Honing my culinary skills enriches my financial independence

Benter Achieng' has been running Archie’s Foods in Kisumu town and she has expanded her enterprise to supply food in schools. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • Benter Achieng' was always left home with her siblings where she had to cook for them and that is how she discovered her passion for cooking.
  • Today, the 28-year-old is one of the most sought after caterers in Kisumu town.
  • Despite disruption by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Achieng' is confident that her business will thrive again.

What started as a heavy responsibility bestowed upon a Standard Four girl as her mother set out to fend for the family may have seemed burdensome but in the long run, the role enabled her pursue her business dream.
Benter Achieng' Medah, the first born in a family of four girls, had to play the role of a mother and take care of her siblings, as her mother was a teacher in a different town and was only available at home on weekends.
From her experience, 28-year-old Achieng' is one of the most sought after caterers in Kisumu town today.
“When I was in Class Four, my mother often left me with my younger siblings at home, reason being she used to teach far away and only came home over the weekends. So being a first born, I had to take up the responsibility of making sure they were well taken care of and ate home-made meals,” says Ms Achieng'.
Over the years, she became passionate about it and her father immediately became her number one fan.
She recalls how his father, who later passed on, always loved her food, especially the catfish popularly known in Luo as Kamongo which to her, was the old man’s favourite meal.

Household name

“I started developing more interest in doing better with my culinary skills and I made YouTube my friend. During my free time, I would search for recipes and put my own little twist to them,” she narrates.
She went commercial in 2018 and was cooking from home managing to save up some money to expand her business.
In January 2019 she established a place in town until it was demolished shortly after to pave way for the rehabilitation of Kisumu Port.
Since then, she has been doing all kinds of catering businesses including birthday parties, weddings, dowry ceremonies and any invite to prepare food at a fee in houses.
The mother of two boys has become a household name in Kisumu and Western Region at large with her brand ‘Archie’s Foods’.
Her mouth-watering dishes, and jaw dropping display of her set up and food on social media, would make one drop what they are doing and make an order. She mainly markets her food on her social media platforms.
Her innovative way of distributing food in schools also lifted her profile before it was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ‘school feeding programme concept has an interesting story and which is the more reason she has to fight the hurdles and make it work.

School lunch programme

According to Ms Achieng', the idea sprung up at a gathering with parents when majority of them complained about how their children did not like the food at their various schools.
To many who were paying the administration to ensure their children get some lunch, they complained about not getting value for their money if the feedback from their children was anything to go by. 
"And that is when it hit me "what if I start a school lunch programme at a pocket friendly price, and a menu that all the children will love"? And that is how Archie's school lunch programme came about," says Ms Achieng'.
The package was Sh2, 500 per month for every child which loosely translates to at least Sh111 every day for lunch. 
According to Ms Achieng', the reason parents found the Sh2,500 pocket friendly was because normally in most schools they pay Sh3, 800 for lunch every month yet her rate is exclusive of delivery charges. 
"What I did was to play around with the menu and do the normal food most children ate in school but with a little twist. This worked magic and in fact, most clients approached me after their children told them that their classmates were being served some super lunch," she adds.  
For a good business, challenges are never far.
In February last year, Ms Achieng' had lined up a series of events where she was to be the main caterer, planned jobs whose worth almost hit Sh1. 5 million, for a start-up business, that was definitely a big deal.
Apart from other events and corporate events, she had penned some lucrative deals with schools and individual parents from within Kisumu to supply food. 

Covid-19 setback

However, all these would be affected with parents, individuals and other business enterprises cancelling their orders because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that changed how things work globally. 
This would deal a major blow to the young lady who was already becoming a household name on matters catering in Kisumu and the neighbouring counties.
"Covid-19 did spoil a lot for me. I had about six dowry payments lined up from April to August, two weddings, and at least few people had made inquiries about their birthdays.  Covid-19 just took me many steps back and the ride has been rough for me," says Ms Achieng'. 
By the time schools were closing, she had 134 children from four different schools in her programme and when calculated, translates to Sh335, 000 a month.    
However, despite the Covid-19 setback, she never gave up on cooking, she continued cooking from her house and supplying to those who ordered. She complemented her efforts by taking up the few outdoor events that came up once in a while to keep her business moving.
She adds that even the normal deliveries that she used to distribute to those ordering from offices and other areas went down because most people have been either lost their jobs, were on leave or were working from home.
She relishes the time she could clear all the food she had prepared for the day by distributing to people in various offices in town, before Covid-19 happened.

Overcoming challenges

There are still some challenges though apart from the partial re-opening of the economy.
She points out that while she is getting events such as birthdays, and house parties, being that the number of attendees is restricted, she has had to review the package she charges. 
She points out that she has not experienced any challenge while doing house calls adding that most of her clients are very professional and they give her an easy time. Most of the time she cooks from her house and does deliveries.  
Asked about what keeps her going, she is quick to point out that her consistency and resilience remain her major strengths, as well as her two boys who need her.




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