Tatale is a contemporary Pan-African restaurant in London's Africa Centre, a charity that champions African culture. It was founded by Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, a serial business owner who started his first venture in music events when he was just out of college. He then worked as an artist manager, street-food truck owner and supper-club host.
Tatale serves food inspired by Akwasi's West African heritage and world travels, with dishes like red snapper moqueca (stew), ackee croquettes and black-eyed bean hummus. We spoke to Akwasi, a month after he opened the doors of Tatale, about his long journey toward opening a restaurant.
Seizing the opportunity
‘In 2019, I started a supper club based on the places I visited while I was traveling through work, but that stopped in the pandemic – along with my events business. During that time, I went for dinner at a restaurant in London called 12:51 by James Cochran and loved what he was doing, so started doing work experience in his kitchen two days a week. Later, I was offered a job there and was at 12:51 for over a year.
‘I went to Ghana on a family trip and that's where I started thinking about what contemporary African food looks and tastes like. I started working on that and, using the technical skills I honed at 12:51, applied those to traditional dishes I learned from my mom and aunt. And I kept asking myself: what does the future of African cooking look like?
‘I was thinking about a restaurant. I knew what the name was as I knew that I wanted it to have a relationship to plantain, because I think that particular ingredient [is] so synonymous with the black experience around the world. When I got back from that trip, a friend told me that the Africa Centre was looking for restaurant proposals for its new site. When I saw that, I was like: this is a sign from the universe. It was a long process, but I won it and now have the space for three years.’
Battling through the phases of funding
‘When I started looking for investment, I had hoped it would be like: “Let's take advantage of this kind of new wave of African restaurants and dining,” but no one was interested – it seemed like too much of a risk. But risk is what investment is all about and investors are taking risks every day. I think if I was opening a pizza joint, I'd have been funded.
‘We did a [crowdfund on the platform] Kickstarter but, for someone like me, it [was] the most humiliating experience on earth. Not because Kickstarter is humiliating – it's a great way to fund your business – but I'm a very private person and, rightly or wrongly, I don't love asking for help.
‘I had to do everything possible within my power to give this project the best fighting chance of success but, ultimately, the Kickstarter failed. In the end, I had to do it with a combination of personal savings and personal loans. I've borrowed money from friends along the way and I've just had to scrimp and save and just make it happen as best as I could. I've been put massively into debt on this project but, as an entrepreneur, that's the risk you take. You hope it'll go according to plan, but it often doesn't and you have to be ready for that.’
The future of Tatale
‘I'm currently the head chef, general manager, assistant manager and everything else,’ says Akwasi. ‘My objective is to provide food that feels authentic and to be able to make it more accessible without selling my soul. It makes me really proud because we haven't watered things down with the concept just to put bums on seats.
‘This isn't going to be for everybody, including people within my own community – and I'm OK with that. This is who we are and we're not going to change that.
‘My hope is that in creating this concept of this restaurant, in this space, the next generation of black restaurateurs won't have to do what I did in trying to get it funded. That's what I hope comes out of it.’
Five things Akwasi has learned
1. Keep tabs on cash flow.
‘Whether you think you need one or not, very early in the process, get together a pitch deck and a cash-flow forecast. It's so important. It helped remind me throughout what my budget actually was, [rather than] what I thought it was. It's a good exercise to just keep referring back to it.’
2. Remember to sleep.
‘Try as early as possible to get a good wellness routine for yourself in place. Sleep much more than I have. I'm quite high-functioning and can work crazy hours, but it's essential to look after yourself.’
3. Pick your team.
‘Hire people on your team in the spots you have weaknesses in. You need a well-rounded team – even if you think you're good at everything, you're not. Think really carefully about it – you need the right people around you.’
4. Support your people.
‘Make those hires as early on as possible because you'll need the support. Also, prioritize your team's wellness because I learned that the hard way – don't take people for granted.’
5. Make it fun.
‘Be kind to yourself and, above all, enjoy [the journey].’
This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2023. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.