As she briskly steps into the imposing West Side mall at the heart of Nakuru Town, she may pass as one of the hundreds of shoppers who flock this busy establishment daily.
But Ms Paula Talarico’s mission is entirely diffrent here, and it is to run her fast food restaurant on the first floor.
She pulls a seat at the far corner of the congested eatery and like a hungry customer waiting to be served, her eyes dart from one table to another keenly observing the movement of the waiters as if she is itching for their services.
Not many of the customers enjoying their hot foods are aware she is the owner of the restaurant. As she is served with a steaming cup of black coffee her eyes rotate almost 360 degrees as she monitors almost all the activities from a distance.
Four years ago, Ms Talarico, an Italian, took a road trip on Easter weekend with her family to Nakuru Town to escape the bustle and hustle of Nairobi.
And after enjoying a game drive at Lake Nakuru National Park they decided to take a walk at the Rift Valley capital.
“As we were strolling down town Nakuru we went to one of the newest shopping mall and I noticed there was an unoccupied floor and immediately a thought crossed my mind. The idea of starting a fast food restaurant in the town and shifting from Nairobi started disturbing me,” Ms Talarico told Money.
They could hear none of that
But it was not a walk in the park to start May Harvest Food Court. The seed capital required was massive and no lender was willing to give her money.
“I knocked the doors of almost all bank managers in town but my request for a loan was rejected even after showing them my bank statements indicating what I was earning from a similar venture in Nairobi. They could hear none of that and insisted I must produce a title deed to secure a loan facility,” says the jovial Talarico.
“I wanted to take advantage of the fast growing town and since I had worked in a coffee shop run by mother-in-law at the UNEP headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi for five years, I wanted to make good use of that experience to start a restaurant in Nakuru and offer residents good food and quality service.”
Today the Sh6 million seed capital she put into business has grown tremendously. She got the funding from her parents living in Canada, Mr Joe Talarico and Mrs Vincenza Talarico who gave her Sh3 million while the balance came from her in-laws Mr John Litondo and Mrs Amina Litondo.
The restaurant which she manages with her husband Meshack Litondo whom he met in Canada some 11 years ago when he was student, is today valued at more than Sh10 million. The restaurant is literraly the melting point for hungry residents who meet to enjoy their tasty African, Indian, Chinese and continental cuisines.
When she started the venture she was making between Sh20,000 and Sh40,000 a day but today the profits have more than doubled.
“I can’t complain because I am able to pay my staff and my monthly rent and other overhead costs including numerous taxes and fees comfortably,” she said.
She started with 10 employees but now she has a 30-strong workforce on a permanent basis.
What is the secret of her success? She says humility towards employees and listening to them is the foundation of her success.
“The secret is humble yourself to your employees, be good to them, listen to them and above all don’t be a mean employer. If you treat them as your partners in business they will respond in a positive way,” said 53-year-old Tolarico who is from Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada.
“They will talk nicely and smile to the customers and handle them with utmost care and this will translate to a steady income.”
Customers, she advises should be treated like kings saying “at May Harvest Restaurant we strive to offer personalised services by making sure we welcome our guests by their names and this has helped as they have made many come back with new clients.”
“I love my employees as they are the engine that drives this restaurant because single handedly I cannot achieve much. I owe my success to their efforts,” said Ms Tolarico who is a business graduate of Confederation College in Ontario City.
She said her style of management is hands-on because of the nature of the business.
“Hospitality industry is a fragile business and some of the sticky problems need immediate attention because a customer who walks away happy and satisfied will be your roaming ambassador but a customer who walks away angry may bring the business down particularly at this era of increased activities on social media platform.”
Before setting shop in Nakuru, Ms Tolarico had horned her skills at various cafeterias in Nairobi including the US embassy, UNEP in Gigiri, Safaricom House. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and International School of Kenya (ISK).
Despite her experience, she says there are still challenges she encounters, key of which is what she terms as a rigid and confusing tax regime.
“I pay single business permit annually at Sh70,000 and besides that I also pay Sh1,100 health certificate fee for my workers after every six months. The county government should consolidate these taxes to enable business people plan ahead, “she added.