I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have advance knowledge of the future. Like, if I knew years ago that my desire to be a lawyer would not come to be and I would end up doing a myriad of things that I didn’t even know when I was young to be possible.
Our choices were limited as teenagers in Accra, Ghana in the early 80s. 1983 saw a famine and a mass exodus of the middle class to the UK, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The word creative cannot exist in such circumstances and automatically, we were steered towards careers that would put food on the table.
I remember bumping into my former headmistress in Accra and the sneer on her face when she asked me what I did and I told her I run a café.
“You’re into catering,” she said, emphasising on the word catering as if it was something to be ashamed of.
I was indeed accepted into Ealing College to study law but arriving in the UK late and finding things a little different to what I expected, I had to work before thinking about college. The only experience I had was working in my mother’s café, Cool Corner Café a very strategically positioned spot beside the big banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, right across from the main Post Office, two stores away from Rose Pillars, adjacent to Glamour and with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly offices just up the road. I resented having to wake up early during the long vacation and giving up a day of hanging out with friends to work at the café.
It turned interesting when my friends began to visit and the young guys from the banks came in to have interesting conversations. Little did I know at the time that I was setting myself up for the future. In London, I worked with an agency called Blue Arrow and my first job was in a Council café as a catering assistant. It was arduous work for someone who was slightly spoilt at home, and I remember how my fingers turned red from scrubbing large pots which had burnt baked beans clinging to the base. But I went back the next day, I had bills to pay and school fees to plan for. I worked with a petite Irish chef called Carol and eventually she allowed me to prepare salads, taught me how to make trifles and sandwiches.
I felt I deserved something better, especially when the well dressed black girls who worked for the council came in and were being all uppity. Although I was working, I kept applying for jobs as a sales assistant, a few people I knew had glamourous jobs on Oxford Street, Bond Street and High Street Kensington and I wanted to look glam too, well dressed, made up and positioned behind the Calvin Klein counter. All I kept getting were well written, polite letters that said no.
I eventually ending up at the Hammersmith and Fulham Council Café which seated over 200 council employees. One summer, I met a Nigerian girl called Yinka. I was doing night classes at the time and when we got talking and she found out I knew how to use a computer she asked what I was doing working in a kitchen.
“I don’t know how to use a computer, but I’m applying for administrative positions,” she said to me.
The next day, we walked down to the Job Centre and I found a locum position in the same Hammersmith and Fulham Council. I was interviewed and so thrilled when the call came through that I’d gotten the position. This was the beginning of many great experiences and my ability to get into Croydon Business College whilst still working. My work was accepted as course work and this was such a blessing to me. In 1992, I was hired by the Shoreditch Project Team, out of over 100 applicants. The Shoreditch Project Team, working under Hackney College was in charge of the biggest further education project in the UK and they paid my fees until I completed college. My job was to manage the office, the consultants and liaise with directors and organisations such as the Bank of England. At one breakfast meeting, my boss Chris quoted something I wrote on my application form. I loved my job, and they were gutted when I resigned. I was on a Ghana Airways flight the day after graduation because of a difficult experience but it was all part of God’s strategy.
I had no network when I came back to Ghana. Being a bit of an introvert, I had not cultivated any friendships after school and this meant that I had to find my own way. Ghana had changed. It wasn’t anything like the turbulent 80s, shops were well stocked with food items and there was a steady entry of investor companies into the country. I was also very happy to find that there was a job agency run by a returnee Mavis Ewa. Mavis did a great job briefing me on the job market and found me a few interviews. I was offered three job positions but settled with TNT Express Worldwide as a Customer Service Executive.
Without going into much detail, I found that the confidence I had gained in the UK was going down the drain. From liaising with high level executives in the Bank of England, I found myself in this new job trying to explain to irate clients why their parcels had not arrived. Sometimes, my boss would take the phone from me in the middle of a conversation. I did not appreciate it then, but I recognise now that God creates discomfort when He wants movement from you. I had been writing for a magazine called ‘What’s Happening’ and when the CEO offered me a job as Editor I jumped at it. It was how I began to build a network since the job entailed, interviewing CEOs and heads of businesses such as DHL, Expert Travel & Tours amongst others.
The idea of the café was birthed whilst at TNT Express. I’d gone to Country Kitchen to have lunch alone and had returned with a packed lunch. It seemed that it was not seemly for a young woman to sit by herself and eat a meal. I had issues with that, having enjoyed many solo lunches whilst in England, but I suspect that most business ideas are birthed from inconveniences such as I experienced. I’d already lost a bit of independence after six years of living in England and the café when I finally completed it became a haven for me. This brings me to a point that is very important to me. The root, the intention, the seed of every venture. It’s something every budding entrepreneur should ponder over.
