After a stint as a broadcaster, marketing executive and several failed business ventures, Augustus Kaija, commonly known as Gaster, decided early to always pursue his dream of making money, starting from scratch.
Having been through the mobile phone business, stationery and kitchenware business, Kaija is one person who knows about changing the direction of your life.
The 40-year-old, who was raised by a single mother, Lucy Lukeera, at Nkere in Kireka, studied business administration and store keeping at Makerere University Business School (Mubs) and Kyambogo University (then ITEK) respectively. He worked on several jobs including TV and radio presentation yet his business acumen came to the fore in 2000 while in his Senior Six vacation when he started Safety Communications, an agency that used to sell UTL airtime cards in Edwards Galabuzi’s driving school offices which were located at Kado Pado complex in Kireka.
“Selling airtime was profitable. But that was not my passion, although it helped me to expand into pay-phones which were a hotcake between 2002 and 2004.” He started with used phones before upgrading to new phones. But soon cheap Chinese phones flooded the market and the market diminished.
“Customers used to complain about them a lot and I had to quit this business to protect my name,” he says.
He then ventured into mobile money but market wars by service providers pushed him to the edge as MTN dealers had a distaste for competition.
Kaija decided to change business. Then he gave importing kitchenware from China a try, a loss making venture he still regrets.
Soon, he gave selling stationery a go. This business, as he says, is seasonal thus not sustainable.
“It was always tough making mistakes here and there as I experimented with what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
Food the real deal
In September 2017, the landlord granted his wish to allow him develop the redundant space in front of the complex which had been turned into a night market.
It had taken him five years to get the approval. He embarked on construction in February 2018 and opened business on October 31, 2018.
The courage to start something different has affected his approach to food.
Pals’ Food Court, a venture he operates with wife Margaret, a businesswoman in Kikuubo, and Chicken Tonight are the only food points working 24 hours in Kireka.
His love for great food is what drives him. He knew running this business required some knowledge and he undertook a certificate in catering last year at YMCA Wandegeya.
But he knew early that he wanted to build himself a brand that can outgrow the current single branch with plans to offer services outside catering.
He has built his business around people that can support him. He remains popular because he is a ceremonial speaker at wedding, kwanjula and church events.
Focus on food
What Pals’ Food Court guarantees is great food. Food has not only been a lifelong passion, but also fuelled his career.
His culinary passion was originally inculcated by his mother. Growing up in Nkokonjeru, Mukono District, food time was an opportunity to eat together - an expression of love.
He tried cooking with friends in the neighbourhood but he looked for money elsewhere before he landed his dream.
With his reinvented career as a business owner, Kaija keeps a whirlwind of a schedule but could not be happier.
“At my age, I should be doing the things I love to do, not the things I ‘should’ be doing,” he said.
One of those things is serving great food. He still runs his stationery shop at Nasser Road, so he shares supervisory roles with his wife whom he says is “more passionate than me”.
His restaurant is very enticing. He offers continental and traditional dishes with an ice cream parlour, which is popular with ladies and children, juices (herbal and sugar free) and operates pastry services.
Yet it is his innovative ways of offering great food at pocket friendly prices that makes him stand out. He gives his customers a restaurant experience with a homely touch.
“Depending on one’s pocket, we measure the food accordingly starting from Shs5,000,” he says.
“You know Ugandans want unique things. Food is ably displayed and can be chosen easily. So far, this has proven to work.”
Why food is popular business
Kaija says that food is essential as it pulls people together. “When people eat great food, they will talk about it. Even when it is bad, they will have a talk about it. So it is something we can all relate to and talk about.”
He says there are so many entry points in the food industry including supplying the ever growing number of food hubs, being a chef and many others.
“But all it takes is being passionate about what you do. Most suppliers will offer great stuff at the beginning but quality deteriorates as they get used to you. This calls for great vigilance in order to keep you brand up there,” he said.
To him, one does not need to know everything about food. “You need to hire a good team that can support you,” says Kaija.
He currently employs 12 people who are divided into the day and night shifts with Henry Ngobi, the lead chef.
He keeps learning from others by dining out in some posh restaurants around town to be able to pick more tricks. The ultimate plan is to make sure that things are stabilised and then in a year or two, to start expanding.
You need to be determined because there are so many things that are going to hit you along the way.
One ought to be honest. He says, one day the coffers were dry and he had to use his goodwill to get construction supplies from Hardware World on credit. People must be sure you will pay them back.
Be Godfearing and have financial discipline.