Through the help of the internet, years before I ever imagined I would be working in Lagos, I read an article about a luxury concept store called Alara. There was something captivating about the bright orange and creative exterior designed by renowned architect David Adjaye.
Alara, meaning “the wondrous performer” created by Reni Folawiyo is dedicated to design, fashion, art, food, and culture. From a global perception perspective, it would surprise me if there is any restaurant as highly regarded as Nok by Alara in Nigeria. The concept store and restaurant has gained international acclaim from notable publications such as the New York Times, Vogue and The Wall Street Journal.
In simple terms, NOK by Alara is a contemporary African restaurant, the culinary extension of Reni Folawiyo’s concept to celebrate and elevate all aspects of African lifestyle. When I think of Lagos one of the things that immediately come to mind besides the yellow danfos, traffic and the Nerve Centre statues at Maryland bus stop, when it comes to restaurants, Nok by Alara represents the budding culinary scene of Lagos to me.
Located on 12A Akin Olugbade Street in Victoria Island, LAGOS, Nok by Alara is nestled within a lush bamboo-framed garden, NOK is an intimate dining space displaying contemporary art and design from all over the continent. Nok by Alara is known for its exciting fusion of flavor of African dishes with a twist of innovative presentation and a flare of luxury.
NOK has been able to perfect the art of reinventing classics of African cooking. Nok has the unmatched technique of bringing out the luxury and delicious flavors in so many of the wonderful foods on our continent. The menu at Alara is simply exciting. You can find options such as Grilled Calamari Suya, Oxtail Hotpot, Poisson Braisé, Lamb Mafe with Peanut Sauce, Jerk Chicken with Ghanaian Rice & Beans, Waaky and much more.
On this occasion, I went for Sunday brunch with my friends Bada Akintunde Johnson, Country manager Viacom Nigeria and Tomi Wale Creative Director Get up Inc. The only menu available at our time of arrival was the brunch menu, and even just the brunch menu is the type of menu that has you wanting to order absolutely everything. After much deliberation, Bada and I opted for the Whole Tilapia with Akassa (Eko). The meal was just delicious and filling. The mix of rich flavors and seasoning was just right and the pepper hit the right spot. I also had eko for the first time which reminded me of South African pap. The combination of the two was exactly what I needed. Apart from the delicious food I highly appreciated the presentation of the food and the accents of the table settings and cutlery holders. Every detail of the restaurant is tastefully pulled together to contribute to the fine dining experience. This is what Bada has to say about his food;
“It was a sophisticated but richly deep African food experience. The authentic sweetness of traditional Nigerian dishes elevated to high street restaurant levels”.
Here is what Tomi had to say about his experience;
“Nok by Alara exudes an artistic look and feel. As we walked in a waiter walks up to our table with a pleasant introduction of himself. He hands over the menu and I noticed Amala. The Ibadan boy in me immediately saw that as sarcasm so flipped on. How can Amala be in this beautiful interior with simple yet elegant chandeliers dropped off a black room with desaturated images diagonally placed on the wall in symmetry? I mean, the chairs and tables here are well spaced and I see no smoke in sight! Yeah right, Amala. Bada and Lehlé went with their choices of fish and for some reason, I went back to the Amala page and told the waiter to bring it. I sipped on my water waiting for something like an out-of-the-box attempt to show up. My thoughts upon finishing my meal were ” Who turned the Amala so good? Who made the soup???” I enjoyed it. As a boy that grew up in Bodija, I was proud to know there is a new TRUE place in Lagos to eat that meal! When I was done, I started noticing new things at NOK like the colorful and beautiful crafted chairs outside, triangular orientation everywhere, the brilliant architecture to make sunlight be the major source of lighting during the day, an inspirational beauty when you present African art with a sense of excellence. It was a beautiful experience”.
Here is fun fact, Nok By Alara is the only restaurant in Lagos that serves Thiéboudienne which is the national dish of my home country of Senegal. The Thiéboudienne is so authentic, one would think it was made on the streets of Dakar. It is boldly flavored combination of fish, rice, and vegetables simmered in tomato sauce is a hearty one-pot meal. You can make it with any fish or vegetables you have on hand, including potatoes, cassava, squash or pumpkin. The rice used in Thiéboudienne is jollof rice.
Without attempting to contribute to the ongoing Jollof wars, contrary to popular belief Jollof is believed to have originated in the Senegambia region of West Africa among the Wolof people. The mouth-watering meal has traveled throughout the sub-region because of the frequent cultural exchange that goes on and is also made in Nigeria and Ghana. If you would like to taste authentic Senegalese Jollof rice then head over to Alara.
Nok by Alara represents Lagos fine dining, it is perfect for a fun weekend brunch, a dinner, drinks with It is perfect for art lovers that enjoy authentic African dishes and fine dining. I cannot recommend Nok by Alara enough!
