Meet Kola Adewale, founder of The Place, a string of hospitality and entertainment outlets that started out nine years ago in Ikeja, Lagos. Between then and now, he has established The Place Lekki and The Place Victoria Island, with an Alausa outlet in the works and more planned for the future. We bring you excerpts of an interview with this experienced business man as published by Thisday.
Building different yet complimentary businesses wasn’t the plan in the beginning. The Place founder, Kola Adewale, admits as much. The first The Place opened for business nine years ago in Ikeja, originally as an eatery selling sumptuous meals that.
“That was what I could see making money, something I could start small and grow into,” Adewale explains. Later on though, the idea of blending the food with a lounge/ bar occurred to him. “It was later that the whole club idea evolved.”
In his mid-forties, Adewale is unassuming, soft-spoken, calm but witty. We are at his office at the Victoria Island outlet, the most recent of the three currently open. He doesn’t cut the picture of a club owner, especially if flamboyance is what you attach to a restauranteur cum hotelier. He looks like the cerebral type, a blue-chip company executive.
On why he left a lucrative daytime job for business, Adewale says:
I did 16 years with KPMG, an accounting firm that used to be Arthur Anderson in Nigeria,” he says. There was a year overlap between leaving his prestigious job and starting his own thing. “I started The Place in 2006 then left KPMG 2007.“ However, the conception of starting his own business was many more years before. He was gaining expeience helping others with their businesses.
“I started with the accounting practice and business advisory for small businesses from the early days, so my 16 years was primarily management consulting, which gave me broad exposure in the running and managing of businesses. It gave me confidence that I had the skills to run any business. I think the question was which one will be viable, which one I would be able to put my savings in as there was little or no support from the banks for a start-up,” he reveals.
“I felt the food business was doing well. The Mr Biggs, the Tantalizers, the Sweet Sensations, you could see growth, you could see expansion, the money was good.”
Three outlets already with a fourth in the pipeline is an indication of growth. Another The Place is soon to open at Alausa. “It’s going to be like Lekki,” says, indicating that this new outlet would have a restaurant, a club and rooms. Business must be good right? He chuckles. “Not overnight,” he counters, “but so far, so good. It is unlikely we would replicate this over four places now if it wasn’t.”
He explains why Alausa. “We’ve seen the market at the Ikeja Mall. There’s quite a bit of traffic.” The strategist in him sited The Place Alausa within a stone’s throw of the mall.
Adewale sheds some light on how it all started and the progression. The property in Ikeja was leased but Lekki was built from scratch, which explains the hotel on the top floor.
“It (Lekki) was built to specifications. It was a plain piece of paper start-up as against Ikeja where we got a three-bedroom house and kept tweaking it when it wasn’t our property. The landlady almost asked for her property back,” he laughs softly.
Our meeting was on a Sunday. Is always hands-on? “I operate from here for now, just a convenience thing. I really won’t say I’m hands-on. I’m more business developmental, more strategic than hands on.”