When Eberes 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 Biggs, 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 Biggs 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 its really incredible the whole building where my shop was burned down. I lost everything. I had not renewed my insurance (It wasnt 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 cant hire a nanny, it’s too expensive so you have to do it all yourselfSo I said ok, no problem. Maybe it’s time to rest because Ive 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 didnt 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?”

When the kids are off to school, I’m not doing anything at home for six hours. I learned Dutch, but the more I tried, the more frustrated I got. I was trying to learn the culture but I was becoming depressed. Should I go home and leave my husband here? But then the kids loved it.

So at one point I had to speak to myself: you better start liking this place because you are going to be here for four years. My husband and I discussed it and he said he would support me if I want to start anything. But you cant just start something in a new country where you dont know the regulations or how things work. So for six months I joined different networking groups. Most of the time I was the only dark-skinned person. But it didnt stop me. And within a short period I had lots of friends, also Dutch people, not just the expats. And I thought, if I want to do business in this country I should learn the language. It is so hard that I didnt learn much but I can read letters in Dutch.

Then I went to Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship for six weeks. It took a long time but finally, instead of opening a restaurant, I thought I wanted to set up a company that would sell my mixed West African spice packages to the world. My food is quite unique even in my restaurants because I mix my all my spices myself. So I have this consistent taste.

But is there a market for Itaro Spices?

To sell spices I needed to teach people about the food. When I talked to people here I could see the reaction, the body language, the negative perception about Africa in general. And that was where I thought OK, maybe I should teach people how to make Nigerian food. If they see, then they can decide for themselves if they like.

First I started with kids. My kids are at the British School. I gave a cooking class and they told their parents. Next time I did it at the school I had 18 adults turn up: they were so happy; they loved it. I try to combine the culture of Nigeria, the lively atmosphere, cooking and having fun. And so it gives me an opportunity to teach people about our culture. I realised that the only thing people know is about corruption, Boko Haramall of that.

And now I have the shop on this busy street in The Hague, Ataro Food and Spices. I want people to experience the good things we have in Africa, the food and crafts like calabashes and baskets. On weekends I do cooking demonstrations so people can see what they can do at home with the spices.

The raw materials come from Nigeria and Ethiopia and I blend them myself at a space Ive rented in The Hague. I have partnered with a company that helps me with the testing and packaging. I am not going to live here forever, but when I leave, the spices will still be here. I want to sell to different parts of the world: to America, to the UK, even to Asia because we have a lot of their products so it is time for us to also send something to them.

Image: Ebere Akadiri

Was starting over in a new country worth it?

So I still take care of my kids: I cook for them every day, do the schools runs. But the time they are away I need to be engaged. Because of my business I have developed myself as a person. Development is not just about going to school, university. Each time I started something new I had to learn about how to do it.

Sometimes people ask me; “Oh you are here for four years. Why are you opening a business?” And I say to them  that I believe that every day of our lives should count: make a difference wherever you are.

So Im not going to look at what will happen in four years. I just want to live in the moment and do what I can now.

Coming here Ive learned a lot in the Netherlands. Not just about business but about who I am. I think I could start a business anywhere because I can interact with different people. I dont try to change to who I am. And really nobody is asking me to change. The thing is, it is good to learn about peoples culture. Who I am is my values and knowing my purpose in life.

And when I go back to Nigeria Ill start thinking how can I help improve my country. I want to be part of the change. Instead of complaining about my country I want to be one of the people who bring change, in any little way that can help people develop their minds. I believe that will help all of us change and become better and the world will become a better place.

One Response

  1. Key Lesson: The ability to develop yourself beyond your comfort zone, empowers you to be able to influence your environment. All Africans in the diaspora should take particular note of this …”stop complaining about the darkness…light a candle’.

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