Rating – 5 stars
Total– N23, 000
2 Tilapia with Akassa (Eko)- N13,000
Mango Chilli Mule- N3,000
Hibiscus Lemonade -N3,000
Mary Dinah founded M.A.D Hospitality, a hospitality consulting firm with particular focus on the management of boutique hotels and service excellence training. The company has since grown and diversified into corporate hotel bookings with international clients that include Fortune 500 companies and more recently the luxury private residences where Naomi Campbell and Roberto Cavalli stayed while visiting Lagos. In this interview with Lehle Balde overlooking the Lagos Lagoon reminiscent of Seattle waterline, the Harvard graduate and founder of Job Link Foundation talked about her new venture as the CEO of Seattle Residences, Luxury Apartments in Victoria Island, Lagos. Excerpts:How did you get started in the hospitality business?I have been in hospitality for 18 years, and that has been many years in hospitality for me. I’m quite lucky that I started young. I started at the age of 17 with the Hilton in London. I was the Conference and Banqueting Operator, helping with large meetings and conferences. Hilton is the largest conference and banqueting hotel in Europe, their conferences sits about 3,000 people, we were having really big banquets and awards.It’s a big stage to start on. I studied computer science at the University of Nottingham, and immediately after that I did a Masters in Hotel Management. In between the two, I worked with Four Seasons in London, on an internship for four months, after I finished the masters, I joined the Marriot Hotel Group, which offered a fast track to general management and most of my career has been with Marriot.I worked in the front office, food, and beverage and I was a chef for some time. In any hotel, you will immerse yourself with foods and beverages; you can’t do without it, from the menus, menu engineering, work with the chefs, during events. I was a breakfast chef, pastry chef, and then I worked with housekeeping. To be able to be a general manager of a hotel, you have to work everywhere. After that, I focused more on sales and marketing and moved to Marriot head office team for sales in central London.Shortly after that, I went to Harvard to study entrepreneurship, which pushed me to set up a management company called MAD, which is the hospitality business I have now run for about 10 years. At MAD Hospitality, we do a global distribution system, which is more focused on the technology type of hospitality. MAD Hospitality partners with some of the big names in the industry: we partnered Saver to be their representative in sub-Saharan Africa, so the clients would never see us, but when they book our hotel in Nigeria we are behind it, and then we get fees from it.We did a lot with BOA, and also the local banks like First Bank and a couple of other companies, and then we manage hotels, like the Panel Apartment in Abuja, Lagoon Quest in Lagos, Golf and Spa in Abuja, Harold Park Golf Club in Abuja.I am now the CEO of Seattle Residence. The first time I came here to visit I just thought it was stunning and beautiful and perfectly in line in terms of what we do at MAD. I thought it was perfect because I’ve worked with executive apartments before, which is what this is: luxury, extended stay, serviced apartments. There are normal apartments, but you can rent them on a nightly rate or a yearly rate, like three months, six months, it’s funny that they say short-stay because it’s actually long-stay for hotels. It’s important to know what the differences are between nightly guest and people that stay for longer in serviced apartments; the housekeeping is different, the attention to detail is different, the service and the whole feel is more homely, it is genuinely a home away from home. To the extent that we don’t even say “home away from home”, we say “your Lagos home”. It’s where you call home in the city.It’s usually for people that travel a lot either local or international, people who want the opportunity to come and go as they please and know that everything is sorted for them, and even at their request, we can even clean their apartment daily while they are away and keep it exactly how they want it.
How do you see Seattle Residences contributing to Nigeria’s tourism? How are you able to impact the tourism industry?
In terms of what we bring to tourism, one of the reasons I moved back to Nigeria is because I wanted to make an impact on the hospitality and tourism industry in Nigeria. I had all this experience quite young, I moved back about seven years ago, but I’m still very much in London, we are working with our hotel groups here, it’s my country, Nigeria, and I want to make a key the difference, a key contribution to the industry.The industry is still very young, very much in its infant stage. In 2010, we only had about four internationally branded hotels in Nigeria. I moved back to Nigeria, I joined the 4 Points as their head of marketing for all the Starward Hotel in Nigeria, so that’s 4 Points Lagos, Sheraton Ikeja, Sheraton Abuja, Le Meridien Port Harcourt, Le Meridien Akwa-Ibom, which is a golf resort, so I was shuffling through the five, and reporting to our head office for Africa, which is in Brussels.The marketing hub for Europe, Africa, the Middle East, which is the London Park Lane, so I was shuffling between the two, and it was a perfect job for me because I could perfectly connect everything that I was learning and what the company was doing in Europe with what they were doing here, and I was employed to bridge the gap and make sure that marketing concepts and promotion are exactly the same as what they do everywhere else in the world, that was what I did on that role.I took a break from managing my own company to take on that role, now after three years, I went back to manage my hospitality company and we are managing various hotels. I think it was a necessary role for me because I learned a lot, and it put me in good stead to do everything that I’m doing now.Going back to what we want to bring to the industry, we want to show a world class property, we do a lot of service excellence training, for me, the service quality in Lagos, Nigeria is not as it should be.I think that Nigerians are very hospitable, some of the most hospitable people in the world, and it comes naturally, we are very community-based, very family oriented, even in my language in Yoruba, when people are eating, they say in Yoruba “e wa jeun” (come and eat), they say “you meet me well, come and join,” and when you say no, they say bring a fork.They are very hospitable, you have your family around, it is all-normal and that’s how the culture is. It is not that way in other cultures, neighbours don’t just smile at each other just because they are neighbours; they just walk past.Some cultures are very conservative and they all keep to themselves, mind their business, and even siblings don’t necessary live together, even parents, when they are older, are moved into homes, as opposed to our culture where you move them to your home. I think we are very hospitable, but we somehow haven’t learned fully how to make it work, how to commercialise that hospitality, and so that is what I want to bring into the Nigerian culture, to show that we are hospitable, we are happy, smiley, friendly and warm, we are very social, we like to host, we like to welcome people it’s who we are and I want to make sure that we showcase who we are.The trainings that I do is to bring it out of them, it is not to teach them anything new because it comes naturally to them, it’s to encourage them to keep that attitude when they work in the hospitality industry, to work with it, and be able to welcome people the way they would in their own homes.
One of the issues people complain about a lot in the hospitality industry is Service. What brings the difference in how you train your staff?
There is a very big difference. Almost all of the excellence training service that I’ve heard about in Nigeria is classroom based, and I do mine differently. It’s always on the job because service is a verb, it’s a doing word. When you give service, it’s an action, an act or a facial expression or a smile. It’s something that you do, it’s not cognitive and it’s not academic as something might be in other industries.In hospitality, it’s very much action, so I don’t see the point in people sitting down and telling them this is how you should greet a guest, I would rather go to the front office and sit with them and say just continue, act like I’m not here and when they greet the guest and the guest goes, I say OK that was good, but you know the guest was holding a baby, did you ask if she needs a cot or it’s a businessman and he was holding a suit, did you ask him if he needs an ironing service, does he need a car to work.The anticipatory service, the things that you look out for to think beyond what they’ve asked you to try and help them put together the things they’ve not even expressed, by the time they express it, it’s already a complain, or at least they are prompting you to do something. They would rather that you plan for them and ask them what they would want, based on cues that they’ve already given, the things that they need. That goes into going the extra mile for the guest, going into anticipating their needs goes into making their stay more memorable, more comfortable.Hospitality goes as far back as biblical days; I’m a Christian and the bible talks about being warm to strangers in your community. For me, in terms of growing up in the church, every time they talk about hospitality in the Bible, there are so many stories about people welcoming others.
