Kenyan banker is smiling all the way to the bank after finding niche at untapped barbecue business
Since his entry in the meat business, the banker by day has revolutionized the game and got several people hopelessly addicted to his meat delicacies which come in different flavours.
Few can, however, rival Kenya’s Nyama Choma (roasted meat) cooking skills which has since gone global, many African Restaurants found across the globe know one undeniable fact; when it comes to matters of meat especially Nyama Choma it is best a Kenyan is left to do their magic and as a result hundreds of Kenyans are employed as cooks across the world in African restaurants.
In Kenya, the barbecue business has just gone a few notches up, gotten bigger and better with the entrance of one Tony Onyango popular known as 'Jah Juok', a grill master and Jack Daniel’s people’s category double winner.
Since his entry in the barbecue business, the banker by day has revolutionized the game and got several people hopelessly addicted to his meat delicacies which come in different flavours.
Business Insider SSA recently had an interview with Tony at his Mbukaki Bar and Restaurant along Kiambu road, (it was one of the hardest interviews, our nostrils were mercilessly tortured by Tony’s smoked pork aroma which kept wafting by our side throughout the interview) on how he discovered his love for meat and his booming business, Y-not BBQ.
“About 20 years ago, my dad used to travel upcountry a lot and we used to stay in Nairobi and so my sisters used to give me two options either wash the dishes or cook , I hated washing dishes so I always chose to cook instead and that is how it all started” Tony said.
After a while, he, however, stopped cooking and didn’t think much about it but his friends who loved meat couldn't let him rest for too long.
“So for a while I did it then I stopped and I used to just cook for myself until my friends started asking me to cook meat for them, we would be at a friend’s house and all of a sudden they would tell me to cook meat for them and I found myself cooking meat all over again”
It was one weekend at a friend’s place that Tony's hobby until then started showing real signs of commercial value.
“after a while of doing this, not just roasting meat but the passion of just cooking, one time I had gone to my friend’s house and his wife was like Tony can you please roast some meat for us and I did it and at the end of the night she paid me some money, I was surprised and i was like why are you giving me money? but she said no you did a good job and you deserve it”
When the same thing happened twice, Tony realized he may have just stumbled into an untapped business opportunity and he seriously started embarking on turning his hobby into a flourishing business.
“So the next weekend I went to a totally different guy's house, another pal of mine and the wife did the exact thing, i then sat down and said if I can make money out of this thing why not take it seriously, so I sat down came up with the name of the business and it was another friend of mine again who suggested the name but that time it was known as Whynot BBG but after a while I realized if I just put the Y then I put the rest of my name it was going to spell my name and that is how Y-not BBQ came to be”
Armed with less than Sh10,000 ($100) the confessed meat addict went to Ngong road and bought his first cooking stove ready for business.
“When I was cooking for my friends the jiko (cooking stove) was theirs so I went out to buy my first stove and folk out about Sh9000 for just an ordinary cooking stove and the stands used to even came off from time to time”
From there he started attending festivals such as Koroga festival and Rugby tournaments where he won more fans and earned himself a tidy sum in the process.
“I went with it to Koroga festival and it worked, I had that jiko of mine and I had borrowed another one so I went with them to Koroga where I made money and I got addicted and from then onwards I was going to all the Koroga festivals and rugby tournaments “
It was in these stadium stands mingling with music and rugby fans that Tony had his first big break and Y-not BBQ started showing its full potential.
“I am a rugby boy and I used to attend all rugby tournaments even before I started Y-not BBQ but surprisingly before I I started my Barbecue business I would go to tournaments and spend about Sh10,000 ($100) now I go to rugby tournaments and I make Sh40,000 – Sh50,000 (breaks into a celebratory laugh) I still get to watch rugby and make money"
And just like that, word spread slowly that there was a new kid on the block and big boys came calling.
“In 2015, Somebody called from Jack Daniels and told me hey! we hear that you do meat and we have a competition called brothers of the grill would you want to participate in it, i said yes and I went and won not once but twice (breaks into laughter) “
Contestants had to impress a number of restaurants, big names in the meat industry and were all given a cut of meat to barbecue and then present their finished product to be judged through sight, smell and taste.
In the people’s category where it is the peoples deciding, Tony emerged number one and was crowned the winner not once but twice.
“I got a Weber grill, and in barbecue weber is the biggest names so I got a whole two Weber grills and two weber grilling equipment’s "
Meat loves who had since gotten addicted to Tony’s barbecued meat couldn't just wait for festivals to have another ‘party in their mouths’ they wanted constant thrills, a physical address they could drop by any day of the week or weekend to enjoy their delicious steaks, which pushed him to open a small restaurant in 2015 to cater for meat orders and deliveries
“before I started my restaurant, I didn’t have anywhere else where I would take the extra meat say after a festival went down and not too many people showed up so if I would be left with meat on Sunday night and I had to give it out to the guys who had worked because it would go bad so that was a problem and it inspired me to open a small restaurant by investing about Sh18,000 ($180) buying two more ikos on top of several i already had and opened Mbukaki Bar and Restaurant found along Kiambu road”
Since receiving the few tightly squeezed notes into his palm by his pal's wife, Y-not BBQ has grown to become one of the biggest meat barbecues businesses in the city and in the process helped change people’s perspective about meat.
Kenyans families now can’t imagine a Sunday afternoon without Tony’s low and slow smoked ribs, steaks, pork, chicken and fish.
From the few thousands, Y-not BBQ now earns Tony Sh500,000 ($5000) on a good month and on average Sh250,000 ($2500), a tidy sum which can even get close to a million once Tony launches exclusive deliveries including an app which is set to go live early next year.
Tony says it is not even the money which keeps him going but the sheer joy and satisfaction from his many clients who until they tasted his smoked porks, hands down chicken etc. had dismissed meat as another over glorified tasteless meal.
On daily occasion, Tony's phone is flooded with dozens of messages from happy clients who swear by his delicious meat delicacies and as a result Y-not BBQ facebookpage is awash with messages from satisfied meat lovers.
“Meat is so diverse and you can do anything you want to do with meat so on every Sunday I have something called low and slow where I put different flavours into different meat so I can either have fish, pork, beef or goat but I use a different flavor every Sunday and as long as the flavor gets into the meat you have a different experience every time you eat that meat.”
Despite being in the game for more than 20 years there is no perfection in the barbecue business and Tony knows this too well, he uses his spare time to increase his knowledge even more by researching on new barbecue recipes, he follows and stay in touch with some of the biggest barbecue names in the US where the barbecue industry is really big.
“Meat barbecue is very big in the US and a lot of competitions is held every year and so I keep watching and following them to learn new ways of cooking meat and improve my craft even more"
After close to an hour of sitting and shifting on our chairs getting tortured by Tony’s unrelenting low and slow smoked pork, we couldn't take it anymore and we gladly surrender, tony quickly said his parting shot and we headed to the kitchen for a barbecue experience of our lives.
“I think Kenyans need to appreciate that fact that there is more to food than just cooking, there is flavor to food and my biggest concern is that if we go for a food festival and Kenyans were called how many foods would they serve? They would probably you know typical foods, nothing is bad about them but there is so much you can only do with Githeri and it will not win you an award, we need to go back to our roots and explore how food was cooked, how flavour was added for example the naturally smoked meat which my grandmother still hangs on top of her fireplace which is really delicious so I want to change that, we should love our meat and we should have the best meat ever so we should change”
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