Well, more like 15 actually! 😜
We first met Uzo aka 'the Taco Lady' when her Mexican food outfit, El Padrino, catered for our movie night at CapitalSquare a few weeks ago. Her Tacos were so delicious and her customer service beyond exceptional, we had to find out more about the lady behind the brand.
In addition to making great tasting, affordable Mexican food readily available, Uzo's mission is to redefine customer service standards in Nigeria, especially in the food industry. She tells us about her experience so far.
Hello, Uzo! Please tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Uzo Umeh aka Taco Lady (my networks recently ordained me with that name), and I am from Los Angeles, California. I received my high school diploma from Woodrow Wilson High School and graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications.
Since high school, I have worked in the food and beverage industry, mostly in the fast casual sector. About a decade ago, I started as a cashier at a famous California burger joint called In N Out, it was there that I fell in love with the industry. After that, I worked with Starbucks Coffee for three years; and quickly moved onward in the industry. In the last two years, I have worked as a general manager in Westwood California.
What inspired you to launch your business?
Except for the fact that I love working in the restaurant industry, when I was in Nigeria in 2015, I saw too many opportunities in the food industry.
I stayed in Nigeria for 6 months working as a branding and communications lead for an investment group. Throughout that time, I couldn't believe how poor customer service was in restaurants, but more importantly, I couldn't believe how hard it was to find good and affordable Mexican food.
When I left Nigeria that year, I began strategizing different ways I could tackle these issues. Two years later, I returned and launched El Padrino in Lagos.
Is your business based in Los Angeles, In Lagos or both?
El Padrino as a business is currently based in Lagos, but I did kick off this project in Los Angeles. In other words over a year ago, I started working on my recipes in LA. I used my friends and network as tasters for my food, in addition to catering for hangouts and holiday parties.
You’ve worked within the food and hospitality industry for quite a bit. Was that a deliberate choice or a happy coincidence? How has that experience served you in your own business?
It was definitely not deliberate haha. In America, part time jobs for students are mostly retail (clothes, grocery stores, convenient stores, etc.) or food. I never wanted to reorganize shelves or bag groceries so I stuck to food. But I seriously thought after college, I'd go the corporate route.
I honestly believe that I have learned more working in restaurants than I did throughout college. My experience in hospitality has shaped my outlook on life and personality.
Look at it this way, you're handling people's food, which is easily one of the most vital aspects of our existence. You have to pay attention to the minute details that can make or break an experience. You have to listen to them and also listen for what's not being said. You have to put other peoples feelings before yours to ensure their satisfaction. Attention to detail, listening, and understanding, these are not just core essentials for excellent customer service, they are essential to being a good human being.
What inspired the name El Padrino?
I speak a little bit of Spanish and when I first heard the phrase El Padrino, it stood out to me. It means The Godfather, and it's my favorite phrase in Spanish.
Is El Padrino the first business you started? How has the experience been so far?
It is not. I started a small events promotional company in Los Angeles called Loki MGMT. I ran that part time for the past 6 years alongside my full-time job.
However, this has been the first time I have started a business and focused all my energy on it. So far, I wouldn't trade this experience for any job in the world.
How long has El Padrino been around and what services do you currently offer?
El Padrino as a brand has been around for nearly two years, as a food business in Lagos, two months. We currently offer catering and retail services - which includes free delivery.
Where do you see El Padrino 5 years from now?
In 5 years, El Padrino will be a household name in Nigeria and a yardstick for measuring not only high-quality Mexican food but exceptional customer service.
As a food business owner, you’re involved in the daily operations – procurement, bookkeeping, inventory management, etc- as well as the food prep. How do you juggle it all?
I spend a good amount of time planning. I plan my day, the night before and my week, on Sunday night. I try not to get overwhelmed, and ensure that I am taking care of the most important tasks first.
What was the transition from employee to business owner like for you?
It's weird not getting paid for overtime hours (haha) just kidding. It has been great! Being a general manager for franchisees definitely, teaches you a lot. Because franchisees buy a restaurant and give you the keys to take care of it for them, it becomes like your business. The difference is you go from freaking out about meeting set goals, to freaking out about if your business model makes sense - which is worse.
Did you require a lot of funding to start? How did you raise your initial capital?
I did not require too much funding but I got my initial capital from three Nigerian investors/mentors who believe in my vision.
What’s the most significant lesson you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?
Don't wait for the perfect time and don't stay idle. Just keep making moves.
If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now?
I would have hired a prep/cleaning person first, alongside a driver (Uber/Taxify gets expensive).
What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a catering business?
I wish I could give much advice but I am still very new in this space. However, from the other cooks and chefs I know, I hear that some caterers in Nigeria easily comprise food quality for higher profit margins. Don't do that.
When you’re not making insanely delicious Mexican food, how do you unwind?
I haven't had much time to unwind in Nigeria yet! But usually in LA, when I want to unwind, you can find me eating ramen or at a live music event.
Thank you for your time, Uzo. All the best with El Padrino!