What is your favourite story about hospitality in the Bible?There is a story about a man that welcomed a person into his home, and so doing welcomes an angel, and that angel then turns his life around. And the concept of it is, you never know who you welcome into your door or city, but there are many stories about being kind to strangers.I’ve thought about this for many years and I realised that travel comes with its own stress, no matter how luxurious the hotel, no matter how warm your smile, for me I’m not so interested in Economy, first-class, business-class or private jet. I can sit anywhere because everyone is still going through a travel process and it’s not the most pleasant of things, even if you sit in first-class, it’s all nice and all but there is the cabin pressure.I did a module in a course in school on travel catering and what it takes to get them food on a plane, the air has to be sucked out so the food can stay fresh, that’s why when they bring it, it’s all packed in the foil. It takes a lot to get it on the plane and it has to wait for possible overnight for the flight, for you to open it and it’s still fresh. It’s never perfect, it’s never restaurant quality, and it’s getting better with technology.Everything about travel, from the airport to the car pick-up, comes with its own stress and it’s very growling. It is important that we go the extra mile for everyone you see that checks-in especially if they come from abroad, they are going through a lot already even if they flew first-class or enter a limousine and they open the car door, it’s a whole journey and they might have been on the road for 12 hours before you see them, you don’t know what they’ve been through, who they left at home.The hotel that I started with at the Marriot, we had people who lived in New York and worked in London, every Monday they were in London and every Friday they flew out. It’s a lot deeper than people think, and how people write letters and say this whole trip for me was problematic and difficult, I just got a divorced, or I just moved home, I just had a baby, or I just got this job, reading those letters, and they mention how good the hotel service was or mention other people’s name or even your name and when your name is mentioned, you get employee of the month.Those early days in hospitality, I realised this is so much more than just my passion for hospitality and it has a lot to do with real impact in people’s lives and people’s lives are much better because of me. When you individualize it, you realize that your job is so much more than you. I would liken it to the work that nurses do, it’s far more than just that, the experience with people, sleeping in hospitals, being admitted or just visiting for the day, it’s such a crucial time in their life and they will always look back to the caregivers, so we are caregivers as well.I see hospitality within hotels as that service, people argue sometimes that it’s different because it’s expensive, and it’s 5-star. It’s so much more than just giving luxury, the champagne, the tea, the $1000 suite and things like that, but when you go beneath the surface we are caregivers, whether it’s in the hospital, or in a home, or a luxury hotel, it’s the same thing, we see the same people, just at different times of their lives and the care that we give them is just as crucial as anyone else.So, that type of mentality and concept is embedded in the training that I give to the staff and I think that that’s what makes the service here different, and I think that because I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about the team and our service, and everything from the security.The rest of the directors and I spend a lot of time training the security staff members, standing with them outside not in the classroom. We always have a classroom training for maybe 2 hours to discuss, where we share some videos, presentations, the rest of the one-week training is hands-on training and I think that’s what makes the big difference.Also, the type of properties that we manage: I’m very lucky to have fantastic owners, they really understand hospitality, they shared the vision that they wanted to create, it was spot-on the type of company and hospitality service that I wanted to put together and provide, so it’s a perfect team from the start.So, when I explain we need to employ a certain number of people, they say go ahead, or we need to invest this much in training, they say go ahead. Their attention to detail and their understanding of it is far deeper than all the previous owners, I’ve worked with, from the quality of the hand towels to the scent of the candles and all of the equipment that we put in our wellness centres, everything has to be world-class. All of the equipment at the gym, our interior design option is the best, we appreciate indigenous, so we always look for the best indigenous companies. If for any reason we can’t find it, then we go abroad. They want local luxury. It’s a Nigerian hotel and we want Nigerians to have it at the best, but at the same time, we don’t discriminate.We have a lady from Senegal as our restaurant manager, the front office manager is from the Philippines, and our lifestyle manager is from India. I think I am GM or CEO of the top hotels in Nigeria that is Nigerian; all of the other GMs are foreign. Sheraton came to Nigeria in 1985 and they’ve never had a Nigerian GM, so it is great to say that I am the first lady to not only become the GM & CEO of the management company but also heading the whole operations; it shows that Nigerians can do it, you just need to get the right Nigerians and support them to do it.
How would you say the government is supporting Nigeria’s tourism business? What’s your take on the government efforts to improve tourism in Nigeria?
At the moment, we are in-between governments, we have our new Governor-elect, and I’ve met with him several times. He, in particular, wants to focus on tourism, which is refreshing. I was an ambassador of tourism for about two years and we were able to do some projects on beach renovations.I also did a lot of consulting in terms of the service industry, hotels, customer service, and hospitality. With Sanwo-Olu coming in, I think he is going to put a lot of focus on it and prioritise it to the extent of what the budget will allow. He is trying to make some moves in tourism, and I’m sure that we’ll work together. He is interested with projects that come with their own funding, and for me, that’s as much as you can expect from the government.In that regard, they’ve been very supportive, however but the budget is not always adequate. If you have a proposal and you take it to the Ministry of Tourism, if you have your own funding, they would almost always help you execute it and give a letter that they are endorsing it. Unfortunately, you can’t really ask for more than that.I think the problem we have a lot of times in Nigeria is that people expect the government to be a bank, so their focus is to meet government for money, but my own focus is to create money from private sector, banks or international lenders and then go to the government to partner.So, what they can contribute can to do a large-scale training in security for instance: in terms of venue (because they have a lot of training centres) in that sense, they are always very supportive. Funding not so much, because they don’t really have it and there are so many issues with corruption and things like that, so I even prefer that they just support, and put their logo on your project, it goes a long way.I think that in the new administration, Sanwo-Olu is going to be even more supportive and more open-minded because he has had a lot of exposure, and for tourism, and that is what you need. You need an experienced leader to say this isn’t the way things should be.It is basic, maybe I will speak to him about this, for example, Lagos’ nightlife. We have a very buzzing nightlife. London has a great nightlife, but Lagos is different, the weather is warm and we need more security at night. There is no reason why we can’t have one policeman every 100 metres between Adeola Odeku and Akin Adesola.There was a time streets were not lit and it was dark, the street lighting was not consistent, and if it’s not lit up, it’s a security hazard. But now, 24 hours a day, there is light everywhere; you will never find Adeola Odeku without light even at 4am. So, the next thing we need now is security all around, and if we have that, we can convince all the tourists that they can go clubbing and come back at 5am. I know it’s not something they can do in Surulere, Ajegunle, etc. but at least in these areas where you have all the nightclubs.
