When Ebere’s husband was posted to the Netherlands, she left her two restaurants and 56 employees and cancelled her plans to open a bakery. With her five children, ageing between 5 and 14, she left her hometown of Port Harcourt with plans to take a break from work. But soon her entrepreneurial spirit made being a stay-at-home mum impossible. Two years later Ebere gives cooking lessons, has opened a shop and has launched her own brand of West African spices – Ataro Food and Spices.
In the quiet basement of her shop, away from the employees and visitors, Ebere tells her story.
So how did it all start?
I studied Food Science and Technology in Nigeria and did my industrial training at Mr Bigg’s, a large fast food chain. After my studies I worked for Schlumberger for two years but left to start a ladies boutique. I used to travel to the US, Paris and the UK to buy clothes for my shop. That was when I had my first child so I was trying to balance being a mum and also doing something I love. Then I expanded to a bigger space.
But I remembered that I had wanted to have a fast food place when I worked at Mr Bigg’s so I invested in books about how to manage a fast food restaurant. After eight years of running a boutique, I also opened a restaurant, Just Relish in Port Harcourt. Six months later – it’s really incredible – the whole building where my shop was burned down. I lost everything. I had not renewed my insurance (It wasn’t so popular in Nigeria then). That taught me a lesson!
But the restaurant did really well. After three years I expanded to a bigger branch and a year later I ordered equipment to start a commercial bakery. At this point I had 56 employees. And then we left for the Netherlands.
Did you see it as the end of your past life or a new beginning?
This was the first time I’d lived abroad and the first time I’d travelled with my children. Before I arrived in 2013 people made me afraid. They said, oh you know you can’t hire a nanny, it’s too expensive so you have to do it all yourself… So I said ok, no problem. Maybe it’s time to rest because I’ve been working all my life.
Nigeria is a very lively community and of course I had a lot of friends and a big network. But here, I didn’t know anyone. Everything was different starting with the language barrier and the people.
Initially I didn’t like it. I wondered, “what am I doing here?”