With 10 restaurants in London, two in Dubai, plans underway for Atlanta, the United States and others, Enish is now the largest Nigerian restaurant chain in the world.
Olushol Medupina dynamic and enterprising young Nigerian, and founder of the restaurant Enish, was in the country recently, he talks to Obinna Emelike on the restaurant’s overseas exploits, image impact, menu, Nigeria expansion plans and $3 million Dubai outlet.
Congratulations on the rapid expansion of the Enish brand across the globe. But how did it start?
My name is Shola Medupin. I come from the Yoruba part of Kogi State.
We started Enish in London in October 2013. The name Enish is derived from the initials of my wife’s name and mine as well. My wife’s name is Eniola, while I am Shola.
So, we coined Enish from the first three letters of his name and the first two letters of my name. But the reason for Enish is that we have seen a lot of Nigerian restaurants abroad and they look dirty and my question is always, must it be a dirty place because we go to other Central London restaurants and other places and they look decent.
Even when I have to go out with my friends, I find it difficult to go to a Nigerian restaurant in London due to the lack of decent Nigerian restaurants.
That’s how the idea for Enish came about, we wanted to do something different and we opened a restaurant.
The first two years were a little difficult, but after this start-up period, everything accelerated.
How many restaurants do you currently have?
We now have 10 restaurants in London and 2 in Dubai.
The first was at Lewisham in London. We opened the second in Finchley Road, from there to Cradling, Ilford, Bristling, Old Kent Road, Camberwell, Camberwell Green and have just acquired one in the West End of London. It’s the biggest place in London now, and a prime location.
We also opened one in Dubai, on Sheik Zayed Road. This is our first restaurant outside of London and it is doing well.
They also offered me another place at The Palms which has the biggest water fountain in Dubai. In December they had the biggest fireworks display in Dubai and we have been working on it as it is a 3 million dollar project and we hope to be finished in two weeks and we are looking to open towards the end of June.
We are working on another project in Atlanta, USA, and after the US release, we will consider Nigeria.
What is the composition of your guests in the restaurants of London and Dubai?
It’s amazing the patronage of Londoners. The clientele of the Finchley Road restaurant in London is 60% white and 40% Nigerian. I’m the best Nigerian restaurant in London, so all the media in the UK who wants to associate with Nigeria, they come to Enish. We have done projects with the BBC, Google, Sky and we have hosted artists such as Davido, Anthony Joshua, whom we have hosted in Dubai, among others.
A restaurant project for all Africans abroad?
We opened another restaurant in January, which we called Enish Africa; it has over five different African countries to serve – Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria.
It is a buffet service; you come, buy and pay. It’s for all of Africa and it’s been working very well since the opening. I am even thinking of renaming and renaming Enish Africa.
But I am pro-Nigeria. When we arrived in Dubai, I wanted to focus on Nigeria because Nigeria is doing well. But Dubai is a showbiz destination; they bring in a lot of artists. If there is a Nigerian artist somewhere, other Nigerian restaurants will not be busy. So when they were planning another visit from a Nigerian artist, I called a Kenyan promoter to bring his artists for us to do something.
So when they were hosting Davido and I had a Kenyan artist, the restaurant was packed, that’s when I realized it had to be more than Nigeria, it had to be Africa.
The fact is that Kenya has more population in Dubai than Nigeria or even Uganda. So it’s more cost effective to host a pan-African artist and offering and not just focus on Nigeria in Dubai.
So we are marketing the new restaurant as a destination. It will be an African hub, we will have pop-ups during the week and spice things up with African varieties.
Apart from Nigerians and probably other Africans, how appealing is your menu to foreigners?
My concept is local cuisine in a five star environment. Our food has so many flavors that even white people enjoy it. Unfortunately, it is Nigeria that really does not appreciate its food.
It’s local, but well presented. When they come in, they appreciate the sophisticated environment and it makes them more likely to hang out with us. We are doing everything well, it’s just the environment and the presentation that we lacked.
I can present the pounded yam and the ‘egusi’ soup, which you know, in a way that you will no longer recognize from the well-known menu. It’s still a local taste. Foreigners like sophisticated restaurants, but want the menu to be as local or authentic as in the country of origin.
