It is often said that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. This proverbial phrase best depicts the story of Victory Johnbull, Manager 355 Restaurant & Lounge, who against all odds, rose above the storms he faced while growing up. HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE correspondents, Odunayo Adeneye & Kikelomo Onigbanjo had a long but very insightful chat with him . Excerpts;
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: INTRODUCTION:
JOHNBULL: My name is Johnbull Victory; I am the manager of 355 Restaurant & Lounge, Victoria Island. I am a graduate of Business Administration, University of Lagos (UNILAG). I am from Rivers State, Port-Harcourt Precisely.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY?
JOHNBULL: Hospitality has been something I have been doing since my secondary school days. I ventured into the business proper in my second year in university. By the time I was graduating, I was already a house-hold name in Food, Caterings or Hospitality business.
By the time I went for my compulsory NYSC program, I ventured into hotelling. I have been doing this since 2011, although I am very young, I have garnered enough experience.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: YOU SAID EARLIER ON THAT YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS FROM SECONDARY SCHOOL, HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR CULINARY SKILLS SO EARLY?
JOHNBULL: I grew up with my aunt in a school environment, where she was responsible for catering for the pupils then, what that meant for me was that, automatically, I had to assist her. I started cooking from JSS 2, and by the time I got to SS 2, I was able to single-handedly cater for 400-500 students’ meals. By the time I was leaving secondary school, I was already combining 2 to 3 secondary feedings together from A-Z, handling their valedictory services and all. That was more or less like a training ground for me.
On getting to the university, from my first year to the third year, I never ate outside for once; I prepared all of my meals.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHILE IN UNIVERSITY, WHERE YOU STAYING ON CAMPUS? WHERE YOU ALLOWED TO DO ALL OF THIS COOKING?
JOHNBULL: Yes, I was in Shodehinde Hostel in Unilag for those 3 years. It was because of my culinary skills, the hostel management gave me a free hand; even when I had catering jobs, such as hall weeks, campus fellowship programs, I was working from my hostel. I was liaising with the food-vendors in the hostel, I rent equipment from them; I bought the ones I could buy. I was shuttling Mile-12, in summary I did crazy things.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW WHERE YOU ABLE TO COMBINE ALL OF THIS WORKLOAD WITH YOUR ACADEMIC ACTIVITIES?
JOHNBULL: Yeah, what kept me going was the passion I had for catering, there were times, I was going for exams by 1pm, as at 11:30/12noon, I was still cooking, even in my final year. I missed a lot of my departmental final year students (FYB) activities, because I was always busy planning and catering for other departments and clients. I had already registered my business then, I cater for a couple of corporate clients, my catering coy caters for some companies on the Island here, but my desire to learn more is the reason why I am on this job -this is a Mexican restaurant.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: TELL US SPECIFICALLY HOW YOU CAME INTO THE HOTEL/CATERING BUSINESS?
JOHNBULL: During my NYSC, back then in Zamfara state, I worked as an assistant-manager in one of the biggest hotels there.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: DID YOU JOIN THE CATERERS IN THE KITCHEN WHILE IN NYSC CAMP?
JOHNBULL: Yes, I was part of the cooking, I think I still have some pictures. I was helping out, especially when it was my platoon’s turn to cook. We participated in all of the cooking competitions and we won.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHY DID YOU ACCEPT TO BE A MANAGER AT 355 RESTAURANT & LOUNGE?
JOHNBULL: 355 is a brand that stands out on its own, by the reason of the services they offer. They have 2 major locations-Lagos & Abuja. Since I already had an hotel management experience, I feel it would be cool to know how a restaurant & lounge operates, I wanted a hands-on, practical experience. Where customers give you an order and tell you specifically what they want and you can see specifically how it’s been made. I have been with 355 for just 3 months now, but it’s been an awesome experience.
At first when I came around, they doubted my ability because of their clientele, which are mostly foreigners and celebrities, it’s more of an elite restaurant, you must know your onions, but then they gave me a chance.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT DOES 355-RESTAURANT & LOUNGE REPRESENT?
JOHNBULL: 355 Restaurant & lounge is a Mexican restaurant, what this simply means is we serve only Mexican and Continental dishes, you can’t come in here for our local Nigerian meals. We also do outdoors and private events, still tailored towards our Mexican dishes; we have a private bar and a steakhouse (beef, grills) in Abuja.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: YOU SAID IT’S A MEXICAN RESTAURANT, IS IT OWNED BY A MEXICAN?
JOHNBULL: No, a Nigerian actually owns this business, but he has great love for Mexico & Mexican cuisine.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHY MEXICAN AND NOT ANY OTHER CONTINENTAL CUISINE?
JOHNBULL: At 355, we try to carve a niche for ourselves, there are only a few people paying attention to details as regards continents and countries in the food & hospitality industry here in Nigeria. What you get in Mexico is what you get here – the way it is served and the same ingredients are used in preparation.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: KINDLY EXPLAIN YOUR BUSINESS PROCESS HERE?
JOHNBULL: Ok, from 12noon – 4pm, that is our Lunch hour, customers can come in to eat or they call in to place orders and we would deliver to them. Our menu within this period is tailor-made (8-10 menus) and the pricing are far more cheaper during this period, they enjoy a 60% slash from the normal price. Then the lounge commences operation afterwards.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT IS THE CONCEPPT BEHIND THE NAME 355?
JOHNBULL: My Managing Directors are graduates of the University of Sussex, England. While they were studying there, 355 was their wing, you know how hostels are built in different wings and corners. They had a restaurant and a whole lot of things around them then, on getting back to Nigeria, they decided to replicate what they saw exactly the same way.
