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Teacher finds silver lining in the middle of pandemic

By Evelyn Makena
Tuesday, September 15th, 2020
Beldina Olouch, a teacher and entrepreneur invested time in her businesses after schools closed. Photo/PD/Courtesy
In summary
    • 20 -the number of employees at the newly opened Elegant Garden Hotel
    • Getting finances was the main hurdle to opening the hotel with Beldina noting that banks are reluctant to offer loans to small and medium businesses. The couple relied on support from friends.
    • Beldina Delicacies bakery offers a five-days short course on baking.

The onset of coronavirus outbreak in Kenya in March this year brought unprecedented suffering to many people.

As the crisis progressed, many people lost jobs, businesses were closed down, while some families lost loved ones to the disease.

Despite the dark cloud coronavirus has brought on many levels, it has also presented a silver lining for others.

For Beldina Kirito Oluoch, an entrepreneur, the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity for her business to grow.

When the pandemic hit the country in March, Beldina and her husband were running two successful businesses –– a bakery, Beldina’s Delicacies based in Kikuyu, Kiambu County and a landscaping company, Elegant Gardens Landscapes.

 When  schools and  public gatherings were banned in March 13, Beldina, who is also a teacher at Alliance High School saw an opportunity to concentrate on her businesses. 

“ The businesses were well-established and were running independently but I suddenly found myself with so much time in my hands after schools closed,” she says.

Within days of the ban on public gatherings her baking business took a hit.

“From doing over 30 birthday cakes in a week our orders in March decreased to five,” she says.

With the dip in orders, Beldina could barely pay her 10 employees at the bakery in March and April and was forced to send some on unpaid leave and retain others on half pay.

“Paying rent for the business premises also became a struggle and we had to negotiate with the landlord to offer us a grace period.

Additionally, we also negotiated with microfinances that gave us loans to support our businesses to review our terms of payment,” she says.

With the effects of the pandemic getting tougher by day, Beldina and her husband had to re-strategise in order to remain afloat.

“Things were tough, but there was no time for a pity party,” she says. With many people being indoors due to movement restrictions, Beldina saw an opportunity in putting up kitchen gardens through her landscaping business.

Initially, the company had been specialising in installation of carpet grass, making lawns and laying of cabro and pavements, but had never designed kitchen gardens until the opportunity presented itself during the outbreak.

The demand for kitchen gardens was so high between March and April as people were keen to grow their own vegetables.

We would install up to 30 vertical gardens in a good week,” adds Beldina. 

During the business hiatus at the bakery, Beldina decided to set up a YouTube Channel and teach baking skills online.

The channel attracted a lot of interest, as many people who had lost jobs were keen on learning skills to help them earn an income.

Others were just keen to learn a new skill to beat boredom. At the same time, Beldina kept herself occupied by trying out different recipes in the house and sharing the outcome on a group she had created on Facebook.

“From this experience I realised that I had a passion for cooking. The feedback from the group was also encouraging and an idea to set up a hotel was born in May,” she says.

Big leap of faith

With few adjustments, including offering online baking classes and making home deliveries, the baking business begun picking up in July.

The business that was initially offering basic and advanced baking training also resumed the classes in July. 

“We took only five students per session for classes that would initially accommodate 10. The two classes offered daily were always fully booked,” she says.

With the baking business, picking up Beldina and her husband were able to mobilise resources from friends and set up a hotel, Elegant Garden Hotel on a two acre rented space in Karen. The hotel was opened a week ago.

Beldina admits that it was such a huge risk opening a hotel, especially when similar businesses were closing down.

But seeing her baking business rise up from brink of collapse encouraged her to take the big leap. 

“When I shared the idea with some friends some thought that I was crazy. But I knew that there was an opportunity because people were tired of being indoors and were interested in eating out,” she says. 

Beldina says that the pandemic has taught her important lessons on life including the need to have multiple sources of income at any given time.

At the same time, Beldina says she has learnt to be adaptable and change with the times emphasising that capitalising on online platforms to promote her businesses has been helpful in keeping them afloat.