a young woman like herself.
‘I hope that through my restaurant I would be able to bring about some change in the way other young Gambians looked at the entire experience of eating out,’ she said. ‘It is important to make connections and discover new ideas. Food is a great way of bringing people together. I wanted to give other young men and women like me a message.’
However, she did need support, a helping hand that would lead the way and assure her that she was on the right path. While she had saved diligently to realize her dream, more assistance was necessary.
‘I had some savings from the salary I had earned doing different jobs,’ Jobe said. ‘Those were not enough. I still needed more finances for buying furniture, refrigerator and gas cooker and other appliances to start cooking for our customers. So when I received the mini-grant of around 800 euros ($880), that’s when I was really able to start.’
Jobe is one of many youths benefitting from Youth Empowerment Project of the International Trade Centre (ITC) directly in areas such as skills training, entrepreneurship, business development and access to funding.
‘I was also able to expand our menu. We now serve damoda (peanut stew) and yassa (spicy meat) as well. The trainings that I received have also been instrumental in boosting my confidence,’ she said.
We asked her about the message provided to Gambian youth in her running a successful business. Her response was immediate and direct.
‘I want the youth to believe in themselves,’ Jobe said with a contented smile. ‘Dream big and go after them. You might feel you don’t have enough but if you have just one thing with you, you are rich. All you need is faith in yourself and confidence in your abilities. Success is guaranteed, right here in our own country, the Gambia.’
Funded by the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund, the project reduces migration pressures in the Gambia by focusing on vocational training and support for micro and small-sized enterprises and creating new jobs in selected sectors through value addition and internationalization.