- Jovita Nkechi Inyang’s inspiring journey from humble beginnings to founding the successful Jevinik restaurant chain.
- Starting with a mere N45 in capital, Jovita ventured into the food business during challenging times.
- Jevinik’s growth from a small bamboo restaurant in Calabar to a multi-branch, multi-million-naira enterprise serving diverse Nigerian cuisines.
There are lots of motivational quotes about making the best out of life situations. But oftentimes, it takes real-life stories of people who have made lemonade out of the lemons which life threw at them, to drive home the point.
Jovita Nkechi Inyang and the story of how she built Jevinik with a starting capital of N45, is one of such stories.
Growing up in a family of nine, Jovita had always enjoyed cooking and did a lot of it for family and relatives. Little did she know that she would ever start and run a multi-million-naira food business in the future.
A business idea out of the blues
The Imo state-born entrepreneur was married to Mr. Inyang and lived in Calabar at the time. Somehow, uncertain times befell the family when Mr. Inyang lost his job. Prior to this time, Jovita had been a full-time housewife.
- “One day, I was just gazing, just looking through the window, thinking of what to do to help the family. My first son was about to enter secondary school. And the thought flashed through my mind like a bolt from the blues. A voice within was telling me: ‘You know how to bake. Why don’t you do something about it?”
Just like that, the inspiration to start a business using her cooking/baking skills, fell upon her. One may say that it was a response to the family situation at the time or the AHA moment that led her to see how her skills could bring in some income to the family.
The bottom line is that Jovita wanted to make sure she helped in what way she could to keep the children in school and keep food on the table.
Once decided, the next issue was to raise capital. Her husband gave her some money for food shopping for the family one time, and getting to the market, she made the most necessary purchases and decided to use the balance – N45 – to start up the baking business. You may not think that N45 amounts to much, but at the time, a litre of fuel sold for about 42 – 45kobo, meaning that she had an amount that was equivalent to about 100 litres of fuel.
But Jovita would not be discouraged. She was lucky to get a trader who allowed her to take some additional items on credit and pay them off after her sales. Thus, her entrepreneurial journey started in 1988.
- “I started out with baking cakes, meat pie and other pastries because it was handy to move about and I sold it myself. Things were not going well back then and the children were growing. They needed to go to school and there were many things that needed to be done. So, somebody had to step up and do something about it. I can say that I actually started the business just to take care of our basic needs” she recounted in an interview.
From hawking cakes to starting a bamboo restaurant
In the beginning, she would bake the cakes and pastries, and hawk around the streets to sell them. She later sold some of it in St. Margaret’s Hospital, Calabar, through a friend of hers. She eventually got a space on the University of Calabar campus to sell food to the campus community.
- Recounting how it came, she said; “one of my kinsmen who was a student of the University of Calabar visited with his classmates. I was actually baking in the kitchen when I asked him to come and serve himself because I was too busy without any house help. He served his friends and after tasting the food, he felt I should come and open a place on the campus to serve the students.”
Even though she got a swampy area allotted to her, she would not be discouraged. Jovita constructed and set up the place using bamboo sticks, and called it Pyramid.
But as time would prove, people did not care much about eating in a bamboo restaurant, so long as they were eating good food.
Business was good at the Pyramid, and soon enough, it was time to take the food business into Calabar town.
Jevinik starts in Calabar and then moves to Port Harcourt
Mrs. Jovita got a place at 125 Goldie Street in Calabar, and this was where she started the brand – Jevinik restaurant.
As an Igbo woman from the southeast part of the country and married to an Efik man from the south-south region, Jovita offered the best of dishes from both parts of the country.
Good news may not travel far, but the news of good food does. Without having to do any kind of ., news of her culinary skills got to Port Harcourt and Jovita got orders to serve some companies in Port Harcourt.
The upside of this new development was more revenue for the business, but the downside was that it kept her on the road most of the time.
After some time, she finally took the decision to move the business to Port Harcourt fully. From that singular branch, Jevinik restaurant has now grown to have multiple branches around the country.
There are now branches in Lagos state, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Owerri, and Aba amongst others.
Special dishes from the Jevinik restaurant include Abak, Afang Edikang Ikong, Editang, Afia Efera, Fisherman soup, Uziza soup, Snail soup, White soup, Eforiro and Banga soups.
They also offer local delicacies like Ishiewu, Abacha, Nkwobi, Ugba, Ukwa, yam and pepper soup.
- “Running a restaurant is a difficult business. You wake up early, it consumes your time. At the initial time I was using firewood, so it was not really easy. It’s really very tasking. You wake early and you close late. And there is nothing like rest in the afternoon. It just runs on and on like that.” she said.
Somehow, Jevinik restaurant has succeeded in achieving the same taste in all its meals across the branches. The interesting part in all of this is that Mrs. Jovita says she has never hired a chef for any of her restaurants but has successfully duplicated herself in many places.
- “I personally train all my cooks. I do regular checks and follow-ups. I am like one woman in many places at the same time. In each branch that I visit, I start the day with the workers at about 4:00 a.m. We do all the preparations and cooking together.
- “I ensure that what comes out at the end is what will meet the standard expected by the public in this case my customers. There are periodic assessments of every cook and even the waiters. They are even rewarded. But we do not compromise with the quality of our food items, and we are very particular about hygiene.”
Jevinik Restaurant has also evolved with the times. The waiters use mobile devices to show the menu to customers and to quickly create and send orders to the kitchen.
This makes their services super-fast and very efficient. Now, there is also the Jevinik Event Centre and the Jevinik Chinese restaurant.
Growing a business from a mere N45 to hundreds of millions of naira and multiple branches is no mean feat. The Jevinik brand now employs over 400 staff, and Mrs Jovita says they are all like a family.
- “Some people are strong enough to borrow. I don’t have the strength. I want to go to bed after a hard day’s job and sleep without looking at the ceiling to count the boards. On several occasions, I have been approached by banks for facilities, but I have always rejected it”, she says.
Now almost 70 years old, Jovita Inyang is proud to have built such a business without having to seek out credit facilities from financial institutions.