“All I Know Is That Everybody Has To Eat”
Life is complex, yet simple. While it is easy to focus on all its twists and turns, Ogechukwu is a woman who likes to keep it simple. “Everybody has to eat” is perhaps the most profound summary I have ever heard of the food industry and this is how she describes the success of her business. There is a lot to learn from this working woman, but my favourite lesson is how a leap of faith can change your life forever.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Ogechukwu Modebelu. I’m a Pastry Chef currently running The Create Company, A luxury boutique bakery based in Lagos, Nigeria.
How did you get into baking? What’s your origin story?
My story began when I was pretty young. I would regularly visit my aunt during the long holidays as a kid. Aunty Grace owned a bakery and each time people came to pick up their beautiful cakes, the smiles on their faces inspired me. It made me develop a keen interest in the culinary arts, precisely baking. Then I would literally beg my mother to take me there during the summer holidays. So basically, that was my entry into baking but I didn’t even know I would tread this path until I quit my job in 2017, and took some time off to reflect before deciding to go to culinary school.
What job was this?
I worked in the financial services industry for about 2.5 years.
Interesting. And what influenced your decision to quit?
I did not feel fulfilled. I felt I could make more impact in another field.
Did you have a plan though?
No plans, just took a leap of faith and trusted God completely to direct my path.
Hmm. I’m curious. What was your childhood like?
As an only child, I was raised by a single mother. So basically, I spent most of my time with her and never left her side. Also, she is a caterer herself and I’ve always been around everything cooking and food, and that gave me an insight into the food industry.
So, would you say you had it easier or harder than the average person starting their own food business?
Yes! I would say I had it easier than the average person starting because I was literally surrounded by two entrepreneurial women. My mom and my aunt. They actually played a key role in making the journey easier in terms of encouragement and motivation. They consistently push me and encourage me to explore my talent and pursue my dream. You are kinda popular for turning your pastry into art…specifically, the cupcake bouquet.
How did you get the inspiration to do something like that?
Basically, when I discovered I was getting into the cake business, I decided to carve a niche for myself and be known for something unique about the brand. So I started looking online and thinking to myself “Ok, given the market I am in, I’ve identified my clientele base and what exactly I wanted to do. Therefore it is important for me to come up with a unique product that would set the Create company aside from the rest.” That is how the “bouqcake” was birthed. The bouqcake is just an innovative idea of interpreting cupcakes into flowers. So literally it’s like the middle ground between eating your cake and having your flowers thereby.
That seems to be working out great for you, and I’m glad. You have also inspired many chefs to make art with their food. How does that make you feel?
Well, I don’t know if I’ve inspired people. But if I have, obviously it’s a good feeling and I feel really good about it. I’m just blessed to be able to interpret my craft and people do appreciate it and the love is also immense as well. So I’m always really happy that I can inspire other chefs.
So far, what has been the biggest challenge in your industry?
The biggest challenge in the industry has been the social amenity unavailability, lack of power, and infrastructure. This has been extremely hard on our business. Because our kind of business is heavily dependent on a steady power supply and that has been a challenge. Most of the time we need electricity to power our equipment, refrigerating the cakes amongst other things literally takes a dip in our productivity. Another challenge is the poor existence of dairy farms that produce locally. Butter is a typical example. We don’t have a company that produces butter locally in Nigeria which means we are heavily dependent on foreign ingredients and goods. I get that. It feels like everything in this country makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to thrive.
How do you navigate these unfriendly conditions?
Well, we have a lot of people who have continued to persevere and are successful. I don’t think it’s easy to do business in Nigeria or any other place in the world because many factors come into play especially when you want to grow and expand. And then again in Nigeria, we have turbulence but there is no problem we cannot overcome! Being able to navigate through these unfriendly conditions has been God and also, having a solid team. A solid support system around me has really helped me both mentally.
Would you say that the food industry is a lucrative one in Nigeria, especially for women?
Well, all I know is that everyone has to eat. If you are going to venture into the food industry, it is important for you to carve out a niche for yourself. It is also important for you to have a sense of direction so that prospective customers are automatically drawn to your uniqueness and how you set yourself apart from others. I don’t see gender when it comes to venturing into the food industry. It is lucrative and it all depends on how you choose your mode of operation.
What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had in your business?
I don’t think I would say I’ve had an experience I can’t overcome. Things always happen. We are not perfect. The generator blows up, the cake collapses during delivery and all those unexpected moments. I noticed that you are very social media savvy, especially with your business.
How did you grow that community?
Oh wow! I don’t think I am social media savvy. I think I am still learning a lot. I am still trying to follow trends. Making sure that the work I put out there is good. And it also translates to the quality of cakes and body of work.
What does the future look like to you in terms of your business?
Innovation! I’m so happy when I see new businesses, especially in my industry, exploring new ideas on how we interpret food, cakes or pastry. It motivates me to keep pushing and also, be on-trend and pre-informed. In terms of my business, I see innovativeness and that particularly is key! We recently in the last year expanded to a new studio and so I can say the future’s looking bright for The Create Company. It is easy to think that the food industry in Nigeria is experiencing market saturation, after all, “everybody is doing it these days”.
However, Ogechukwu Modebelu is proof that there is no such thing as market saturation because, amidst the thousands of pastry chefs in Nigeria, she stands out. Her signature cupcake bouquet or “bouqcakes” is perhaps the first of its kind in the country and this woman is not stopping anytime soon. Even better, she continues to inspire other chefs to create art with their food.
We are documenting Ogechukwu Modebelu not just as a successful pastry chef in Nigeria, but also as a trendsetter and an artist.