Our monthly Immigrant Entrepreneurship Newsletter features some of the incredible immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta that we support, like Veronica Ahinke Olalere and her business Ahinke’s Kitchen. We spoke with Veronica about her journey and experience as an immigrant entrepreneur in Alberta.
Q. What is your background?
My name is Veronica Ahinke Olalere and I’m from Nigeria. I’ve lived in Canada for 10 years. I graduated from the University of Windsor with a Bachelor’s degree in Humanitarian studies in 2014. I moved from Ontario to Alberta in 2015 and became a mum of 2. Due to my interest in community work, I worked as a Youth and Family counselor up until 2018, when I quit my job due to financial reasons. I started a small scale catering service in November 2018 and opened my Nigerian restaurant in February 2019.
Q. Tell us about your business and what it does.
A. I am the owner and chef of the famous and beloved Ahinke’s Kitchen restaurant, servicing Africans, Carribeans, and the ever-increasing population in Calgary, Alberta. Ahinke’s Kitchen is a Nigerian restaurant and catering service that serves the Nigerian population of Calgary, Airdrie, Red Deer, Edmonton, and a couple of neighboring cities in Alberta. It serves Carribeans and other African communities with its exquisite menu. It also serves intercontinental dishes with African flavors and implementations, thereby serving Calgary as a whole irrespective of region, community, origin, and creed.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. I was raised in Nigeria for a great bit of my life before immigrating to Canada. I grew up with a family of 11 siblings and as the 9th child, I was always in the kitchen cooking on a large scale and helping out. It is, therefore, no surprise that I developed an affinity to food and culture and this is where I picked up my interest in cooking for people. Even as an immigrant, I was and am still deeply connected to my ethnic roots and culture. With a blazing passion to put both my passion and affinity into works, I opened my own little Nigerian restaurant that has since flourished.
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. My greatest accomplishment is building a sustainable business within 2 years and raising 2 toddlers all at the same time. I’m most proud of the fact that I have been able to achieve a great career while raising my kids all at a young age. It took a lot of dedication and long hours and days but I am still working hard despite the pandemic to build, grow, and sustain each and every customer and relationship.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge as an immigrant entrepreneur in Alberta?
A. Networking is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as an immigrant entrepreneur, gaining trust and dealing with occasional language difficulties are also a concern but joining and participating within a community, it’s becoming less of a problem.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge in light of COVID-19? How have you had to pivot your business?
A. My biggest challenges during this season are retaining employees and pivoting our services. Most employees quit their job due to fear of the pandemic, while some are constantly reporting being sick, which the only option I had is to let them go for the safety of our customers and other staff. Pre-COVID, Ahinke’s Kitchen was known for ‘all you can eat buffets’. Once the pandemic started, we had to close down buffet services and pivot to catering, and now we’ve added dine in to stay in business.
Q. What has the pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
A. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me to be patient and to be more transparent with customers. Communication is key. It strengthens relationships. To put people first and be more of service to my community. In business, it has taught me to find out more about our customer’s and staff’s concerns and needs than ever.
Q. What advice would you share with other immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta who want to start or grow their own business?
A. Be patient, be consistent, be determined, and grateful.
Q. How has Business Link/our Immigrant Entrepreneur Program helped you?
A. Business Link has been a huge part of our business right from the start. From finding a space, to educating us on finances, building a customer base, and increasing sales and many more, etc. I am constantly grateful for the help and support we get from Business Link because every time I knock at their door they are always willing to help.
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
A. I’m working on opening up a new business line for Ahinke’s Kitchen by creating food products that can survive a shelf life.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A. My social enterprise, Open Kitchen, was created in 2019 with the mission to help aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs build great food companies by renting out commercial kitchen space, generate assets, creating jobs within, and strengthen our community. We support every sister companies with branding, mentorship, and business development programs.