Naomi Campbell, Edward Eningful, Robert Cavalli and Andre Leon Tally all stayed at the Seattle Residences in May. What was it like?
It was really exciting to have them stay at Seattle Residences. It was amazing to house all of the big fashion people. They were all very happy with their experience here at Seattle and Lagos in general. Naomi Campbell made a very creative video essentially marketing Nigeria from the fashion shows, the beaches, Seattle Residences and the Lagos vibe. It is important for people to see the various sides of Lagos. Lagos is a dynamic city with luxurious experiences and we want people to see this side of Lagos too.Apart from hospitality, you have a foundation called JobLink, what does the Foundation do?JobLink is one of Nigeria’s fastest growing human resource development companies with its headquarters at 8 Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The company has a network of over 200,000 jobseekers from all states in Nigeria and over 500 top companies as clients. Job-Link continues to focus on its main objective of reducing the unemployment rate in Nigeria by connecting candidates to jobs in diverse industries. To date, over 10,000 job seekers have been connected with employers.In addition to recruitment services, Job-Link specializes in human capital development. Our employability training are designed to ensure all candidates have the soft skills required to excel at interviews and keep the jobs we connect them with. Certificates of attendance are given at the end of the training, which candidates can add to their resumes and profiles to boost their chances of attracting employers. More than 2,000 people have been trained at our 150-seater training centre in Ikoyi with very encouraging success stories.
What advice do you have for young women navigating their professional lives?
My advice to young women is simply ‘Go for it’. The sky is the limit. Women in this culture are too concerned about their reputation and what other people think. A lot of people hold themselves back because of what they think people will say, the fear of being judged for being too assertive and out there. My advice is to stay focused on your objectives. Men in Nigeria are the ones closing all the deals and that is how they get ahead. Women need to believe in their abilities and go after what they want unapologetically.
The Grill By Delis is located on Karimu Kotun off Akin Adesola in Victoria Island. The restaurant has been around for a while and as of last year, was taken over by a new management team. As I drove into the restaurant, I immediately noticed the outdoor section, which is a pleasant seating area filled with green plants, luscious blooming flowers, and a large crystal clear blue pool. A botanical garden is what describes the outside section. There are plenty of beautiful picture worthy backdrops that I took full advantage of. There is also a well-designed indoor space that is quite classy and has exquisite African art hung on the walls. I appreciated the décor, it is tasteful and not too loud. The room was well lit and the ambiance was calm yet chic. It was a Tuesday evening so the place was just starting to fill up.
I was met by a friendly waitress who asked me if I wanted to sit outdoors or indoors. I am usually an outdoor person but because of the luscious plants, the garden in the evening is prone to insects so I chose to sit indoors. I had made a reservation the night before but did not particularly like the table given to me because it was too close to the kitchen, so after I identified where I wanted to sit, I asked to be moved and the manager was happy to seat me at my requested table which overlooked the garden indoors. I think its really important to request for your preferred seat if it is available because going out to eat should be an experience beyond the food.
I took a look at the menu and the first thing that caught my eye was the oysters, so I decided to order some while I waited for my guest. The oysters were surprisingly fresh and tasty. I have never had oysters in Lagos before and they most definitely didn’t disappoint. Oysters are definitely an acquired taste, being from Senegal which is known for its fresh seafood, oysters are a part of many people’s culinary pallets. Up there with caviar and foie gras as one of the world’s ultimate luxury foods, oysters don’t look much from the outside, but the flesh of these bivalved molluscs is tastefully succulent and delicately flavored, varying in colour from pale grey to beige, surrounded by a clear juice.
My guest on this occasion was Vimbai Mutinhiri, who is a seasoned journalist, talk show host, media personality, former big brother Africa contestant and founder of the Vimbai.com which is a pan African community of dreamers, thinkers and game changers. Vimbai is someone whose work I admire greatly so it was a pleasure to have her as a dinner guest. She is originally from Zimbabwe and has a very pan African presence so we definitely had lots of things to talk about.
After deciphering through the menu, I opted for the Veal chop with mashed potatoes and Vimbai had the grilled Salmon with vegetables and mashed potatoes. Veal has been an important ingredient in Italian, French and other Mediterranean cuisines from ancient times. The veal is often in the form of cutlets, such as the Italian cotoletta or the famous Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel. Veal is lower in fat than many types of meats, so care must be taken in preparation to ensure that it does not become tough. I will say that veal is much different than regular beef or steak, still tasty but quite different in texture. The serving was large, so in the attempt to not waste food I asked them to pack my leftovers.
Here is what Vimbai had to say about her experience;
“Beyond the friendly staff, and ocean-fresh oysters, I thoroughly loved the understated elegant decor at the Grill by Deli’s. The interior is intimate and modern, with a touch of Africa. I was a little disappointed that when I ordered my salmon I wasn’t given an option as to how I would like it done, but the yummy Bee-Hive cocktail went a long way in keeping me in good spirits”.
Overall our experience was fun, we were there for 3 hours and did not feel the time go by, the food came out in a timely manner and the staff pleasant. I suggest you make reservations before you go to avoid any disappointments. The space is perfect for private events, date night, an intimate dinner or lunch and is ideal for nature lovers.
They have an extensive drink menu as well as an impressive dessert menu which I will come back for, I just didn’t have any space left!
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @bdculinarydelights. See you next week!
6 oysters- N9000
Veal – N12 800
Salmon- N12 800
There are always challenges that go along with being an ambitious hardworking professional. Chances are that you’re always faced with long days at the office, tight deadlines, meetings, and travel. Have you noticed though that there are some colleagues of yours that still seem to thrive and perform exceptionally well irrespective of any obstacle or stressors they face at work? Sometimes one key difference between you and that super productive colleague boils down to who is making better dietary choices. Nonetheless, your food choices matter and some dietary habits may be actually zapping you of energy and leading you to be less productive at work.
In order to stay pumped up and energized throughout the course of the work day, keep in mind some habits you will want to eliminate as well as those to incorporate in your life.