If you eat at a Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world, it’s still the same menu and taste they offer in their home country of China.
I think Nigerians and Africans in general should start enjoying our local food. Amazingly the local food I serve has taken me to places and many people appreciate the effort, creativity, presentation and everything that goes into the menu.
For example, there hasn’t been a Nigerian restaurant in central London, and we’re going to be the first and it’s still going to be the same local menu. When you come here you will smell and eat the local menu.
What is the most sold Nigerian menu for foreigners in your restaurants?
Jollof rice, egusi soup and efo riro eaten with pounded yam in Dubai. Also in Dubai we have what we call gold plated pounded yam. It is pounded yam wrapped in 24 karat aluminum foil. It’s all about presentation because Dubai is showbiz, when you serve guests are thrilled to see and taste it.
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What about the complaints that Nigerian food is always spicy?
We have a standard; we make it mild, and if you want it spicier, we’ll offer it too. But white people keep asking us why our food is not spicy because they thought Nigerian food was very spicy. But an average Nigerian abroad does not like pepper much like people back home.
How do you maintain the same standard across all your outlets in London and Dubai?
I have my own strategy. I have Enish Restaurant and Bar, Enish Restaurant and Lounge Enish Bukka and Enish Africa. The thing is, you can go to any Enish, but you’ll feel like you’re in a different restaurant. For example, in some restaurants we use clay plates for serving.
How do you ensure the menu is truly local?
We get most of our food from Nigeria and our cooks are Nigerian. If I go to Ghana or South Africa, it has to be local Ghanaian and South African cooks because I don’t like chefs, I prefer local cooks; they know the food and the cooking strategy.
Can you explain your passion for food?
The kitchen is the best part of the house for me. Before choosing a house, I must first consider the kitchen. Even before the restaurant, I cooked for friends. I have a passion for cooking.
My grandparents had a restaurant and my mother took over. So we grew up with restaurants. Again, I started cooking rice when I was seven years old.
I know a lot about food and that’s what I’ve done all my life since my mother, my grandmother. They are food experts.
What about your outlets in Dubai, especially the new one?
It is the second in Dubai and the 12th of all restaurants.
Right now we are on $3 million for the second restaurant in Dubai. The first was cheaper, around $1 million to establish.
Plans for a Nigerian restaurant soon?
Well, we have restaurants in London and Dubai. We are going to Atlanta and then we will come to Nigeria because the Nigerian restaurant will be the biggest of all. It will be in Lagos.
Do you think your achievement abroad changes the narrative for Nigeria?
In London we have almost 200 Nigerians working in our restaurants and they are happy where they work. But before that, they won’t go near a Nigerian restaurant to work, all because of the sophistication and work environment.
Today, many people and organizations want to partner with us. From the BBC, Google, who did free ads for us on five TV channels, people want to connect with Enish. But initially in Dubai they didn’t want to give us room for a restaurant in a hotel because it’s a five star hotel. They said they didn’t want a Nigerian outfit and it didn’t look good on me. If it was in the UK I would have taken it. But I argued that Nigerians are not a nuisance and we are from the UK and run the biggest Nigerian restaurant chain in London. It was a white lady, the manager of the company, who is from the UK, who recognized Enish and our quality and allowed us. Even when we arrived, some were laughing at us and asking where we got the money to maintain the place because it’s quite expensive; around $30,000 monthly rent. Even one of the kings came and asked how we are going to maintain the place because people underestimate Nigeria.
Some gave us three months to pack our bags, but after a year we are the best restaurant in the hotel and we have the best sales. Another outfit invited me to stand in their place too. In the UK, the US and elsewhere, people want to work with Enish. So things are changing and Nigeria is recovering. We have really worked hard to change the narratives and this is having a positive impact on the Nigeria brand.
With your visit to Nigeria, is Enish looking to partner with some Nigerian brands for further expansion?
I’m in the country to see for myself what works and what concept we can bring to our Nigerian outlet when we start here. I visited 12 restaurants and six more must-see clubs before leaving the country.
Here in Nigeria, we had meetings with Nike Art Gallery, Wakanow, among others. There will be collaborations because my vision is to make Enish an African hub, where when you think of Africa, you think of Enish.