There’s an old saying attributed to Confucius that says, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” While the reality is not as simple as the phrase puts it, there’s something satisfying when one succeeds in turning their passion into a profitable business.

That is the case of Ms Feza Rongorongo, the founder of Precious Rwanda Dishes, a catering business in Rwanda. Ms Rongorongo discovered her passion early and dreamt of turning it into a profitable restaurant business. Her grandfather was a chef and growing up she watched as her mother made delicious meals for home and sale. This lit a spark in her, and when she came of age and armed with first-hand experience from her grandfather and mother, she decided to start a small catering business at her home. She would cater for family and church events, and weddings.

“I had watched my mother cook healthy and tasty food, and I decided that I would take it a notch higher by monetising the craft. I desired to create a business that would outlive us and last for generations,” says Ms Rongorongo, who holds a master’s degree in Business Administration. Her passion developed into a full-blown food business in 2018.

“I took a huge leap of faith and started on my own, and I was confident in my ability and hard work,” she says.

But Ms Rongorongo understood that passion alone wouldn’t get the job done. She knew that she had to make some sacrifices and be committed for her dream to become a reality. Her hard work paid off. Her quality, tasty food earned her many referrals, and within no time, her business was teeming with orders.

Business was brisk in 2019 and in the first months of 2020. Unfortunately, the good run came to a halt after the outbreak of COVID-19 in April 2020. She says surviving the pandemic period has been her biggest challenge to date. Being a catering business, the ensuing lockdowns meant that the business was operating below par. She says that she barely earned enough to pay her staff members.

“The COVID-19 period was tough for us. I remember the outbreak came when I had multiple catering orders, all of which were cancelled. Some clients had already paid partially, and I had to return their money,” she recalls.

Despite the setback, Ms Rongorongo says the outlook is good and business has returned to normal.

“We are on a good path. We are still reorganising the company because we had been out of business for a long time and the hotel industry was badly affected by the outbreak,” she adds.

She says the outbreak was announced in Rwanda just a few days after her friend had informed her about Business Partners International Rwanda. Since she had plans to open a restaurant, her friend informed her that BPI Rwanda finances small and medium business owners including those in the restaurant sector.  The friend, who worked at a clinic that had successfully received finance from BPI, connected her to Jean Claude Mutajogire, the BPI Rwanda Country Manager.

From the initial phone conversation with Mr Mutajogire, Ms Rongorongo embarked on making her business investor-ready by, among other things, putting her books of accounts in order, and taking the necessary steps to formalise her business. And BPI Rwanda was there to assist with this process as well.

Ms Rongorongo started receiving Technical Assistance training through the Second Chance programme that BPI was running in conjunction with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). Through this programme, BPI aims to improve the prospects of success for women in business by offering gender-smart training and technical assistance to ensure women entrepreneurs have the information and skills needed to access capital for their businesses.

The technical assistance also involves linking business owners with mentors and skilled technicians who help them develop business plans, marketing plans, and more robust governance structures. This gives investors confidence that the funds they are providing will create jobs and grow the targeted businesses when the business owners eventually applies for finance.

After the focused training and technical assistance, Ms Rongorongo got the financing she needed to set up a restaurant business. This, she says has enabled her to win corporate clients, some of whom had been hesitant to procure her services since she was running her business from home.

She says other than helping her get her premises, the loan from BPI Rwanda has helped raise the standard of her small restaurant business and opened her eyes to ideas and opportunities to earn more money. She says this ensures that she does not fall back on her loan repayment.

Just recently, Precious Dishes Rwanda won a contract to cater to dignitaries attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which took place from 20-25 June 2022, in Kigali.

“Before receiving the restaurant business financing from BPI Rwanda, I was content with earning a little money to keep the business going. But since receiving financing, I am motivated to work harder, better myself, my staff, and the business, and of course earn more profits,” Ms Rongorongo concludes.

About the Author: Debbie D'Costa