Never skip out on drinking water! Water has a critical role in many of the body’s physiological processes. Nonetheless, drinking insufficient amounts of water translates into a lowered energy state, whereby one may feel weak, lethargic, and experience a reduced level of cognitive functioning. Stay hydrated throughout the course of the day and don’t ignore any signs that the body gives indicating that you may be dehydrated.
Say no to Ultra Processed Foods/Junk Foods
Processed foods are those that have been industrially packaged or modified from its original natural state such as chips, frozen meals, canned meat, packaged cakes or desserts, candy, etc . It may seem obvious to avoid such items, but the reality is that for so many busy professionals the day is so fast paced that it seems more convenient to just grab a bag of chips or another accessible unhealthy snack when you get hungry. You must realize though that such options have little to no nutritional value and may be filled with trans fats, preservatives, additives, salt, and sugars that are quite unhealthy. Eating a lot of these kinds of food, not only contributes to lethargy and fatigue, but it also increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease and even obesity.
Don’t over do it on caffeine
Far too many professionals are dependent on coffee to give them the immediate boost of energy they desire to get through the work day. Coffee in moderation does have some health benefits, however, consuming excess caffeine may lead to serious problems with anxiety, insomnia, loss of focus, irritability, and even heart palpitations. You may consider switching to green tea which contains less caffeine than coffee, but still has a sufficient amount to provide some energy. Green tea is also highly antioxidant rich and contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect and may aid in reducing anxiety throughout a stressful day.
Seek out your “brain food”
This means to indulge more in those power foods that can help nourish the brain and can keep you sharp while on the job. Some foods that have been shown to promote brain health and improve memory include berries, fish with omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, tomatoes, and leafy green veggies like kale or spinach.
Eat a nutritious breakfast to jumpstart your day
You may think that mornings are too busy to make time for breakfast, however starting the morning with a nutritious breakfast is key. In fact, some research has linked routinely skipping breakfast with an increased risk of cardiovascular related death. So carve out time for breakfast and ensure that the meal includes “good carbohydrates” that will sustain your energy levels throughout the day. Some food items to consider include whole grain oats, bananas, apples, sweet potatoes, and even greek yogurt.
Always Maintain Good Portion Control
As a hardworking professional you are likely always in a crunch for time, so perhaps you use that brief moment you have available to devour as much food as possible. Don’t fall victim to finishing an entire pack of your favorite snack in one sitting or going for multiple servings of a meal being served at the company event. Remember, the goal is to nourish your body with just the right amount of nutrients to keep you healthy, focused, and productive at work. Avoid over saturating the body with unwanted excess calories, as this can leave you feeling sluggish and tired at work.
Here is the takeaway: You must eat smart and healthy to adequately fuel your body and allow yourself to be as productive as possible on the job.
(This article was written by Lehlé Baldé for BusinessDay Media . Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe ,a Nigerian-American medical doctor and health expert, writer, and health contributor, also contributed to this article. Dr. Nesochi has been featured and interviewed about a wide range of health-related topics by popular media outlets including CNN, Vogue, BBC, Forbes, CNBC Africa, and more, learn more at supermodelmd.com)
French cuisine is one that is enjoyed by many around the world. Similar to the language, it has come to be enjoyed all over the world. French cuisine is known worldwide for its finesse and flavor. What I love about traditional French food is that it relies on simple combinations that enhance flavors of basic ingredients. French chefs are acclaimed for turning French food into what we now know as haute cuisine and simultaneously influencing the gastronomic scene worldwide. I look forward to the day that African cuisine is equally celebrated on the world scene.
French cuisine has made its mark all around the world, so I was not surprised when Noir opened its doors in Lagos last year. Noir has quickly become a Lagos favorite for diners looking for French cuisine and an outstanding customer experience. As the name suggests, Noir is a black and picturesque building located on 4a Akin Olugbade St, Victoria Island. The first time I went to Noir was exactly one year ago and I remember feeling like it would be my new favorite restaurant and as predicted I have been back more than a few times since then. There’s something chic about Noir that keeps me coming back not to mention the food is exquisite.
On this occasion, I came to Noir with Chibueze Ewuzie, the channel manager of the international award-winning lifestyle proposition; Xclusive plus by Access Bank. Chibueze is a young person who is connecting Nigeria’s middle class to premium lifestyle services that go beyond banking through XclusivePlus.
I promised to take Chibueze out for a late birthday lunch and he chose Noir, so I was happy to oblige. I got there early so I had time to explore the supermarket downstairs which is a grocery store filled with lots of exciting goodies, mostly imported from France. There is also a butchery inside the supermarket and a small cafe before you get to the main dining area. As you enter the restaurant Noir, you will likely fall in love with the decor as it is tasteful and exquisite. The furniture is timeless and the lights are warm and inviting. The artwork at Noir is also equally as impressive and edgy. Every time I have visited, the service is usually good and the staff is very knowledgeable on the menu. I know the menu quite well so I went for the steak frites, which is essentially tenderloin steak cooked well done with mashed potatoes and veggies. The steak was tender and the mashed potatoes combination was perfect. Since it was Chibueze first time he has a first timers review…
Here is what Chibueze had to say about his experience.
“One exciting item on my bucket list is traveling through Europe sampling the various cuisines of at least 20 countries, so Noir Lagos was an easy selection considering it is inspired by modern French cuisine. My experience was also much anticipated because Lehle had promised to take me out for a meal to mark my birthday and I looked forward to our conversation throughout the evening. Ordering dinner was quite easy, the waitress was pleasant and cheerful however she wasn’t quite versed in the composition of the meals hence couldn’t be more influential in my meal selection considering I had some questions. As a meat lover, I ordered the T-bone steak cooked medium well for that juicy texture and I wasn’t disappointed. The rich brown color of the steak wasn’t nearly as pleasing as its flavor which was delicious and quite filling considering the generous portion served. Cooked with just the right amount of seasoning and accompanied with the Cafe de Paris sauce for that buttery rich flavor, the fries and ketchup maintained their position as a side dish all evening while my mojito washed it all down for a truly relaxing evening. Overall, regardless of the great service, wonderful ambiance and delicious steak that Noir provides, a truly remarkable evening wouldn’t be complete without good company”.
