When the news broke that pretty looking star actress, Iyabo Ojo, had started an Amala food business in Lekki Phase 1, many immediately dismissed it a huge joke. This is because people found it difficult to picture the beautiful and ‘posh’ looking Iyabo Ojo running an Amala joint. And when it dawned on everyone that the story was true, many were left wondering why she’d ventured into that line of business, totally leaving her more familiar terrain of beauty and entertainment.
But, today, few months after she started, no one is asking questions anymore as the business is doing exceedingly well. The business has become very popular with lots of movie and other showbiz celebs trooping to the joint to have a feel of the Fespris Abula Spot experience.
The extremely busy Iyabo Ojo spoke with NAIJAKOKO not long ago. She opened up on how she conceived the idea to go into the food business and how she’s been able to transform the fortunes of the business after only a couple of months in operations. Enjoy the excerpts.
Let me begin by congratulating you on the success of your Amala business, even though belated…
Thank you so very much.
To start with, Iyabo, beyond making money, why did you venture into the Amala business? How did the whole idea of going into the food business come about?
Okay, from a very young age, I grew up with my granny, my mum’s dad, and she was an hotelier. She was also a caterer. She did a lot of food business. Living with her, I got to know a lot about food and I found it very interesting. I’ve always known I would go into food business but I wanted to do it at the right time when I knew I would have all the time the business requires because it’s a time consuming business. And you know, with the nature of my profession as an actress and a movie producer, having to give that time was a very difficult thing at the early stage of my career. So, I said to myself, a day would come when I would venture into this business and by then, I would have not just the time but also the capital to do it the way I want to, so that kind of motivated me back then. But you know, when I moved down to the Island, my interest for food business grew more because I found out that the Amala in the local way that we buy it on the Mainland is not that much on the Island. Most of the food on the Island are usually over packaged, you don’t have the local way of buying Amala and eating it hot from the pot and that sort of reignited my desire to go into the food business in that way. I thought to myself, Iyabo, you can do this Abula business, you know, like eating your local Amala in a posh environment and that really brought back the excitement for me and I decided I was ready to go into the business now.
Like how long did it take you to put everything together?
Initially, before I opened the Fespris World in Ikeja back then in 2013, I actually preferred to do restaurant first, but along the line I changed my mind and said, you know what, let me concentrate on the fashion, the beauty, the spa because that was the period I was also venturing into the movie industry as a producer and I knew that was going to be time consuming. I knew I would not have 100% time to concentrate on the restaurant business so I dropped it aside and said I would get back to it later. It was two years ago that I decided that if I’m going to move to the Island, I might just start the food business and incorporate everything together. So, give and take, I’ll say two years.
Give us a rough estimation of how much resources went into setting up the business, including the cost of renting the building where you operate from?
No, no, I’m afraid I can’t do that. I won’t be able to do that for security reasons. People have asked me same question but that answer I’ve refused to give for obvious reasons.
What about your other businesses? I remember you had a boutique in Ogba, you also had a shop in Ikeja…
(Cuts in) Yeah, I closed down one, leaving one to run, but hopefully I might be closing down the second one soon because the Island business is taking the whole of my time. You know, it’s a whole building, a very big building that has over ten different rooms or spaces, so I’m thinking of moving down everything into one place, so we’ve moved one and we might move the second one.
Going by the buzz the business created when you just started, with people knowing they could walk into a place with lots of aesthetics and yet get your Amala in the local flavor, how has the response been?
It’s been superb. It’s been fantastic because, you know, it’s not just about getting your Abula in the local form but at a very cheap rate too, that kind of pulled the crowd for me. We were selling at N100 per plate and people were like really, I could get Amala to eat for N100 in Lekki Phase 1 and I said yes. So, it was a nice one for me. Though it has increased to N200 now but it’s still very affordable compared to what you’ll get in other restaurants around here. It’s been a very huge turnout for me and I’m extremely grateful to God.
I know that being a star actress, a lot of people would come to your restaurant hoping to catch a glimpse of the very beautiful Iyabo Ojo and hopefully be personally attended to by her, would you say your celebrity status has helped the business and its success?
Yeah, I would say that has even given the business like the biggest push. I have a lot of customers who come all the way from abroad. I’ve got customers who come in from London, America, Canada, and every part of the world. My manager keeps calling me, saying, ‘Aunty, some of your fans are here, they came from America, they came from London, they want to see you, and I’m so overwhelmed by that. This has really helped my business to grow. I have these set of fans who came in from Ibadan the other day, they dove all the way down from Ibadan just to visit to the restaurant and it was really very exciting. That is why, if I’m not on location shooting, you’re always going to find me there most of the time.
Is it strictly an Amala joint or you have other dishes on the menu?
Yes, we have other meals, but the other dishes actually suffered for that. Initially, we started with Amala but now we do all dishes from fried rice to Wheat, to Eba, to Semo, Fried Rice and Chicken, we do all kinds of food. We have a Lounge upstairs and a whole lot of people come there. We have Chefs who can prepare for you whatever dish you want, it could be Afang, it could be Edikainkong, it could be anything, they will prepare it for you.
How much of support and patronage would you say you have gotten from your colleagues in the industry?
Yes, a lot of my colleagues came around during the opening and some of them have revisited after that, and those who didn’t make it to the opening have been visiting. Celebrities like Pasuma, Kcee, Dayo Amusa, Femi Adebayo, Mercy Aigbe, a lot of them have come in and many are still coming in to visit.
Tell me, would you describe yourself as a great cook?
(Laughs) Trust me, yes, I am. I told you I grew up with my granny and she’s a caterer, plus she runs a hotel. I started cooking ‘officially’ when I was fourteen, but I’ve been in the kitchen ever since I was like nine or ten, but I started cooking for the whole family when I was fourteen. I also used to go help out in the restaurant then, so I’ve always been a very good cook. I remember when I was young, when my friends were out partying, I was busy cooking. And being the first grand-daughter also, I was always in the kitchen cooking for the boys, so I had no choice but to be a good cook.
What’s the name of your food outfit and where is it located?
It is called Fespris Abula Spot. Fespris is a combination of my children’s names, Festus and Priscilla. It’s located on 15A, Omorinre Johnson street off Busola Durosimi Etti, Lekki phase 1.
I’m sure a lot of people, particularly young men who don’t know you well enough, have approached you thinking you’re probably age mates with them, how have you been able to stay young and pretty after all these years?
Number one, age is a thing of the mind. One thing I’ve learnt in life is that once you’re always happy within you and you have a good spirit and you don’t harbor any evil thoughts, it will radiate all over you. Maybe it’s because of the kind of family I come from, but I’ve always wanted to be youthful.
How old are you?
I just clocked 42 December 21 last year, but I don’t feel 42. I feel youthful. I feel young and I don’t want to be addressed as a madam. So, age, to me, is just a number and having to look good is part of the business we do. And I’ve also chosen to be happy. I want to have a free spirit, I want to enjoy life. Life is too short to want to waste it on negative things. I just want to make sure I spend most of my time being happy. I think that’s what has worked for me and I really like it that way.
Is Iyabo in any relationship at the moment?
Hmm..Yes, I have a man in my life, but that’s all I will divulge for now. I don’t want us to bring my private life into this, please.
This post appeared exclusively on NaijaKOKO.