By the end of last year, Andrew Gatera’s tour and travel business, G-Step tours was on its deathbed; bookings and inquiries dried up as the tourism sector crumbled under the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gatera studied in China for seven years and is fluent in Mandarin. He came back home in 2017 but started a tour and travel business in 2018 and exclusively targeted the Chinese market. Unfortunately, China, where Covid-19 was first reported, shut down in early 2020, thus hitting his business much earlier than others in the country.
Gatera invested in three tour vans among other things to set up the business, but as the disease spread to other regions of the world, tourists stopped coming to Rwanda and he found himself between a rock and a hard place.
Gatera says after evaluation, he realised the cost of closing the business would be higher. “Closing would mean losing everything from office furniture, vehicles, business licence, the networks and space. I realised that I had to do everything I could to remain open.”
The challenge was to come up with a business to support himself and make enough money to keep his office and operations going.
In the second half of the year, Gatera partitioned his office space into two, retaining his office space, and opened a coffee shop in the other half. However, the coffee shop was not making enough money because of the lockdowns that characterised 2020, but at least he had an income.
To make more money, early this year, Gatera used his savings to start Umujyi pizzeria, not far from his tour and travel business, in Kisementi in Remera. Umujyi means town and his pizzas were exclusively to be sold in Kigali, through the e-commerce home delivery platform VubVuba. Customers can order on VubVuba and they deliver at a commission.
He started with one oven, later adding a larger one and he has plans to expand when orders increase.
Gatera prices his pizzas lower than the competition, selling a standard size pizza at Rwf8,000 ($8) including delivery. Competitors sell at Rwf12,000 ($12) including delivery.
Pizza is supposed to be served hot, and Umujyi pizzas come in foil lined box to retain the heat during delivery.
“The first day we listed our pizza on VubVuba, we sold three pizzas. On the second day, we sold five and today, we sell between 150 and 200 pizzas a month. The business can now pay workers, for its operations and the rent. I have so far paid rent in advance,” he said.
Currently, the government only allows restaurants in Kigali to offer take-away services as the country steps up efforts to combat the third Covid wave. Now, most customers are now accustomed to home deliveries.
Umujyi Pizza faces competition from Sole Luna, Pizza Hut and 360 Pizza, but Gatera is not fazed. He plans to start his own delivery service with his own branded motorbikes for direct deliveries.
The young entrepreneur hopes to start breaking even in the next three months and also expand the business.
Although his tour and travel business is not making any money now, he is glad it still exists and that the challenges of the pandemic pushed him into another field.
Gatera's pizzeria currently employs four people and he works there mostly in a supervisory role. Despite not having a background in catering he settled on a pizzeria and not say, a bar because the current situation did not favour many businesses like bars. He saw that pizza is a niche product that is consumed by the high end market, which Gatera says he found largely under-served.