Noir Lagos is the first of its kind French-inspired culinary experience that combines fine dining with a fun, friendly and warm environment. Noir as a brand focuses on giving its guests a taste of Paris in the bustling city of Lagos. Although it was initially known for its food and high-end dining experience has now transformed into fully multipurpose space decked with a supermarket on the first floor, cafe on the second, restaurant on the third floor and rooftop bar on the 4th floor. There is something for everyone. The restaurant is perfect for a dinner date, birthday celebration, drinks with friends and even a business meeting. I will keep coming back and I hope you make the time to check it out too.
Follow us on Instagram @bdculinarydelights
Rating – 5
Tenderloin Steak with mashed potatoes – N12 200
T Bone steak- N 13 800
Shrimp cocktail- N4500
Titi Odunfa is the founder/CEO of Sankore Investments, a boutique wealth management firm that provides advisory, brokerage, fund management and other investment services to high net worth individuals and corporations. In this interview with BusinessDay’s Editor, Patrick Atuanya and Senior Associate, Lehle Balde, Odunfa describes her journey from Goldman Sachs to starting a hedge fund and now providing investment strategy and guidance to clients. Excerpts…
Q Thank you for having us today, can you tell us about your firm and why you decided to set up a firm that caters to high net worth individuals?
Sankore Investment is a full-service wealth management platform and I started it because I have been interested in investing since I was at least thirteen. I remember being curious about what investing was about, and I started investing personally when I went to the United States for college and was able to open my first brokerage account and started trading.
It was a very interesting time, it was actually during the internet bubble around the late 1990s and it was a very interesting time to learn about investing although I lost what little money I had. That actually even got me more curious about understanding the fundamentals of investing.
I initially worked in Consulting but moved to Goldman Sachs strategy after my business school program. It was at Goldman Sachs I really feel I developed the understanding of the beauty of investment and the underpinning of what drives return and that was an amazing experience for me.
After a few years with Goldman Sachs, I just realised I needed to run my own investment firm and manage money directly for people. It was also an exciting time in Nigeria, this was around 2007 and 2008 and there was a lot going on in the country especially around the stock market. At Goldman that time I was already covering a wide range of asset classes and was very interested in emerging markets.
So I thought of starting a hedge fund. I saw that Africa was doing fantastic with so much global interest and investing in the continent and decided to come back to Nigeria, where I am from and start a hedge fund.
Looking back I believe it was a really bold step I took at that time because I was around 28 to 29 years old and it was not that I had a lot of investing experience at that point but I really just felt like I would be able to do it.
When I came back I realised I needed to get some Nigerian work experience and it was pretty much the beginning of the downturn as the timing was not percent. At that time, however, I worked for Zenith Capital for a bit and was able to eventually start Sankore in 2010. I was truly oblivious of how difficult it was going to be, I was so driven to actualize my vision and I went straight for it and was still determined to start the hedge fund.
However, it was very difficult to raise money and I realised that there was actually quite a big pool of capital that really wasn’t properly managed and it was mostly individual funds and so that for me became an interesting place because I actually stumbled on it by accident, as I said, I was running a company that was set up to run hedge fund and I remember having a client who invested possibly 67 percent of their net worth in our hedge fund.
I didn’t know at that time it was that large an amount because globally the people investing hedge funds are supposed to be sophisticated clients and very high net worth individuals who know what a hedge fund is and the risks involved.
But it made me realise that the level of sophistication even HNI clients in Nigeria are slightly different- I wouldn’t say it is worse-but way they understand investment is completely different because Nigeria has its own uniqueness.
So I just showed me that there was an opportunity to set up a firm to provide investment strategy and guidance to clients whilst helping them invest at the same time.
Q : How has the transition from a developed market in the United States to a less developed one here in Nigeria been, especially in 2009 where Nigeria’s financial services sector was not as developed as it is today?
It was initially a difficult one, and that was why I decided to work in Nigeria first; I did that to be absolutely sure. Even now in my company, it is very rare for me to hire people with only foreign experience because one needs to know how Nigeria works.
One of the big things is when you work in investments in Nigeria you have to know everything end-to-end – especially operational backbone of everything.
In the developed market you do not know all of that and that was actually the big thing for me; coming here, having to understand what a Registrar does, a Custodian does, and so on. Trading abroad is a very different and seamless experience but working in Nigeria requires one knowing much more about the entire cycle of investments and you have to be like the “jack of all trade”. For me that was the transition; having to understand all of the bits and not just focusing on what the market was doing.
For instance, you could invest in a security that makes a lot of sense and just you not having your operational system set up could cause you to lose money. That is one of the reasons we are also passionate about technology here.
We have done a lot in the technology space and even now we are working on a networking platform that is targeted towards people who want to get the same wealth management advice and processes but want it simplified.
We actually just launched a platform called Wealth.ng and our goal here is to give people more of a simple experience with regards to investing.
Like you said, it’s been quite a transition, one in which we are trying to get the operational backend clean in other to give our client an experience that is simple.
Q What has working in Nigeria and trying to learn the Nigerian factor taught you about the domestic financial ecosystem?
Like I said earlier, working here in investment is actually different from doing so outside the country.
Again our work with clients actually varies; even though we are a wealth management firm, we focus on a range of things. We do fund management, we do Trust, we also have a Registrar so our clients fall into different categories, but at the end of the day, our key priority is the Wealth Management need of different individuals but we engage with our clients on many different levels.
Take for example for the former Diamond Bank we actually provided their privileged banking unit with white label investment products. As you know, Universal Banking means that most banks no longer have their own investment subsidiaries and it means that they still have a need to provide some of these services and we have been able to step in to provide white labelled services to them at the backend.
One of the things we have definitely learned is that a lot of Nigerian Financial institutions have very broad offerings but sometimes they may be missingdepth in particular areas and they are aware of this and it is why they are willing to work with firms that can provide them with further depth.
So we actually found in Nigeria that very few banks have a proper private bank based on global standards and it is something a lot of banks are aware of, but they make so much money from the rest of their business and private banking being much more of a long term kind of business is actually something they haven’t focused on.
As you know there are three banks with a group structure and they of course focus on it and do an amazing job at it, but a lot of the other banks that do not focus on this primarily are the ones that we look to help provide a white labelled approach which by the way is in line with global practice.
Globally a lot of wealth management companies and private banks use third-party products. It is only in Nigeria everyone wants to do everything themselves-part of the Nigerian factor.
However, collaboration can actually allow one to provide many more services to clients and keep them happier. These are part of what we try to preach to financial institutions: collaboration and partnerships to provide more to individual customers.
