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Chicken Town have just planted a giant flag in the middle Freetown and it reads ‘We have arrived. Come and join us, if you’re up to the challenge’.

New service sector debutant demonstrates that satisfied customers and job creation is the reward for investment in Freetown, Sierra Leone

For a long time, formalising the service sector has been overlooked in Sierra Leone, but it has high potential for the right investor. Working and middle income Sierra Leonean’s are crying out for places to go, socialise, dine, be serviced and entertained in their cities. Chicken Town has landed, and it makes the strongest case yet for investors and government to explore this sector.

In April 2019, Chicken Town opened its doors to the paying public. Its service offering is simple and appealing — thoughtful design and branding coupled with a tasty and simple food menu that’s pitched at a sensible and inclusive price. It’s the first restaurant in Freetown that has meticulously thought about offering a branded experience to its customers and it has set the standard high for the competition in town.

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Thoughtful design, open kitchen: Chicken Town has mostly used local materials, designers and craftsman to implement a modern and global feel in its flagship Freetown restaurant

The first thing you think when you enter Chicken Town is, “Wow, why has no one thought of doing this sooner in Freetown?” It seems so obvious, but the thought is a huge discredit to the design thinking and good management that makes a venture like this succeed in a business environment that is ‘opaque’, to say the least, for external investors. In Sierra Leone, it takes more than just a good idea to start a business. But with investor capital and a blend of local and international experience you can create something beautiful and wildly appealing like Chicken Town.

Chicken Town is one of number of Sierra Leone ventures funded by UK-based impact investor Truestone. This latest venture is their most culturally significant yet. The timing is impeccable; presently youth unemployment is high and business sector growth is sluggish. Not enough good jobs are being created quick enough in Freetown. Chicken Town challenges this narrative and sends a bold message to Sierra Leonean’s that homegrown companies can thrive in Freetown and the country’s services sector can catch-up with West African countries, like Ghana, creating hundreds of new jobs in the process.

The Story of Chicken Town: A case and point example of how to gain high staff engagement and a unique culture in your brand new eating establishment

In July 2019, I got the opportunity to meet Benjamin Jackson (Business Development, Truestone) and Zemzem Ali (Commercial Director, Chicken Town) to learn more about the idea behind Chicken Town and the effect this small business is having in Freetown.

What was the idea behind bringing Chicken Town to market?

Zemzem confirms the numbers. Thirty-two are now employed in a mixture of kitchen and front of house roles at the restaurant. Most of them are school leavers. Chicken Town have also teamed up with local suppliers to source a range of ingredients for their menu.

During the design and build, they used local contractors and kept the import of materials to the minimum. Stylish glass windows, lighting and the kitchen are the only real imports in this place. The rest is locally sourced and it’s great to see the local wood fashioned into inspiring furniture designs.

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Fashionable wood: Benches and cushions are styled from local wood and patterned fabrics

One import that Chicken Town could not do without was knowledge and experience. Benjamin explains they headhunted their chef from Kenya to bring experience to the junior team on how to run a modern kitchen. This recruitment seems like a coup that is paying off. This type of restaurant has never been done in Sierra Leone to this standard before. And for a country also focused on growing its tourism sector over the coming decade, attracting external experience and skills will be key to improving the overall quality of restaurants and the standard of customer experience in Sierra Leone.

But the biggest benefactor of this new service might arguably be the customers, who come from a wide range of backgrounds. Zemzem tells me tales of older ladies lunching on Friday afternoons in their favourite booth. Colleagues from the nearby government building taking a quick trip across the road at lunchtime. School kids enjoying the restaurant in the afternoon. And groups of friends taking advantage of a more lively atmosphere on a Friday night. Children’s birthday parties are a big draw and when I’m in Chicken Town to interview there’s a group of young kids enjoying themselves on the table behind with their parents capturing every moment on camera. Simple joys and pleasures that come from a fun and enjoyable environment.

What about other services here in Freetown? Are there more opportunities for investors?

Benjamin admits that Freetown is a great place to start a business in the service sector. There’s a lack of competition and high standards here, which makes it a forgiving place for early mistakes as you improve your business.

The conclusion drawn is that there are plenty of opportunities for another “Chicken Town” overnight success in Freetown. The biggest barrier is upfront cash; but this is certainly not a crowded market for investors at the moment.

What more could government do to help small businesses in the services sector?

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What’s next for Chicken Town?

As for their supply chain, the company hopes that over the coming years business conditions in Sierra Leone will make it feasible to source chickens from their own poultry farms within Sierra Leone.

I’m currently working as an independent consultant in Sierra Leone. I’ve recently advised the Government of Sierra Leone’s Department for Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and the British Council on growing digital and creative services and businesses in Sierra Leone. I previously worked in innovation and digital technologies in the UK for PwC and a government-funded business support hub. You can reach me on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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City or country? Human or capital? Open or closed? Modern decisions we face. Currently independent in Sierra Leone. Previously Future Cities Catapult and PwC.

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