Although, my mother wasn’t sure about the location, at the time Airport Residential was exactly that, residential, she still supported me and was excited about getting into business again, even in her old age. She had lost the location in Accra at the point when her café was doing very well. Cuppa Cappuccino became a source of new excitement for her.
It was challenging to start with. The café culture was not yet established in Ghana. Most people went to the few high end hotels or hung out in homey, little spots where beer, soft drinks and kebabs were sold. There were days where we sold only one sandwich and I used to pray to God for 100 ghana cedis sales. I think God must have laughed when that prayer went up to Him, rolled his eyes and said, “Child! Please!”
I used to think the focus for marketing should be expatriates but I am so humbled by how my Ghanaian clients have sustained us. In the year 2000, I realised that people were coming back to Ghana after living abroad many years, a number of whom had left in the 1980s during the economic and social unrest. Young graduates were also choosing to come back home and there was a flurry of activity in the country. I saw the café begin to blossom and to be a hub and a haven for many people. Couples got engaged in the café, there were some private marriage proposals that thankfully went well. First dates, beautiful memories. Husbands driving through traffic to pick up sandwiches and smoothies to fulfil their pregnant wives cravings. Then the Cuppa babies were being born and now visiting the café. I wondered if some of them knew how many sandwiches they had consumed in the womb. I remember one child when his mother opened the front door, stepping into the café declaring, “I know this place.”
We’ve become a community, a business place that is a home for creatives and people who appreciate creatives. Our support for the poor and needy, street children and orphans is an integral part of our existence as a business. We’d like to make a difference for having existed in this space. It’s important that lives are impacted positively because Josie’s Cuppa Cappuccino came into being.
Last year in 2022, we hired two deaf staff members. It was a fulfilling move and one that we’d been trying to undertake for a long time. Hopefully, we will be looking at hiring more staff from within the deaf community and creating opportunities for them to fulfil their dreams.
Our twenty fifth anniversary slogan is about Love, Community and Stories. It’s our one liner strategy for moving forward as a business by working from a place of love, building a community both within the business and outside and being a business that is committed to the Arts, allowing creatives to utilise the space for their stories whether through music, film, fashion or theatre.
Who would have thought that a little, uncertain idea for a neighbourhood café would take seed, blossom and survive long enough to celebrate twenty five years in business? We are so grateful as a business to God for the vision in the first place and for being the author and finisher of all things.
Because of His grace we have come far. It has not been an easy journey but nothing good comes easy. I am just blessed in the knowledge that the original purpose for Josie’s Cuppa Cappuccino, the seed, the intention has materialised. That it has served as a haven, a space that heals, restores and creates harmony. I believe that each business has an essence that represents in an intangible way, what it stands for. My encouragement to other entrepreneurs and those who wish to embark on this journey is whatever happens, keep going, stay true to yourself and your vision. The race is yours to win, but only, only if that’s what you want.
With all the twists and turns, this is the road I was meant to be on and it has proved a challenging road indeed, but one that is truly fulfilling. It’s been a journey that has allowed me to express myself in a myriad of ways and revealed in the process, many gifts of creativity. The beauty of reflection is in looking back and understanding why things happened the way they, why there were some roadblocks along that way and I am convinced that God’s plan is best and I’d rather savour the wisdom discovery than have pre knowledge of the future. I’d rather journey with Him in the discovery of His purpose.
Franka-Maria Andoh was born in Accra. She started writing Christmas plays with her dad’s old typewriter aged 8 and took a long break from writing until 2004 when she was selected to be a part of the Crossing Borders Programme organised by the British Council. Franka took off from then and has under her belt several children books, Koku the Cockerel, Dokono the Donkey, Yum Yum the Bully Boy, The Kente Curtain, The Kente Dress, Kumasi to London and Dear Kweku.
With a grant from the Danish Cultural Fund, Franka self-published a collection of short stories, I Have Time and Other Short Stories. This won the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) – Ama Ata Aidoo Short Story Award. She also published a collection of essays celebrating ten years in the café business titled Still Passionate About Coffee. Her short story Mansa was featured in the Caine African Writers anthology and translated into Spanish. In 2021, her touching short story Twin Butterflies was accepted into the ‘Lockdown’ Anthology. Franka won a national award for her handbook for young girls titled Having a Period, Not a Little Girl Anymore. Her gift of creative non-fiction saw her co-author the book Sam with esteemed Member of the Council of State and lawyer Mr Sam Okudzeto.
Her boutique publishing house Lemontree Publishing has birthed its first book by Franka-Maria entitled Under the Light which was launched officially in December during the 25th anniversary of her café. Josie’s Cuppa Cappuccino was listed in 2015 by Ventures Africa as one of the leading café’s in Africa.