These have been some of the things we have experienced working with Nigerian financial services institutions.
Q From your interaction with clients, what are their greatest concerns in today’s Nigeria and how are you helping them ease some of the worries?
As you know, Nigeria doesn’t have a lot of intergenerational wealth. Our wealth tends not to pass beyond one or two generations whereas, in countries like the United States, about 80 percent of private wealth is inherited. What that means is that our clients in Nigeria are usually the first creators of wealth and generally if you are the first creator of wealth you are more than likely to be an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs definitely at this point are majorly worried about economic growth. We are creeping on 2 percent growth rate which is not great for businesses. The major worries have been around economic activities and government policies because Nigeria is very dependent on that as well. Then you see a big focus on that from our clients who are mostly entrepreneurs and can be directly affected by all of those variables.
And of course one of the big policy areas they focus on is the exchange rate, which makes sense if you are trying to build wealth. For a lot of High Net worth Individuals (HNIs), their spending is global; they spend in pounds, dollars and are earning naira which makes it very important to be aware of the foreign exchange policy.
For us what we try to do to help them navigate is just proper planning and provision of information and data and we usually hold monthly investment planning and strategy calls where we give our clients a sense of direction of the macro-economy and policies with regards to how it impacts their wealth and should affect their investment decisions.
We also build investment strategy models that are optimised for their global spending. We recommend them to have a huge chunk of their investment in dollar-denominated instruments, and so on.
We are also encouraging them to look at high yielding instruments in alternatives like real estate and agriculture. It cannot all be T-bills and bonds because otherwise, you are not compensating for potential depreciation risk.
Those are some of the strategies we advise our clients on.
Q You talked about the economy and it brings me to financial inclusion, you represent the wealthiest 1 percent of Nigerians. What do you think the 1 percent of Nigerians should do to bridge that gap?
I am glad you asked that question because it is an area of passion for us. One of the things I tell people is that investing is the key to unlocking wealth both for individuals and nations.
For us, we have a big mission not to make the rich wealthier, but to drive and grow Nigeria’s wealth through the deploying of investment assets.
We do believe that Nigerians, unfortunately, focus too much on what the government should do rather than what we can do ourselves with our investment money. Because of that we strongly believe that HNIs have a very strong responsibility to the country through investment.
We are so much dependent on FDI and we shouldn’t be. Why should, for example, the stock market drop by 20 percent because foreign portfolio investors take their money out? Why dont we have enough people here investing in the stock market?
Of course, there are many reasons for that but part of it is just because of the lack of proper guidance and investment portfolio allocation and so we really do think that there is a strong responsibility on the part of HNIs to solve Nigeria’s problem.
Many of the HNI’s may be interested in legacy building and philanthropy but then most of them want to build wealth for themselves first, so our objective is how to marry both ends and get Nigeria’s HNI to invest in sectors that are beneficial for the economy and their portfolios simultaneously. We often find that some of the best investment ideas do both.
One of the issues we have seen over the last several years of working with HNI’s in Nigeria is that the average Nigerian HNI’s portfolio is underperforming inflation.
If that is the case they are not even feeling that confident in their own wealth building, they are not going to be thinking about building the nation. And the big reason is that too much of the portfolio of most HNIs sit in low yielding real estate assets.
There are a lot of high yielding real estate assets that can be beneficial towards economic growth but unfortunately, the majority of HNIs put their money in 3-bedroom flats in luxury areas and the likes and that is actually not beneficial because rental yields are low at 3-5 percent.
So if you have 50 to 80 percent of your portfolio in real estate and it is low yield real estate, then your total portfolio return even if the rest is in high yielding fixed income, is not going to exceed 6-8 percent, and that means you are not building true wealth for yourself.
There are actually subsectors of real estate, like commercial real estates that are low-income kind of real estate and yield as high as 20-25 percent. We are looking at substituting housing opportunities for our clients that can yield as high as 18-200 percent. Guess what! That is the type of investment that HNIs really should be putting their money into.
If an HNI invests in student housing, that means the majority of students that live in terrible conditions now can afford to stay in better hostels and value would have been created for both parties.
For us, we spend a lot of time trying to think of how to find the sweet spot between where HNIs make more money than they current have-which would incentivise them to keep investing- and there is a benefit to the country.
So for us, that is why we spend a lot of time looking at real estate, agriculture, and venture capital and so on. We consider a lot of alternative investment opportunity to show our client because we really do think there is a strong need to aggregate capital in order to solve our nation’s problems.
Q What are the ranges of assets you offer your clients, and how do you manage risk and liquidity?
It comes back to the core of my discipline which is Investment Strategy to ensure clients have an optimised portfolio. It is just one of the most important things in investing.
You have to understand the client’s risk and return profile in order to suggest them an ideal portfolio allocation and still one of the first things we encourage clients to do is make sure they have a very good portfolio allocation to fixed income and we call that “sleep well money” which allows you to then take risk in other asset classes.
Like I said the majority of Nigerian HNIs have most of their asset and net worth in illiquid real estate.
I have had clients tell me “I am worth two billion but if you ask me to produce ten million now, I cannot.” This is something we hear from a lot of our clients.
Many HNIs in Nigeria have liquidity issues as they hold too much of real estate-the wrong real estate. We love real estate and even have a subsidiary that looks into real estate opportunities but we want clients to look at holding more of the higher yielding real estate and commercial real estates than residential.
Again one of the things we do is make sure clients have a healthy allocation to fixed income. Again the discipline of investment strategy involves you running what we call “optimizers”.
Optimizers involve the historical data of risk and return of different asset classes to help figure out what size each asset class should be in your portfolio. Portfolio allocation is a discipline and should not be based on words of friends and family, it should instead be based on professional advice.
This year, for example, we really like agriculture but it involves some risk which we are working with different organisations to ensure we create products that are as risk mitigated as possible.
So we are partnering with the likes of AFEX which is a commodity Exchange, we are partnering with NIRSAL which helps spread the risk from lending to agriculture.
Again it is down to size. If I think this asset class is going to return 25-30 percent to you, risk and return are again very tightly coupled. If you are getting 14 percent in T-bills, a product with a return of 25 percent would be slightly riskier but if you size it appropriately, that risk over the long term should be minimized.
