Kigali Craft Café (KGC), a medium-sized coffee shop in Kigali City, lost 80% of its revenues due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effects include recent lockdowns imposed by the government as part of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Yves Niyongabo, the proprietor of the coffee shop, is confused. He does not understand how he even made it today considering the level of pounding on his business by the effects of the pandemic.
“It is a miracle,” he says, wondering how long it will take for his business to recover from the storm. “I am still in shock. I am stressed and very worried. I am uncertain about the future, considering that this virus seems to be elusive.”
Niyongabo is a professional barista; one of Rwanda’s finest. He worked with major brands such as Bourbon Coffee before he began his own. Everything was running smoothly until coronavirus the virus disrupted his trajectory.
“I was planning to expand; set up a bakery and suddenly the shop succumbed to the pandemic,” he tells of his ordeal on a Saturday evening while two clients stood outside the coffee shop waiting for their orders since government directives prohibited restaurants from serving clients at the premises.
When the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020, KGC, located in Kacyiru, operated like any other business then; staff working and serving clients by orders through deliveries. By then the shop made some revenues, enough to cover a few expenses.
clients still had some disposal income to spend. After the lockdown, many employers began experiencing difficulties because the economy was beginning to shrink. Businesses were losing traction and laying off some employs. Gradually the trend deepened as the pandemic gained momentum until the end of 2020.
This time KGC’s revenues had shrunk significantly because peak hours (evening hours), most clients were beginning to rush home to beat the curfew. Niyongabo was still hanging in there. He had reduced salaries for his employees, cut down other expenses, and kept his expansion project on hold.
“When the second lockdown was announced, I was jittery. I was not only worried, but also ran out of ideas,” he says. “I did not know how to sell coffee because coffee is an experience. It is an interaction between a barista and a client.”
“I was able to suck it up and deal with my emotions,” he says. “But then orders dropped, almost to zero, yet we had to open doors everyday just not to disappoint our clients.”
The hardest times were yet to come. “We began thinking about very bad things. Thoughts of losing our shop, the welfare of our employees, taxes, rent, and so on…” Niyongabo recalls. “Numbers were not adding up. I compared the cost of opening doors just one day to the daily sales, and then my heart began swelling. I asked my wife to pray. I was losing it.”
Niyongabo realised that he was not only operating at a loss, but also encroaching on his savings to ensure the coffee shop remained operational.
He counted days, but the seemed very long. “I knew i had to do something and stop agonising,” he says. “I engaged my staff, and we come up with some kind of formula.” “We agreed that the business had been hit hard. And that we would do whatever it takes to remain afloat. “
Instead of laying off some and retaining others, they agreed to take a two-weeks pay cut by turns. Each one would take two weeks cut off interchangeably. Additionally, each employee would use their social media accounts to advertise. And the choose, intelligently, which items to promote depending on the cost of production.
They also cut dropped prices on the menu to become competitive and attractive to those who were able to move and pick something to grab, particularly those in security and other essential services. “Home deliveries were almost impossible.” “By God’s mercy, we would get two or three orders placed.
“We survived like that, but were still operating on losses. You imagine making Rwf30,000 (US$30) per day when you have to pay rent, salaries, utilities and so on,” Niyongabo narrates. “We are now emotionally devastated, but mentally focused and optimistic that since the new directives allow clients to come and sit and consume, maybe we might make some recovery.”
While he was sharing his experiences, he was at the same time reading a devastating story of one of the restaurants, ViaVia, that closed shop a week earlier. “It is hard,” he says and posses. “It is very hard brother,” he insists and walks away.