The Food Business in Nigeria is not only a profitable venture. Investigation has shown that economic hard times and even recession have very little or no impact on the business. After all, ‘Man must wak’ as they say in local parlance, regardless of whether someone is buoyant or broke, employed or unemployed.
One interesting thing about night food business is that it accommodates everyone – the businessman, traveler, taxi driver, night crawlers and the regular man. If you are one of the aforementioned, Whether you want rice and salad or you have a hankering to eat swallow at any time between seven in the evening and 6:00am, the following day, they are just there for you.
The food business is one that is ever evolving but these street vendors have taken it a notch further. In some cases, they open for business around 5:00pm and can be there till 6:00am the following morning depending on the area and the seller. They prepare more food as they run out of stock till the last customer is satisfied.
With an array of dishes and assorted delicacies these stands are inviting and one must visit and eat there if you want a full Lagos experience.
Just as the transportation business, the food business is an all season business. People must get hungry and eat all year round. That’s a sure bet.
The Next Edition train stopped over at some notable spots of night food business in Lagos to find out what made these women and men decide to sell food in the night and why they are stuck to it.
At the Balogun Street Food market, off Obafemi Awolowo Way, opposite Airport Hotel in Ikeja, The Next Edition met with Mrs. Taiwo Michael, a night food vendor who took us into her long journey of night food business in Lagos.
This year makes it 25 years that I have been selling food here, though I started with my mother who is no more here. We were one of the first set of people to set up this place. Thank God business has been good,” she said.
The interesting thing about the business, according to Michael, is that “We record high sales only at night, and it’s only on weekends we make sales in the day time. But people patronise us more at night because we start by 5:00pm and end 6:00am every day.”
Although she admitted that they make a lot of profit, she refused to disclose how much on daily basis. “We make money especially on weekends but we don’t record high sales on Mondays and Tuesdays. We make sales on Wednesdays through the weekends.”
But how do they cope with the stress of staying awake, perhaps, all through the night?
“I prefer what I’m doing than selling food in the morning even though I haven’t sold before in the morning. We start cooking when we come back from the market. I don’t measure the quantity of what I cook; I’m a caterer so I just know. During service if we run out of food, I cook a little bit more. If I have leftovers, I have children who can finish it. I also have vendors who come to buy in bulk from me but they pay me upfront, and they don’t make returns,” said Iya Olufemi who sells at the same market.
In view of the high volume of sales at the market and the large number of people that visit the place, not a few people wonder what the attraction could be.
Emeka Orji, a businessman who is a regular customer of this spot said, “The major reason we patronize them is basically because they’re the only place you can get food at any time of the night. We really don’t have 24-hour restaurants in Nigeria. So on your way home from the club, you have a nice place to sit out and eat. There’s music, food and drinks. What more can one ask for? The food is good or maybe it’s the liquor making me think that but it’s always a decent meal.”
At the Apongbon, Lagos Island spot, Omobola Omoniyi, widely known as Habibat is one of the popular food vendors at this location. She has been in this market for over 12 years. She told The Next Edition that: “I come here every night from 7:00pm till 2:00am. On Sundays I come in the morning hours till night and this is the best day for business for me. I sell all types of rice, spaghetti, beans, porridge, pounded yam and white soup, Semo, amala, asaro, Salad, etc. I don’t usually have leftovers and I make gains. The prices depend on what the customer wants meat, like chicken is from N150 – N200. I don’t sell to vendors, I sell alone.”
But Olabamise Popoola puts a different twist to the night food business at Apongbon. Instead of food, she does toast bread otherwise known as sandwich. And very often, she gets very impressive patronage.
She said, “I have been on it since I was in secondary school. I graduated from the university two years ago. So roughly 20 years now that I’ve been doing this. I sponsored myself through school with it, my sister here with me today is in school and we depend on it as well and another younger one too.
Over the years, Popoola has gathered a lot of experience and fresh ideas now come from different people and places.
“There’s the toast we do with fish, which goes for N150. The one with chicken goes for N200 and the one with hotdog goes for N200 as well. If a customer wants one with chicken and hotdog that one is N250. We use two slices for every toast. Sometimes we use three slices, it depends on what the customer wants, but there are varieties. The patronage is massive even though it’s a night business. All over the Island, they know Lady B toast bread. You will see people who now do it and say they got the inspiration from me. I have been to places where they were talking about our toast bread but since they had never met me in person, they didn’t know I was the one.”
But why the night business? “We don’t come here in the day time because we sometimes have functions and events. We come here by 6:00pm and by 7:00pm we are open. We leave when customers stop coming and that cannot be earlier than 1:00am but we leave this place between 2:00am and 3:00am. We do have security challenges but we try to talk to the Police around to leave our customers alone. Sometimes the people around think our customers are thieves or yahoo boys because they are mostly guys. So we constantly have to talk to the Police around as well as the people here to leave them as they are here for toast bread. Guys come from as far as Victoria Island and park their cars and sit and eat toast bread,” Popoola said.
Rasheed Ajibola, one of her customers who waited patiently while his toast bread was being prepared had this to say: “I come here almost every day. Sometimes I come earlier than this 11pm because I live around here. Their toast is very good and keeps improving. I just come because I love it not anything else.”
Interestingly, many people love food, especially when they don’t have to prepare it for themselves. This particular business caters to a specific clientele and seems to be doing quite well. It is a good business venture if you were thinking of one. As for the average Lagosian or visitor, the next time you’re in town and it’s late and you need food, you know where to go.