Women & Money is a monthly PiggyVest series that explores the relationship between real Nigerian women and money. This series sheds light on money, career and business from a female perspective.
Nwankwo Blessing Chinenye, popularly known as Chef Neny, is a 29-year-old Port Harcourt-based chef. Her culinary company, Nenys Delight, caters events, delivers homemade meals in bulk and offers culinary training and certifications to students.
In the below conversation with PiggyVest, she talks about her love for entrepreneurship and her decision to become a chef. She also offers advice to women looking to become entrepreneurs in the culinary industry.
How did you see money as a teenager?
Our parents provided everything we needed, and even more. My dad, especially. He had many businesses and was well-to-do. We just had to say what we needed.
Love that! Did this shape how you interacted with money as you got older?
Once we reached an age my dad deemed “old enough”, he decided it was time to instil business values in us. He made us visit his places of business, and we had to work on weekends or when we returned from school.
Our job was to oversee others and learn the ropes. Unfortunately, my dad died immediately after I got admission into the university.
So sorry about that.
Did things take a turn financially?
No, not much changed. My dad had his affairs in order and left some assets and savings behind, so we never lacked anything. My passion for entrepreneurship wasn’t born from the need to survive, but from the love of creating and building a business.
Did you always have a love for food, or was it something you found because of your love for business?
Whenever I was discussing with my roommates in school, they kept talking about how they needed to graduate with a 2.1 GPA to secure good jobs. I was different. I always told them that grades didn’t really matter in my home, because, thanks to my orientation, I was sure I never wanted to work for others.
In my opinion, 9 to 5 jobs limit your earnings. Owning a business opens you up to a plethora of opportunities. And your earning potential is boundless. However, I always thought it would be in the event management business.
Interesting. What changed?
Life had other plans, I guess. I loved cooking. Then during NYSC, in 2017, I enrolled for culinary classes to keep busy. It then dawned on me that I could build a business and make money from this skill. I attempted it, and I was making money from it. So I chose to forget the event management dream and focus on honing and selling my culinary skills.
When was Nenys Delight officially birthed?
For the next two years, I went from one training to the next because I wanted to build top-notch culinary skills. Then, in February 2019, I officially started Nenys Delight.
Congratulations on seeing it through! How has it been owning a business?
[Laughs] I won’t say it has been easy o. Starting up was tough because I needed to build a client base from scratch — this was my biggest challenge. You’ll find that even your family members can be your biggest sceptics. In their heads, they were undoubtedly thinking, “Are you sure you can do this job?” or “What if I give you and you spoil it?”
Thank God for social media; it was my lifesaver. Back then, I didn’t know how Instagram and Twitter worked — I still don’t know how to use Twitter — but I kept posting on IG and Facebook, running ads, and positioning myself for jobs. Soon enough, I was getting inquiries. I got my first few gigs and delivered. The jobs have not stopped coming in since then.
What was your goal when you started Nenys Delight?
I aimed to become an independent woman, care for my family and give back to the community by teaching and training those who need the skills I have.
Have you achieved this?
Partly. I’ve come far from where I started, but I’m not exactly where I would love to be yet. It’s one step at a time.
What’s a business milestone you’ll say you’ve reached?
Being able to pull off multiple events, hitch-free. As a chef, customer feedback can make or mar your business, so having a tight schedule and still getting great reviews from all your clients is my favourite thing ever.
At this stage in my career, I no longer feel the anxiety I used to have when I had big projects. Now I handle multiple big jobs like it’s nothing. Many people aspire to reach this point, and I’m grateful for the privilege.
That’s growth. What do the next five years look like for you?
I’d love to own a good restaurant in the heart of Port Harcourt. It’s a plan that’s currently in the pipeline. I’m also collaborating with a colleague to run an affiliate of his restaurant. My role is mainly supervisory, which is good practice for starting my own restaurant in the future.
I also have plans to expand on the teaching side of my business as well.
Rooting for you! What challenges have you faced in your journey?
We had logistics issues before. This business involves a lot of home deliveries, so we thought buying delivery motorcycles was the next best move. We got riders but couldn’t keep up with the lies and stories they kept cooking for us. They would mix up our orders, and we would have to refund or apologise to our customers. But that’s an issue in the past now.
Another thing is that no matter how much you try, some clients will never be satisfied with your service. For instance, in February, my staff delivered a food tray to a lady while I was out for training. Recently, she reached out to me to place another order. After I sent her my price list, I received a voice note in which she was complaining about how bad the food and service were the last time. In her words, it was rubbish.
I asked her why she was just giving me this feedback, and she said, “It’s because it was you.” I almost asked her why she wanted to order the same “rubbish” a second time. All in all, you can’t be a people pleaser or allow people to run your business down. You just have to find a balance and make it work.
Spoken like a true businessperson. Did you receive any advice in your career that keeps you level-headed and focused to this day?
For sure. This business will stretch you, so you will need mentors and senior colleagues to help you out and answer your pressing questions. Most of the time, the advice I get comes in the form of encouraging words like, “You can’t stop now”, “You need to go in this direction”, “Grow tough skin.”
In my case, I have senior colleagues, like Tico’s Kitchen, who I stay in contact with and run to when I need someone to talk to. It’s essential to connect with people in the same line of work as you.
Let’s talk about money. What does financial freedom mean to you?
It means reaching a point where you are no longer afraid of going back to rock bottom. I keep working hard so that I never go back to the beginning. I invest and save as much as I can as well, because everyone needs rainy-day funds.
Are you good with your money?
I’ll say yes. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to rely on others for something I need. Also, business money is business money. I don’t touch my business funds for any reason outside of running my business.
I save, invest and buy stocks. If anyone comes crying to me that they need money, I start crying too. I don’t spend on impulse. Once I exceed my budget, I call it a day. Prudent is the word. I’m a prudent spender.
Omo! You’re very good with money. Kudos! Have you made money mistakes in your journey?
Never. I’ve never been scammed or anything, either. God has been with me. He’s been sending genuine people my way.
God when? Have you made any purchases that you’re proud of?
Equipment for my events. I don’t need to go about renting tools and equipment whenever I get a job. I’m really proud of that. I want to keep pouring back into my business.
On a personal level, I don’t want too much. I got a good phone for pictures and a laptop for work, so I have everything I need.
Awesome! Do you have any advice for women aspiring to start their culinary businesses?
Whatever is in your head, just start. Just start where you are. Starting out is definitely not rosy, so don’t expect it to be.
When venturing into a business, remember to look both ways: profit and loss. Sometimes, you’ll experience downtimes, and that’s okay. But don’t stop showing up. Be consistent no matter the challenges you face. One day, the universe will smile at you and crown all your efforts with success.