Q How competitive are your fees, can we get an overview of your performance compared to peers and Asset under Management (AuM)?
We manage about N25 billion currently for clients. We have much more in Assets under Custody. Our AuM is split almost evenly split between naira and dollars.
With regards to our peers, we actually do not currently run any mutual funds. That is a strategic decision because the majority of HNIs do not like Mutual Funds.
We found that most of our clients are entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs are generally very confident on their ability to build wealth and as such do not like structure that obfuscates what you are doing-they like to know what they are investing in. We invest for clients on a case-by-case basis in the specific products that we recommend. So we definitely have more of a portfolio approach.
Very few firms publish their portfolio numbers so it is hard to compare, but I do feel because we do use very rigorous methods, I would be willing to bet we are very close to the top.
With regards to fees, we try our best to be very competitive. Again we see the calibre of firms that clients move money from to us and we try our best to make sure we are benchmarked to those- and it is really all of the top guys, so our fees are generally in line with the industry.
We also try to be a bit more competitive by leveraging our lean structure which is optimised by technology. So we think that because of the use of technology we can definitely afford to keep things as lean as possible.
Q How much do I need to have to be a client of Sankore?
Sankore’s big mission is to aggregate the biggest pool of private capital Nigeria has ever seen in order for us to solve our country’s problems ourselves.
In order to do that, first, we have to be open for everyone. So what we are to trying to do is create multiple offering that meets different people at their points of need. So we have Sankore, the core platform which is targeted at the HNIs. The platform is a bespoke kind of service, and the average person has a minimum of N100 million to be a client.
Then we also have a mass affluent program which is Wealth.ng to offer the services we give to a small group of people to the broader group. The minimum to get started there is N10,000.
What we have been doing is to build a platform where people would be able to access to T-bills, Stocks and some of the Agric assets we have been talking about. Eventually we are also going to list some of the real estate offerings that we have as well. We want anyone to be able to come on and invest because at the end of the day we have to get people to have an investment mentality-that is the only way you build wealth.
Again the wealth of Nigeria is the aggregate of the wealth of its citizens; we actually think it’s a gain to get Nigerians interested not just in savings but also in investment because that is what really grows your pie.
Look at the fact that agriculture requires billions in financing in order for us to feed ourselves. That is actually a simple problem to solve theoretically with investments; why, for example, can all of us not decide to fund our farmers? The default rate of farmers is actually way less than the default rate of consumers and people are investing in consumer finance businesses, so why not Agric?
Then again some of the platforms are gaining popularity now; the likes of Farmcrowdy. It is a great movement which I greatly encourage- us financing and investing in the real sector. For us that is our angle on fintech, we really think we should be solving Nigeria’s problem and we have to go to the most basic industries that are able to hire the most people. It is the only way to build the wealth of Nigeria.
If we know that the government is trying to support rice farming, they are doing a bit of what they can with regards to trying to mitigate the risk of loss and are doing their best.
We have to try our best in providing financing to those sectors. The key thing is with any investment there is certain risk of loss but you cannot make any return if you don’t take risks and that is one issue we have as Nigerians- it is not our fault but we are very short term oriented. So even on our wealth and education platform, we see people asking how much they can make in 30 days, a week and so on.
One of the things we are trying to do is promote financials literacy about investment being a long-term thing. We talk about the fact that you really should not be investing in stocks if you are looking to make money by tomorrow.
We always tell people that their minimum horizon for stocks should be three years. It should, in fact, be five, but in Nigeria, we advise people to start with three before you go into stocks.
Q What advice do you have for young women looking to get into finance and build an amazing career there?
I am actually speaking to a small group of women tomorrow about wealth for women particularly. The reason that is important is the income gap; the fact that women make a little bit less than men. What we do not talk about is infact the wealth gap which is much worse.
The impact of this wealth gap is very negative on women and their children. Women with lower wealth are more likely to be in abusive relationships.
Property rights in Nigeria don’t really cater to women; there are instances where women who lose their husbands cannot inherit the properties. There are just so many reasons why women have to take control of their wealth and it is an area I am passionate about and would be exploring some more over the next few years.
I think it is important for us as women to be very clear that we are different from men. That is a very controversial thing to say because for a long time women have tried to do the exact same thing as men and be treated the exact same way.
The only problem is we have different realities and we can never ignore biology; I have a three-year-old daughter I have to take three to four months off work.
The key is in understanding the wealth gap is causes because the majority of women want to have a family and kids and they will never put their work above their children-which they never should.
So if that is the case, women should think about that even in their career choices.
A lot of women, unfortunately, focus on careers that do not build wealth. The key thing is that it is better or women to pick careers in areas of high expertise, more than flexible jobs because the position of high expertise is much more difficult to dispose of.
So in my company for example, if you are a software developer you need to take three to four months of leave, I would still be waiting for you to come back because I don’t want to retrain a software developer. But if it is another role for which talent can be easily replaced, it would be a different narrative then.
Women globally do better than men at school. Expertise acquisition is not the problem of women, why are we then clustering into positions of low expertise? If you look across the world, most of the positions of low expertise are dominated by women.
Women have to stop that and start looking at those roles that they erroneously believe they are not good enough for.
Remember I said we should all be aware of what makes women different from men; did you know women are better investors than men, but most women do not know that.
In fact, many of the top funds in Nigeria are run by women, but guess what we only know their men bosses. We are living in patriarchy and women are not even aware of our own strengths. We are too fixated on our weaknesses but we have to focus on our own strengths.
Wealth.ng was built by a team of software developers with 50 percent women. I would actually say it is one of the most advanced investment platform in the country and it makes me glad to see women doing great.
We need women to gravitate towards high expertise careers that penalise less when we take time off.
The second thing is we have to invest. You cannot build wealth if you do not invest. Women need to be aware that we are naturally good investors and if that is the case we shouldn’t be worried about getting it. We are naturally good but invest less and it is actually the fact that women are risk-averse that makes us better investors.
The way money works, if you lose 50 percent of your portfolio, it takes 100 percent to come back. So being risk averse actually works really well for investors and investment is one of the high expertise professions that allow women to take time off without severe penalties. So these are the areas that women should really be dominating.
Women should pick careers that are not dispensable and should stop being afraid of things they consider to be male-dominated; they are only so because we allow it to be.