The idea of a coffee shop might at first seem novel, like something that belongs to an American city or a European urban centre. But Chukwuma Egbuna, a Delta State indigene, is bent on entrenching it in Lagos. Agos Café, his coffee shop on Adeniyi Jones Street in Ikeja, is a popular hangout for coffee-lovers on Lagos mainland. In this interview with THE NIGERIAN XPRESS, Egbuna unveiled the coffee revolution in the making, the rudiment of the coffee business and why coffee will be a big hit in Africa’s most populous city.
Running a coffee shop is strange in this clime. How popular is business?
Especially, on the mainland, no. Though we do have a few customers who are coffee-inclined on the mainland. There are more coffee-inclined customers on the Island. Ironically, some of them come from the mainland. I’m referring to days when I was working with another company on the island because I could tell how the traffic was, people traffic coming in and out. It’s a whole lot different compared to Ikeja. I believe the reason for the reduced traffic of people coming in and out of this place is because we haven’t done a lot of marketing. We haven’t shared fliers. We don’t even have an Instagram page. We’re just starting.
Tell us what your coffee shop is about…
A coffee shop is a place where you can grab your coffee drink. A coffee drink helps you kickstart your day. It’s basically a morning business because you have to be up and ready latest 8 am. For me, my recommendation would be 7 am so we have to be here and set everything up between 6 am and 6:30 am because our espresso machine takes about 15 to 20 minutes before it boots before the machine probably gets ready because it has to take water, boil it, and take some water to different sections of the machine. That is all basically for coffee. For snacks, we have different kinds: cookies, pies, cakes, croissants. We do smoothies, fresh juices.
How long have you been running this business?
Since February 2020, some eight months ago.
How has the response been so far?
It’s been good, given the fact that we haven’t done any major marketing. Anybody that comes here and sees that we have something here always comes back.
The coffee business is somewhat novel to Nigeria…
Yes. But anybody that’s going into this coffee business shouldn’t expect to start smiling to the bank every day because for you to have a successful coffee shop in Nigeria, you need patience, you need packaging, you need to brand your place, you need to own a brand, you need to know that every 50 cups of Cappuccino you make tastes the same. They have to taste the same. That’s where another part of the job comes in. People who work for you, those that make coffees have to be trained baristas (Italian for bartenders) It simply means the guy in charge of the coffee block. You have to train baristas to a particular standard where they know what to do.
What prompted you to venture into the business?
The first time they said okay, Chuks you’d be working at a coffee shop––I’d seen Starbucks in movies so I knew what Starbucks was––I was like, is that a thing in this country? They said yes, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’d never imagined that.’ So in my mind, I was like, I don’t think that’s a good place to go in terms of investment or business. It was after I started working, I realised that people actually drink coffee.
You said you’d worked in a coffee shop before. What are you doing differently?
What makes me stand out is simply what makes me stand out in the previous place I was working. I was working with Cafe Neon. All the baristas there make good coffee. I also make good coffee. But another thing you have to put in place is the interpersonal relationship with customers. Even if your coffee doesn’t taste as fantastic as it should be, there should be a unique link between the barista and the customer. There has to be a relationship between the barista and the customer. You have to have a relationship with every customer that walks in. That’s the only thing that I feel that I’ve noticed that I do differently.
I was going online, reading different types of coffee, different types of brew ratios, how to brew fast, how to brew slowly, a whole lot of different kinds of ways of making coffee. As I learnt more, I became more curious and I even wanted to know more so I was digging in deeper. I was putting the knowledge I was learning into what I was doing and I didn’t know that the knowledge I was putting into what I was doing was standing out. I thought there was no effect but it was actually standing out. People were saying how come your coffee tastes different? Growing up, I loved fine art. I drew a lot. Every coffee I make is like a work of art.
So let’s talk about the art of coffee making…
How we make a regular coffee here is we get our coffee beans into the coffee grinder. I will have to set the coffee grinder into coarse or fine grinds. The finer the coffee is, the slower the coffee extraction process is. After you grind and put your regular dose of ground coffee into the machine, the machine forces hot water through the ground coffee and then you have the Espresso.
Espresso is the base of every coffee drink, every coffee-related drink. It starts with espresso but it depends on the coffee that I’m making. Let’s say I’m about to make a Cappuccino, I need to extract an espresso when that is done, I’d need to ask the customer if they want sugar in their Cappuccino or not. If they say no, all I have to do is prepare the milk, pour it in the Espresso and they have a Cappuccino.
Coffees are of different types. What varieties do you have in your café?
The best-sellers are actually the regulars, the lattes and the Cappuccinos. We have the Espresso, people come in and ask for an espresso, the Americano, the Caramel Macchiato (coffee mixed with caramel), we have the Cafe Moccha (coffee mixed with chocolate) then we have coffee mixed with cake. We serve all of them here––vanilla, hazelnuts, caramel, chocolate, motella. If I say I should add more, I’d be talking about flavours. We have white, chocolate and strawberry, but the ones we’re doing here is vanilla, hazelnuts, chocolate, caramel and motella.
How viable is the business?
When you’re opening a coffee shop, you don’t just open a coffee shop and start selling coffee alone, you have to add something else to it. So the viability of the business depends on location, where you open the business. For instance, if you open your coffee shop on the Island, a good location, you have a good spot on the Island, I think you’re good to go. In terms of profit margin, I’d say the profit margin is decent. Decent, not high.
Do you have plans to expand to the Island?
Yes. Most definitely, we’ve been talking about it. We have to, like a monkey swing, we can’t let go of one branch until we get a good grip of the other one. We want to set her up properly. When this place is stable, then we can go on because we’ve already started talking about having a Lagos Island location. When this place is stable, that’s when I’d now start that. But so far, business hasn’t been bad.
How far do you see the company going over the next five years?
I believe it will be all over the place because of the idea, the way we’re going about it, the approach we’re using is going to be different. Nowadays, you see an Espresso machine in some restaurant, so there is an opportunity to make your profit in the restaurant.
Now, when they say there’s a high-profit margin. That’s what I’m saying, I mean where, how? Coffee is expensive. A bag of coffee is expensive.
Some coffee shops in the US sell food too…
Yes. They also sell a whole lot of drinks: milkshakes, smoothies, frozen drinks and all kinds. It might not be coffee-related but so far it’s a coffee shop, you can get coffee with other stuff as well.
Any last words to market your brand
Anybody that comes to Agos Café always leaves this place with a different experience, different from what they can get in any coffee shop. From the moment you walk in there’s something about Agos Café that strikes you, even before the baristas make a cup of coffee for you.
How do you source your coffee?
I source my coffee beans from Cowby. The company sells different kinds of coffee beans in Nigeria; it sourced its coffee beans from different parts of Africa and roast it in Nigeria.
Why should anyone drink coffee?
Coffee has lots of benefits, whether what you are drinking are Arabica and Robosta. There are quite a lot of benefits. If you just google benefits of coffee Arabica and Robosta, you’d see a whole lot of the benefits. But among others, coffee has antioxidants which reduce the risk of cancer.