It is no secret that the restaurant industry is one of the most difficult to find success in. Due to a lack of planning and working capital, many restaurants do not make it past their first year in business. The right ownership, staff, and a streamlined approach are a recipe for success.
Sammed Okyne, a Liberian native who migrated to the United States in 1997, has turned his native cuisine into a profitable restaurant business. During his time as a student at Penn State Brandywine, Okyne used food as a focal point to bring together his community through a series of neighborhood events. Upon graduating in 2013, African cuisine and culture were reintroduced to the residents of Southwest Philadelphia. With only his savings to pull from, Okyne opened Kings and Queens, a Pan-African takeout restaurant located in Upper Darby, PA.
Consistent messaging, word of mouth, and celebrity appearances have helped the eatery get national recognition. In 2018, Okyne rebranded the name from Kings and Queens to Kings and Queens Liberian Cuisine to further highlight the dishes of his homeland.
BLACK ENTERPRISE recently spoke with Okyne about the restaurant industry, growing the business, and advice for aspiring restauranteurs.
What was the inspiration behind your restaurant?
I was inspired by the opportunity to introduce people to the home-cooked meals that I grew up on. Increasing numbers of consumers are interested in experiencing cuisines from around the world that cannot be easily made at home. My culture is important to me, and I believe that one way for me to leave an impact on not only my heritage but people is through Kings and Queens.
How important are the big three: a great chef, a great location, and a great concept?
Very, very important. The more streamlined you can make your business the better, and these three aspects play a huge role in restaurant operation success. No restaurant has universal appeal, therefore you will never capture 100% of the market. A great concept, location, and chef will allow you to capture that important 5-10%, and you grow from there.
When do you know the right time to evolve or stick to your core restaurant offerings?
Eliciting feedback from customers and taking risks to try something new has been our formula at Kings and Queens. We will always have our core cuisines that are driving revenue on a daily and nightly basis. Our strategy has been to offer new items as a special menu item to see how it is received before adding it to the menu as a full-time offering. Sometimes you just have to try something new!
The restaurant business is a grind. How many months of working capital should one have when starting?
Two to three years of working capital is ideal, but the amount of money you need varies depending on factors including the facility, equipment, inventory, and marketing. Do your research, work within your budget, and talk to owners within your industry.
What’s the one piece of advice for young entrepreneurs interested in opening a restaurant?
Do your market research, find what you can bring that’s different to the industry, and use you current resources. Start where you are with what you have.
Where can we learn more about Kings and Queens?
You can follow me on social media @kingsandqueenslc on Instagram and Facebook, @kingsqueenslc on Twitter, and at our website, www.kqlcafrica.com