CHAIRMAN, Chief Executive Officer, Kolaq Nigeria Limited, Alhaji Lateef Olayemi, otherwise known as Kolaq, has veered into hospitality business. The famous herbal practitioner just completed a multi-million naira continental eatery called Amala.com in Isashi, Ogun State. Although, it is yet to be commissioned, it has opened for business since June this year.
ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with the successful businessman on Wednesday, September 18, 2013, when we visited him at the new business complex, where he spoke on this and much more…
What is the latest development as regards your business?
As you all know, we have been in the business for long. Kolaq Nigeria Limited was established about three decades ago. We thank God, we are everywhere today. We now realize that we need to put in more effort concerning health issues as they affect our society. There is a lot of problems now caused by our standard of living, our lifestyle, habit of eating and so on. That’s why Kolaq Nigeria Limited took it upon itself to find out what’s actually causing a lot of problems in the society, especially Nigeria where many people take delight in eating junk foods that are in turn causing a lot of damages to their systems. That was why we established African kitchen called Amala.com. It’s an upscale canteen in the category of other eateries like Tantalizers, Tastee Fried Chicken, Mr. Biggs and others. But at Amala.com, we sell only African continental dishes. We are planning to establish in different parts of the country but we just started in the South West here, that’s why it’s named Amala.com. You can come in and eat our local food, including amala with ewedu and assorted meats including fresh fish, panla (stock fish) and all that. If we establish in the north, we will deal basically in their traditional foods including Tuwo. The east, we will do the same thing that suits the environment. Even, as we’re here now, you can still come and eat Isi ewu, ogbono, Santana, Edikaikong, Oha, white soup and others. What I am saying in essence is that, the fact that we call it Amala.com does not mean we don’t sell other types of food from different cultural backgrounds. We realized that what we eat nowadays is not food anymore, we only eat repackaged food then top it with repackaged drinks. We need to go back to our roots.
Why do you think that’s the best for this generation?
Yes, it’s the best thing for us and even generation yet unborn because our forefathers lived long before they died. Some of them lived even longer than 100 years without sickness.
That means consumption of natural food is a secret of longevity?
Yes, of course. That was what actually supported our forefathers’ life span. But now, things are no longer the same. For instance, in most of the celebrated canteens today, you only eat chickens that have been packed for like four or five months. You can’t compare that to eating live chicken that we’re going to give you at Amala.com here. We have fresh fish and vegetable, okro, gbegiri and other items that are beneficial to our systems.
What other service or services do you render at Amala.com or it’s just fun food only?
No, this place is divided into two sections. We have the food and bar units. The bar is up while the canteen is downstairs.
How much did this place cost, including the structure and other facilities?
That will be close to N40 million.
How do you source foodstuff?
I am a traditional man. It’s just the same way we source materials for herbal products. You can’t get your herbs in the town, you have to go to the bush if you want anything natural and fresh. So, the same goes for the continental foods we deal in. We go as far as some villages in the South West, Kwara and others to get our foodstuff. We can’t get anything fresh in Lagos here.
But it wouldn’t be easy because of distance, how do you cope?
The whole world is now turned to a global village due to technology. There is effective communication with the advert of all these mobile phones, Blackberry and all other fast communication means available, things have been made easy. If you want 20 bags of yam flour for instance, all you need is just call them on phone, make your order. They will send everything you want to you and at a specified time and destination.
Ordinarily, people will think herbal practice is not paying off again, that’s why you ventured into hospitality business…
(Cuts in) No, not at all. Herbal work is everything to me. Starting this new business doesn’t mean I have quit herbal business. My clients come every day. I still have my offices across the country. I have many workers in that profession that I am still paying their salaries. If the job is not lucrative, can I afford to continue paying salaries? So, that won’t be right if anybody thinks or says herbal medicine is not paying off again, and that’s the reason I delved into eatery business. Nothing can shake Kolaq Nigeria Limited. It has come to stay. I have been in the business for not less than 30 years. It’s even this herbal work that’s servicing this new business. I just discovered that we need to go back to our roots, that’s what informed the establishment of Amala.com.
How would you assess the patronage since you started test-running this place?
I was so amazed with the patronage. It’s on the high side on a daily basis, there is nothing like our own kind.
When exactly did it start operation?
That was June 1, 2013.
But it has not been officially commissioned, when will that be?
That’s going to be very soon. But as the situation is now, we’re only trying to create awareness in the environment so that people can know that something new and fantastic has landed. And with the situation of things right now, we’re not disappointed. You can’t believe the kind of people coming in to eat every day, including Sundays. Our food is just like your mother’s spoon. This place is like home away from home. The atmosphere is very relaxed and conducive.
Apart from the business aspect of it, what other things do you intend to achieve with Amala.com?
The main objective is sound health because most of the health challenges we have today are usually caused by what we eat.
But when people discover that visiting Amala.com is like an alternative therapy, would they still be interested in buying Kolaq herbal medicines?
What we value in Kolaq is not money per se, but sound health. So, whether they patronize Kolaq or not, what we want for everybody is sound health. But the truth is that there is no way people won’t fall sick but if we change our lifestyle, the kind of food we eat, the rate at which people take ill decline drastically. The way our people eat at times is not ideal. A lot of people enjoy eating recklessly. Some will eat chicken in the morning, eat it in the afternoon and even in the evening. Things like this can cause a lot of fat in the system. A lot of people also drink anyhow, they can even go as high as 20 bottles of beer at a time. That’s very bad for human system.
Okay, what is the simple rule of healthy living?
Just avoid anything in excess and everything that can cause problem in our body system.
What is your advice to those who claim they are not breakfast persons?
Whether or not you’re a breakfast person, the simple rule is that you need to take something in the morning, no matter how small it is. Its’ not compulsory you eat heavy in the morning.
How would you describe the experience since you started herbal practice 30 years ago?
It has been lovely but at the same time, not as easy as people think. The country makes things difficult but we thank God we’re still surviving. A lot of companies couldn’t survive five years, Kolaq as a company was established in 1990 but as a herbal practitioner, it all started about 30 years ago. And we’re still on ground till date. It’s not by our power but the grace and favour of God.
What were the challenges you faced coming this far?
I don’t believe in challenges but hard work and being focused. If you come across any challenge, you will quickly overcome if you don’t look at it as a challenge. The journey of 30 years can’t be that easy. How many things can I remember again other than thanking Almighty Allah for His mercies.
Can we say you’re fulfilled?
Who said so? I am not but we thank God for everything.
What level do you still intend taking herbal practice to in 10 years?
Higher level. If the government can support us, we’re going to surprise the country. Government should just try and support us no matter how small. Government should not pay attention only on oil, they should tap other resources we have. In China, India and other places, their governments support herbal practice, they compete with orthodox medicine. But here, they look down on us. The government should just encourage us the way they are encouraging orthodox medical practitioners. All we’re all after is sound health.