Mama Bobo Africa

Belfast foodies getting a taste for Nigerian cuisine. Mama Bobo Africa thriving after Start Up Loans support

A Nigerian restaurant owner has been amazed at just how popular traditional African cuisine has become with Northern Ireland diners.

Hammy Obikoya, owner of Mama Bobo Africa on the Lisburn Road in South Belfast, says he fully expected the restaurant to be a hit with Nigerians living in the area but wasn’t prepared for the welcome it has received from local foodies also.

Born in Nigeria, Hammy (28) and his family moved to Belfast 17 years ago. He attended Methodist College before moving to Glasgow where he studied business management at university and later became a business consultant.

His mother meanwhile opened a grocery store on the Ormeau Road, also named Mama Bobo Africa, where she sold African food and other products.

The store, which brings Africa to your doorstep, was more of a service to the Nigerian community living in Belfast rather than a lucrative operation, but this was to change when Hammy joined the business.

He said:

“During Covid I lost my job and I just thought it was the right time to go into the family business and really work to turn it into something more profitable.

 

There is a growing Nigerian community in Belfast, especially within the last three years. There are a lot of doctors and nurses moving here and both Queen’s University and Ulster University are popular with Nigerian students, so we wanted to be able to provide them with food and products that they are familiar with from home.

 

We now stock over 200 products in our store and we offer services such as click and collect, taxi orders and postal services.”

With the grocery store going well, Hammy turned his attentions to opening a restaurant which served a taste of home for those Nigerians living in Northern Ireland.

He turned to the British Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme for support in getting the business up and running. Entrepreneurs can borrow up to £25,000 at a fixed interest rate of 6% and repay it over one to five years.

Hammy said:

“We have been open for three months now and we are really pleased with the response from the community. We knew it would be popular with Nigerians but what has been a surprise is just how many people from Northern Ireland come for an authentic taste of Africa.

 

The support from the Bank was fantastic – the process of applying for a Start Up Loan was quite detailed but overall really straightforward. This was my first time doing something like this but the advice I received was excellent.

 

I knew my business idea was solid and we had a viable plan, but I probably lacked the confidence in the past to go for it. I’m really glad I finally took the step; the restaurant is going well and we have plans for future growth.

 

It’s incredibly busy and I am still in uncharted territory, but these are good problems to have and I am really enjoying the experience. Start Up Loans come with business mentoring, and I am really keen to take up this offer in the new year once things have settled down a little.

 

When we arrived in Northern Ireland 17 years ago, we never thought we would be running our own restaurant never mind serving the food of Nigeria to local people.

 

It has been amazing to see the response and we really can’t wait to take the next steps.

 

In terms of encouraging other people out there who may be thinking of starting their own business, I would say go for it. The support I have received from Start Up Loans has really given me the confidence to take that step and I haven’t looked back since.”

For more information about the restaurant search Mama Bobo Africa on Facebook.

Published on 26 March 2024

Feeling Inspired?

Register