When Eric Andoh arrived in Ghana from London in 2008, he struggled to find the home food that he enjoyed in the United Kingdom. With very few international options in the capital city of Accra at the time, the entrepreneur decided to create a restaurant that served “everything I like to eat”.
“I wanted home food and international food: full English breakfast, lasagna, spaghetti bolognese. I came up with a concept, made a logo and I asked friends if they knew anyone I could employ as staff. I started with 10 people in a small restaurant in East Legon in Accra,” he says.
Despite fears that his idea would not work, Andoh says the first Starbites restaurant, which had space for 50 tables, was “inundated with customers” on its opening night. The word had spread organically, creating a buzz in the local neighbourhood in a time before widespread social media.
One of the biggest challenges in setting up the first restaurant was getting the interior design right. Andoh says that it took some time to put his vision into place, working with local tradesmen and carpenters. The theme was an American-style diner with wooden panels and red and white striped curtains.
Another issue was training the cooking staff to prepare international dishes. “A lot of the chefs hadn’t eaten lasagna or much international cuisine, so we had to train all the staff to cook that kind of food,” he says.
Despite the international design and food, Andoh says that the dishes were priced at “affordable luxury” as he wanted the restaurant to appeal to a wide range of customers. “The strategy was to get everybody coming, from your business customers to your taxi driver, schoolteacher and bank worker.”
Creating a chain
Since the initial success of the first restaurant, Starbites has expanded to 14 more outlets across Ghana. However, rather than replicate the same model across many different locations, Andoh decided to create numerous different brands and concept restaurants.
The first was Starbites Express diners that are located at Shell petrol stations. It is a smaller version of the original Starbites restaurant, servicing customers who are on the move with pastries, coffee, tea and sandwiches. The company opened three in Ghana’s second city of Kumasi and one in Accra.
The next brand was Starbites Food-to-Go which is a pop-up restaurant where chefs cook classic Starbites food in front of customers. The latest venture is Starbites Signature which is a more upmarket version of the original restaurant.
Andoh says the Express and Food-to-Go brands are the most rapidly expanding outlets. They can be easily scaled into “neighbourhoods, small malls, hospitals and airports”.
“The initial plan was to just have one branch and not to expand out. People say we were the reluctant expander. We were approached first by a hospital to set up a small branch on the premises and then Shell approached us for those first four Express branches and we have just taken it from there”.
The brand is now well established in Ghana which allows it to scale easily and quickly compared to other restaurants which might struggle, adds the CEO. The newest brand will be a drive-through concept.
Yet the bigger Startbites becomes the more competition it will face from international and regional players. Andoh says his restaurants are often next to big international chains, like KFC and Burger King. This competition will increase as the entrepreneur morphs his business to compete across Africa and further afield.
“We are gearing up to be pan-African and also to open a branch in the UK because many of the British diasporas come to Starbites when they land in Accra”.
The first countries will be Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, which have broad similarities to Ghana. The strategy is to appeal to regional tastes by offering local delicacies in each country. “If you go to KFC in South Africa you get it with pap, which is a local food. If you go to India you get it with naan bread. If you go to Ghana you have Jollof, which is a local dish,” he explains.
The main challenges the business faces are rising food and fuel prices. There is also the challenge of securing high-quality staff at a rate fast enough to keep up with the ambition to scale.
“There is an explosion of the restaurant business in Ghana, everybody is looking for staff. We are actually in the middle of creating a training centre to address the problem.”