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Smoking punishment led me to business

Daniel Mungai was working at Kilimanjaro Buffalo Lodge, Amboseli National Park, as a clerk when he was deployed to the kitchen to wash dishes for lighting up at the wrong place. The stint changed his destiny. Now, he owns a thriving baking business and a school

When Daniel Mungai was given punishment to wash dishes by his boss for smoking a cigarette at the wrong place, he never thought that would be the start of his business empire.

It was in this kitchen Mungai, the director of Emma Daniel Arts Training Institute says he was able to discover his passion that has thrived beyond his wildest dreams. Mungai was working as an accounts clerk at Kilimanjaro Buffalo Lodge, Amboseli National Park, one day his boss found him smoking near the office.

He took him to the kitchen and asked the chef to ensure Mungai washed dishes the whole day. The CEO says the chef noticed that he was keen in his job and added another dimension to the punishment. “ The chef ordered his assistant to train me on preparing different cuisines.

I never thought I would enjoy it so much and before I left the kitchen that day, I was sure I had found my calling. I became a regular in the kitchen,” he says.

Eventually, Mungai quit his job as a clerk. After working for two months, Utalii College dispatched letters to hotels for three weeks refresher courses vacancy and Mungai was recommended giving him a chance to learn more about cooking.

Before getting employment as a clerk, the 41-year-old worked as a tout on the matatus plying the Kahawa West-Nairobi route, earning Sh200 a day. In 2004, he started his business after working in various Five Star hotels for about five years. “I did not have much money saved, but I knew it was time to become self employed.

I started in my mother’s house at Kahawa West in Nairobi using her jiko and sufurias which I improvised into ovens,” he says. However, due to the kind of crockery he was using, at first the cakes were more of sand that anything. “Every cake I made either crumbled or turned into a sand cake.

However, after a lot of tribulations and losses, which made me feel like I was doing charity work, I eventually managed to perfect the art of baking,” he says. He sneaks in a surprise.

“I baked the unity cake which was cut by the Prime Minister Raila Odinga, then Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and then Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi after the referendum in 2010,” he says. After this, people started approaching him seeking training on baking.

Now, he runs Emma Daniel Arts Training Institute (EDATI) and other entities, which he estimates to be worth millions of shillings. “We have become one of the leading bakery companies and training grounds,” he says. He also does outside catering, tent and chair hire.

The school offers certificates to students from as far as Tanzania and Ethiopia. “Our cake baking classes cost Sh19,500 while students pay Sh34000 to learn pastry making. Lessons in bread baking go for Sh15,000 and the whole food production course costs Sh88,000,” he says.

Mungai says the main qualification is passion. “You can be a D students but that does not mean that is the end of life,” he says, adding that some of their students have been employed at Fairview, Windsor, Serena, Fairmount, Stanley hotels among others. “Our courses enable our students turn their talents into their wealth,” says the chef.

The father of two has also started a music production studio and training. Competition he said has not been a problem, saying his good work sells his products.

“In my view, the greatest challenges of starting business is fear to take risk of the unknown and impatience as well as luck of proper knowledge into what you are getting yourself into,” he says. As for where he sees his empire in the next five years, he says: “Limitations live only in our minds.”

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