Q+A with Sylvia Browne
Tell me a bit about yourself, your background and where you are from.
I was born and raised in Sierra Leone until the age of 11 when I moved to London with my parents. I first started thinking seriously about cooking at university when I struggled to get good quality home cooked African food. From then I began to pay more attention to my mother’s cooking; and in my spare time, I watched recipe videos, read food blogs and studied a range of cookbooks. Over time, I developed my own style of cooking.
Growing up in the UK, I have found cooking to be a great way of connecting with my West African culture and heritage.
Tell me more about My African Hob and how the idea for it came about.
My African Hob is a supper club which gives foodies the chance to try Sierra Leonean cuisine in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. Our aim is to provide nutritious and authentic Sierra Leonean food, coupled with outstanding customer service for people from all backgrounds.
The idea of My African Hob came about due to the difficulty I had trying to find West African restaurants and take-aways with high quality food and good customer service. While a few were quite good, I found that most either lacked one or the other. Talking to friends, and doing some research, I found that this was a widespread problem for fans of African cuisine, and so I set out to do something about it. I felt that if I could create the kind of dining experience that I would enjoy, that would be something that would also appeal to other foodies, and enthusiasts of West African cuisine.
How did you get to where you are today and what was your career path?
With a bachelors and masters degrees in Biomedical Science, and Medical Microbiology respectively, I worked as a science professional for over ten years. My busy schedule meant that I didn’t really have the time to focus on my passion for cooking and West African cuisine.
So, a few years back, after changing careers, I decided to take the plunge and go for it. I realised that setting up a business of my own in the food industry was the best way for me to build a career doing something I really love.
Your science degrees seem miles away from a food business. How has it contributed to your business?
My science degree has contributed immensely to my food business. My African Hob is about sharing my passion for West African food, nutrition and healthy eating; and part of this came about due to my science training which deepened my interest in and appreciation for nutrition.
I also use my science background to carry out thorough research on the health benefits of African foods and ingredients, which I publish on our website on a monthly basis. My hope is that such articles will help to educate the world about African food.
What has been your biggest challenge thus far and how did you overcome it?
Apart from the general ups and downs of running a business, I would say that my biggest challenge has been marketing myself and my brand. For instance, prior to launching a business, I had absolutely no interest in social media whatsoever (I know that makes me sound ancient!). But now, I am learning how to use social media and I have started to embrace it.
Also, marketing myself and my brand requires sharing my story and putting myself out there which definitely takes me out of my comfort zone, as I am naturally quite an introverted person. But, by taking things one step at a time, I am able to minimise overwhelm.
What do you think are the key aspects to consider when entering the food industry?
There’s quite a bit. Working in the food industry requires a lot of management and organisation of one’s time and logistics to ensure proper execution of an event. Safety and hygiene are also paramount and must be taken into account during the food preparation and cooking process.
A fair amount of thought and creativity needs to go into the menu options, taking into account various dietary requirements, taste palettes, tolerances for spices and things of that nature. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s important to have a high-quality team, experienced advisors, and the ability to keep a cool head under pressure.
So there’s a lot more to the food industry than just cooking!
What surprised you the most about entrepreneurship?
I would say that I underestimated going in just how much work is involved in running a business; being the Head Chef, the Chief Marketer and at the same time currently having a full-time day job, means I have three jobs in total.
That, plus balancing personal relationships and making time to unwind and recharge is quite a challenge and requires very disciplined time management. I slip from time to time, but I have a network of friends and colleagues who have been really supportive in helping me avoid overwhelm.
Any career goals?
I want to make My African Hob a space where people can find African food recipes, learn about the health benefits of the food and of course enjoy nutritious, authentic and home cooked African cuisine.
In future, I intend to open a restaurant where people from all works of life can come to experience Sierra Leonean cuisine.
Do you have any advice for someone that wants to start a business in a different industry?
I would suggest just taking the plunge. First decide what you’d like to try, do a bit of research to learn a reasonable amount about it, get a mentor if possible; someone who is really focused on your success, and just go for it.
I would also say it’s important to create a business out of something you’re passionate about as that will make it much easier for you to keep going when things get difficult, which they inevitably will. There are definitely ups and downs. So be prepared for that, and just stay focused and positive and you will find a way through the obstacles.
With the wealth of information available today at the click of a mouse, anyone can start a business, so believe in yourself, stay positive when it gets hard and keep trying. It gets easier and you will eventually succeed. And also, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
Find My African Hob at https://myafricanhob.com/.