After losing her mother to cancer and a daughter to heart complications, a jobless Juliana Natukunda needed to pick the broken pieces and get her life back on track.
A job on Crooze F.m dubbed the Morning Addiction offered her a lifeline and she never looked back. What started as a small retail shop on Ntare road, Mbarara in 2016 is has since transitioned into a corporate hangout called Kabalaza Bar and Grill.
How she started
Getting employed comes with excitement and expectations. For Natukunda, it made her more ambitious. “I used to work on radio from 6am to 10am and after that, I would head home and wait to go to work the next day,” she recalls.
Even when she was getting her monthly pay, she was not content. She needed something to challenge her. She knew there was more she could do with her life to earn more. This got her searching for an opportunity to keep her busy.
“I embarked on a hunt for space, where I could establish a small grocery shop. With Shs1.5m savings, I paid for the shelves and a counter at Shs500,000. With the balance, I cleared rent for three months, which cost me Shs450,000. I used the balance to stock up,”
The first stock had general merchandise. Natukunda recalls inviting workmates to support her new hustle. “My workmates showed up one day and could hardly find what to buy from me. They advised me to start selling beer, after all, it is all they could buy and drink while they stayed around,” she says.
The next day, Natukunda purchase three crates of beer and her peers consumed it within two days. Beer became the new drug and before she noticed, the brown bottles were paying dividends than the groceries.
She urgently needed a fridge to chill drinks for her clients, but she did not have enough money to buy a new one. She decided to use her home fridge. At this point, she was convinced that the bar would bring in the profits faster. She turned her grocery store into a bar.
As the number of clients grew, they needed something to accompany their drinks. And nothing fits the bill like food. She ventured into roasted meat, barbeque, boiled goat’s meat and cassava. And this is how her restaurant was birthed.
The transition from a retail shop to a bar and restaurant was like scoring a home run in Natukunda’s case. It evoked memories of her late mother running a restaurant, while she played around as a child.
“My mother owned a restaurant when we were children. I have passion for cooking. I love hospitality and I love talking to people. But I needed to earn from my passion and hobbies,” she says.
Natukunda has also taken a leap of faith in mceeing. After spending time with her, you learn that she is a people person. She speaks with affection, something that keeps clients coming back.
It is evident her fondness has spread to her workers, Kabalaza is a vibe of its own. It is one of those places where you sit and pray time freezes. The beer, food and snacks are on sale but Natukunda sells “happiness” to her clients. It is beyond just buying a beer. It is an experience. While, it is hard to arrive at how much she earns a day, 50 plates at lunch buffet is a jackpot. Away from the restaurant, she also delivers food to organisations that pay her monthly.
Since Natukunda works on radio, this makes it easy for her to market her business. She also uses social media platforms to push the agenda on a daily basis. Brochures are another way of getting new clients and she carries several of them in her handbag wherever she goes. “I go to different offices and talk about my business. Business requires people who are shrewd. I am not the only one selling food and alcohol and this calls for intensive marketing,” Natukunda says.
Challenges and overcoming them
Every hustle has bad days. The Covid-19 pandemic came with a host of challenges for many food and alcohol businesses. Natukunda’s business was not spared either. “We had to close for months during lockdown and this means we were not earning. Even after reopening, business is still slow. The bar business is gradually recovering but the food business has been badly hit,” she says.
But the years she has been in entrepreneurship have taught her that such days do not have to break her. “I don’t spend time lamenting about bad business days. Persistence and determination are the pillars I uphold as I look forward to brighter business days. If you are a businesswoman, ask yourself where you have gone wrong, then fix the issues,” she adds.
“I have made a mark in the business world. Kabalaza has become a household name in Mbarara. I met businesspeople from whom I have learnt invaluable lessons,” she says. She has also bought a car from the business. The four-year business venture has transformed her life.