In the 355 wings, they have different corners, if you look well enough at the architecture of this place you can see we have different signages such as the 42nd street, Manhattan, so this restaurant is built to specification.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BOSS?
JOHNBULL: Ok, I actually have two bosses, Honourable Tola Awosika & Prince Aderemi Sijuwade (One of the sons of the late Ooni of Ife), they both schooled together, they were in the same room in university of Sussex, they are in their early thirties.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: SO WHAT IS THE BUSINESS EXPANSION STRATEGY?
JOHNBULL: Well, we are looking at having another 355 outlet in Uyo & Ghana soonest, there may be a mainland outlet in Lagos.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: AS A YOUNG PERSON INTERESTED IN THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS, WHAT DO I REQUIRE TO SUCCEED?
JOHNBULL: You must have a lot of passion for the hospitality industry first of all. You necessarily don’t need to know how to cook, but you must understand the art of culinary well enough, then you must be able to tolerate people and also pay attention to the minutest of detail or else you can’t flourish in the hospitality industry. Paying attention to detail is listening to the minutest detail that would leave a customer satisfied. For examples, how you treat a customer once he/she comes through your door, the way you show him/her where to sit to the way you serve the menu, this is what gives the customers satisfaction and would make them always want to come back, “Oh the 355 experience!”
There is this thing about 355 and that is the legendary customer service, we are unique in all ramification, different from other Mexican cuisines around here – this is the 355-Experience.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: ARE YOU MARRIED?
JOHNBULL: No, I am not?
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHEN ARE THE WEDDING BELLS RINGING?
JOHNBULL: Ehrmmm… this is August, I have 24months from now, so maybe August 2018.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: REALLY?
JOHNBULL: Is that far?
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: NO! YOU’VE BEEN OUT OF SCHOOL FOR HOW MANY YEARS?
JOHNBULL: I have been out of school for 6 years now. My bosses are in there early 30s, and this is not the only business that they have, when you look at the kind of focus and dedication they have, it just says to me that I need to learn everything I need to learn really fast. I have a whole lot more to catch up with, so you don’t bring people to go through what you have gone through.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MANTRA/PHILOSOPHY ABOUT LIFE?
JOHNBULL: I have said this before, but they said it’s a wrong statement. I believe that what would be, no matter what, would still be! This is as a result of what I have been through in life, growing up for me was extremely tough.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: BUT YOU SAID YOU LIVED WITH YOUR AUNT?
JOHNBULL: Yes, I went through hell. Although everyone saw it as cruelty, I believe it was for my own making, I did all sorts of menial jobs, and she woke me up everyday with strokes of cane on my back. Against all odds, I was fortunate to gain admission when I did; I had never left the four walls of Port-Harcourt up until then. I carried baskets of tomatoes in UNILAG, because I was not ready to live the fake life.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW DID YOU COPE EVEN AS A SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS?
JOHNBULL: I was literally working for my aunt. It was my responsibility to bathe the kids, clean the house, prepare the food for all the (boarding school) students. I would wake up by 4am, get to my class by 9am. Once it’s 2pm, I needed to start rushing back, so I can make lunch and finally dinner by 7pm.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW WHERE YOU ABLE TO PREPARE FOR IMPORTANT EXAMS SUCH AS WAEC & JAMB?
Against all of these things, I was made the head the boy. I was given a tag, “the only senior prefect that comes to school very late” because of the responsibility that I had. When I told my aunt about my new position she said, “are there no better people in that your school”, the same thing she would always say whenever I represent my school in any competition and win. Her school was an all-girls’ school. I went to an all-boys’ school. To cut the long story short, I always dipped my leg in a bucket of water whenever I wanted to read, it really worked for me. When the WAEC results came out, I was the only student out 0f about 77 students that had a complete result, I don’t know how God did the miracle. For my JAMB, I registered about 3 days to the deadline, everywhere was filled, I wrote the exam in Abia State.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: CAN WE THEN CONCLUDE THAT YOU ARE THE REJECTED STONE THAT NOW BECAME THE CORNERSTONE?
JOHNBULL: Yes, maybe. Guess what, my aunt’s last child now stays with me, and I have to cater for her Diploma exams in Unilag, as in, I am footing the bills. I am now a reference point in the whole of my family.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WOULD YOU ATTRIBUTE ALL YOU HAVE GONE THROUGH TO SOME DIVINE HANDS?
JOHNBULL: Yes, my life has been from glory to glory.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
JOHNBULL: The truth is I don’t have time for myself, the only time I leave this restaurant is when I go for my choir-rehearsals on Saturday, and I still return back here. I would say once our customers are happy, I am fulfilled.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: THERE IS A GENERAL BELIEVE THAT A TRUE CHRISTIAN BELIEVER SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS KIND OF JOB, HOW DO YOU STRIKE A BALANCE?
JOHNBULL: Well, that is the believe, but I have not for any reason in my life tasted alcohol. I sell Shisha, but I don’t know what it tastes like. Maybe it’s as a result of all I have been through in life. I just got into my first relationship ever in life, some few days ago. I am kind of weird……(General Laughter). The first Friday I spent here in 355 was the first time I had a club experience.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: …. AND YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN DISTRACTED?
JOHNBULL: I believe it’s the training for where I am going. I have met great people and I am building relationships.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE ASPIRATIONS?
JOHNBULL: I hope to own a retail food chain, taking a step at a time, still gathering experience though.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: Thanks for your time.
JOHNBULL: You are welcome.