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Gamble that paid off: From banking to seafood business

To her, it has been a learning curvature, one that has paid off sizably, albeit with challenges, as one would expect with any new business venture as well as the joy of giving employment opportunities to young people in the area.

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By Steve Umidha

For many university graduates, working in a bank is considered a lucrative career, but for Najma Jabri, an accountant by profession, the job was not as gratifying as she had anticipated.

After her course in accounting at Egerton University, she got her first job with PKF Kenya – an accounting firm before she joined Barclays and Gulf African banks, previously as a cashier at the former and later as a senior manager retail and strategic units at the latter’s, only to opt out of the profession 13 years later.

“I left Barclays when I was an operations officer, then joined Gulf African Bank, first in operations then I pioneered their women banking department called Annisaa with key focus on women in entrepreneurship where I signed up with strategic partners like IFC, Goldmansach’s, World Bank among others to drive the women agenda,” opens up the 37 year-old mother of two.

Presently, she is a full time businesswoman running a seafood restaurant- The Fort Seafood & Pizzeria in Mombasa as well as involvements in poultry and passion fruit farming in Kilifi, activities she finds more rewarding and satisfying, and admitting to “living her dream’ now.

“So basically I finally decided to walk the talk and become an entrepreneur myself, it is something that I find very gratifying now, and I do not regret abandoning my profession as an accountant and banker,” she says during a lunch-time conversation with this writer at the restaurant, she runs together with her significant other.

To her, it has been a learning curvature, one that has paid off sizably, albeit with challenges, as one would expect with any new business venture as well as the joy of giving employment opportunities to young people in the area.

“This was purely born out of passion, my love for seafood, fresh seafood. You have to love it to do it, it is a profession, how you price the food, how you do the portioning,” says a reserved Najma who despite her busy schedules in business and family affairs, still finds time to work out and religiously takes aqua classes to stay in shape.

The motivation behind starting The Fort Seafood & Pizzeria in 2016, Najma says, was to meet the existing gap in the hospitality industry, particularly in the food and artistic cuisines that are popular among coastal people.

“We love seafood, and after a thorough search we found very few places offering nice and fresh seafood in Mombasa. We also wanted to find a strategic place with authentic historical culture of Mombasa, that is why we settled for Old town, Mombasa town,” she says, crediting her affordable pricing and a-word-of-mouth slant for the business growth.

The brasserie is located just opposite Fort Jesus – a historical setting that was built by the Portuguese between 1593 and 1596 to the designs of Giovanni Battista Cairati to protect the port of Mombasa.

It is one of the most outstanding and well preserved examples of 16th Portuguese military fortification and a landmark in the history of this type of construction, and one that continues to attract thousands of vacationers across the globe who flock the fort to understand its antiquity.

The Fort Seafood & Pizzeria boasts of having hosted prominent figures including Mvita Member of Parliament Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir, TV personalities Julie Gichuru, Ali Manzu, Lulu Hassan and her family among others with future plans to open two other seafood outlets in Nyali and Nairobi in 2019 and 2020 respectively. She’s however coy on the extent of investments she’ll be spending on the new undertakings.

Despite the controlled competition in seafood business, Najma says her secret weapon has been the restaurant’s signature dish, plaster seafood (a combination of all the delicacies, king-from, calamari recipe, red snapper, and lobster) which she says is the restaurant’s most popular dish besides offering Swahili, Indian and Italian cuisines.

The regulars at The Fort Seafood & Pizzeria include tourists both foreign and domestic as well as corporate individuals around the fort Jesus.

Despite her success in hospitality industry, Najma says the business is faced by lack of consistency and short supply of seafood products which at times seen her import from neighboring countries like Tanzania to keep up with the high demand of the commodity, despite being at the foot of the island.

She now wants both national and county governments to come into their rescue in order to address those concerns.

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