CJ’s Kenya: A look into the crystal ball

What you need to know:

Recipe. Founded as Café Javas, CJ’s has been around for19 years and growing from strength to strength. In 2018, it spread its wings to Kenya. 

Café Pap on Parliament Avenue was the first café to open its doors in Kampala in 2003. At that time, many a doubting Thomas remarked that a café without alcohol was destined to fail miserably. Twenty-one years later, it is still going strong.

During that era, Café Pap was the only café worth its salt and became a favourite joint for lunch for the Mandela brothers. That is where I met them and to this day, we remain good buddies.

Unbeknownst to me, the brothers were an offspring of the Haji Omar Mandela family and through their travels abroad, they had seen fuel stations with cafes and restaurants.

Why not in Uganda? This is how the first Café Javas opened its doors in Kampala in 2005, on Bombo Road at City Oil fuel station.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2019/2020, ranked Uganda as one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, with 30 per cent of Ugandans starting businesses annually. By contrast, in America and Japan, the figure stands at 7 per cent and 11 percent respectively. Unfortunately, very few survive the first five years and for restaurants, the story is all too familiar.

Established in 1919, the National Restaurant Association, a premier business association in the USA, estimates a 20 percent success rate for all restaurants.

About 60 percent of restaurants fail in their first year of operation and 80 percent fail within five years of opening. The majority of restaurants last between eight to 10 years.

Given the above statistics, it is remarkable that CJ’s, founded as Café Javas, has been around for well-nigh 19 years and growing from strength to strength. In 2018, it spread its wings to Nairobi, Kenya.

In Uganda, we have a crippling shortage of worthwhile business management. A few notable exceptions to this vexing conundrum is the Mandela Group of Companies, established in 1988, by Haji Omar Mandela.

Rare and seldom to be found in Uganda, in this case, the filial working relationship has proven to be successful with the espirit de corps amongst the brothers to be envied and admired.

No doubt this has been the glue that has created the synergy of this great conglomerate and the gift that keeps on giving.

Initially, they started out with one fuel station- Esso, Mandela Auto Spares on Ben Kiwanuka Street, as well as City Tyres on 6th street. Over the years, they have morphed into a diverse conglomerate dealing in hospitality, grain milling (Supreme flour), auto spare parts and tyres.

 They also deal in petroleum fuel activities and are representatives for Emirates National Oil Corporation, based in Dubai. They are big boys dealing in crude petroleum, LPG processing and other petroleum products and services.  

Today, the Mandela Group of Companies brand is synonymous with the stellar Café Javas eateries, each as meticulously planned and set up as the other.

 These guys cut no corners, take no prisoners and spare no expenses, when it comes to doing business in the cut throat hospitality business. It is no surprise that today they can rightly say they are first among equals in the cafe hospitality industry. 

Since the first Café Javas was founded, there has been a quantum rise in outlets bringing the total number to nine including one in Entebbe. These are strategically located in Kamwokya, Namirembe Road, Kampala Boulevard, Parliamentary Avenue, Oasis Mall, Bombo Road and Nakawa.

Thirteen years later, with a solid foundation in Uganda, in 2018, CJ’s decided to explore the Kenyan market. An establishment such as CJ’s in Uganda requires the same input in terms of set up, manpower, food and utilities, among others. In Kenya, given the comparative advantage of the economic metrics, the returns would be at least twice as favourable and more.

 A stone’s throw away from Kampala and less than an hour away by air, Nairobi offers attractive pickings for many reasons: among other things, with a GDP of Shs445b ($115 billion) compared to Uganda’s Shs174b ($45 billion) and given Nairobi’s population of 5,300,000 vis a vis Kampala’s 3,600,000, one would expect greater returns.

Today, there are five CJ’s located in prime Nairobi areas. CJ’s Koinange Street was the first and today they boast of CJ’s Village Market Gigiri, CJ’s Karen Waterfront, CJ’s Immara and CJ’s Kilimani, which is on three floors and can seat 500 people.

In May this year, CJ’s will open their biggest café in Nairobi in Eastleigh..