Halaga Restaurant is located on Mercy Road in the Panseke area of Abeokuta, Ogun State. It is one of the biggest restaurants and catering outfits in Abeokuta. For the past 6 years, it has been dominating the food business in town and her place is the most patronized restaurant in town. One thing that stands the restaurant out is the unique homemade taste of all her meals and they are also very affordable, she has been the official caterer of the likes of Alake of Egbaland Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, Balogun Egbaland, Seriki Egbaland and many top society people in Ogun State.
Next week Wednesday, the brain behind the outfit Mrs. Balikis Adewole will be hosting the movers and shakers in town at the opening of her new multimillion naira restaurant on Mercy road. Initially, when work started on the land many people were wondering if it was a bank that would be opening soon. The orange building stands out in the area which is one of the popular commercial areas in Abeokuta. All is set to open the first class restaurant which has regular and VIP sections. The Alake of Egbaland is said to be the official launcher of the project. In this interview with BUNMI MUSTAPHA, Halaga, as she is fondly called, opens up on her many challenges before breaking through and also how he started hawking fried meat and cook corn at age fifteen.
Can you tell us how you started catering business and what led you into it?
There is no way I will write the story of my life that I won’t mention some people who have contributed so much to my success story, the likes of the Balogun of Egbaland, Alhaji Sikirulai Atobatele, he did a lot for me, I didn’t go to any catering school, I did not even learn how to cook, but I just like cooking for a lot of people. When I finished my first primary education at Nawarudeen Primary School in Isabo area of Abeokuta, I proceeded to Rev, Kuti memorial school, while I was in secondary school, I started going to farms to buy corn to cook and sell after school, sometimes during the scarcity of vegetables. I do go to the farm to buy and sell too.
After my JSS 3 exams, I found that I love doing business, my dad will escort me to where I will get a cab to go to the market early in the morning to buy vegetables and pepper to sell. Our holiday then was more than three months, so when I get home I will tell my junior ones to hawk for me while I pay fifty naira, in the evening I will sell fried meat and when people were patronizing me very well I added fish pie, Koko chips, and the likes to my market. Even when I resumed back to school I still sell my stuff in the evening. Back then my mom was also selling fried fish, but the moment I bring my market out in the evening, people will start patronizing me, which my mom didn’t like and she will be accusing me of using her ingredients for my goods. There was one of my aunts then who saw my effort and took me to Afro Grams. When she told me about the job I thought it was a big job so I was all dressed up in a suit not knowing it’s a food maid job. When I found out about the job I did not leave, I took the job and sometimes my boss will consult me on how much cooking should be done for the day, I will leave home by 4 am because we sell food for pupils before and during break time.
At some point, my boss quit the job and I was home for a while before the school called me to come and continue the cooking. At some point when the issue of Christians taking over schools, and Afro Grams is a church-owned school, I thought of what to do to put food on my table, then one of my workers told me there are spaces I can put container to sell food in Panseke area, but one of my workers brother told me to get a shop instead, that was how I started. When the Olorogun of Egba wanted to host their monthly meeting and it was the turn of the people of Imo where my dad is from, my dad and another leader came to meet me to do the cooking which I did, that was the first time I was doing outdoor catering, I took mugs for guest instead of glass cups, I didn’t even go with cutleries and the plates I went with were all old school. They were all impressed with the food I served but Balogun called me and my dad and he said my food was nice but I can do better than that, I was even telling him am not a caterer, I don’t do outdoor and he said I will like it when I try it and that was how I started big, I remember one day we went to cater in Balogun’s house and he was correcting my waiters how to hold cups. The more they complain about our services, the more I try to correct myself and upgrade, I started changing my plates and cutleries, at some point when Balogun attend events he will send me pictures of plates used at the event and the table settings and that was how I got here today.
At what point did you decide to get a permanent site for your catering outfit?
My landlady where I am now is an elderly person, and since the business was growing and more profitable, I called Balogun that I have little money, then he told me to look for a land in Panseke area, initially I told him I can’t buy a land there because it’s too expensive, and his words were even if I buy a land of three hundred thousand and ten million, it’s the same amount you will use in building it. He advised me to start contribution and also help in consulting people, at some point the landowners wanted to return my money coz they saw another buyer who was offering more money, Alake of Egbaland and Balogun were the ones who stood by me.
What stands you out among other food vendors in Abeokuta?
I give all glory to God for the patronage I have been getting. One thing is if one chooses any profession, he or she must be sure it is a profession they love so much before going deep into it. This catering job is what I love doing, then all the ingredients that our mothers used in the olden days like locus beans, dry fish and the rest I still use them in my cooking, then I monitor it too. If I buy all these things for use and I don’t monitor it my workers might not use it the way I will use it, I guess this is why I am having high patronage.
Why don’t you cook Chinese food like every other caterer?
You know it is what you are capable of that you will be proud to do. No knowledge is wasted, I can learn how to cook it, but its different from what I know how to do best, let’s assume am cooking jollof rice and it’s about to be soaked, I know how to go about it and it will come back to normal, but if it’s something I just learnt I might not know my way around it, we caterers have to be dynamic but I feel comfortable with my local dishes.
Were you able to go back to school to furthermore after your secondary education?
When our result came out after my JSS 3 exams, my result was good and I proceeded to commercial class, when I finished I didn’t make my English papers and my dad was a driver then. He had a relationship with many educated people in Ogun State, then he was driving a Justice and he sees how his bosses take care of their children when it comes to education, but he was not financially okay to send all of his children to school. But when I finished my secondary school, I gathered money from my business to go to rewrite my exams, I really struggle a lot, with all my effort and struggle I was one of those who had the best result in that school. So my dad and his boss then, Akintola Bello resolved that I should go to the military school because they know am a strong person, but I told them I want to continue my business, but they insisted I should go to the higher institution even if I want to go into business later. So I went to Moshood Abiola Polytechnic Abeokuta where I studied Business Administration.
Do you have any of your children who are interested in this catering profession?
Yes, one of my children does as a matter of fact, not even the female, he is a male and he loves cooking so much that he wants a career in catering.
People believe anyone that is into cooking business usually looks older than their age because of the stress in cooking, but in your case you look beautiful and younger with a glowing skin, what is the secret behind this?
There is no secret there, but first I will say God, then secondly anything you wish to do in life, you need to have a proper planning, and also package yourself well. Work is different, marriage is different, looking good is also a different thing. If you are working and getting profit and you don’t look good, that money is of no use. Then one needs to employ enough and capable hands, if not one will get old.
Can you tell us about your husband and how supportive he is with your business?
I met my husband, Abdulkabir Adewole after my secondary school, I went to do a sales girl somewhere in Isale Igbeyin area, he was working in a filling station in that area too. The owner of the place was Justice Yeside, and she really trusted me. When my dad heard about the relationship between me and my husband then, he didn’t want me to marry him because he is not from Egba, and my other siblings were all married to people from Egba , I told him a man from Ibadan is okay and my boss gave me support which made my dad gave his consent. He loves me so dearly and he has been very supportive of everything I do, and we trust each other, we both don’t listen to rumors.