Espressos in Lagos — young entrepreneurs open Nigeria’s first coffee chain

Young Nigerians returning home from studies abroad are blazing a trail with the establishment of companies meant to service a growing middle class in the West African country. Ngozi Dozie and his brother Chijioke set up a coffee shop in the commercial city Lagos to cater to Nigerians working and living in the Island metropolis. Being the first of its kind Cafe Neo attracts a large number of customers but the brothers say they face many challenges as Nigerians are not traditionally coffee drinkers.

LAGOS, NIGERIA (REUTERS) – Looking for an early morning cappuccino or an espresso after a long work day, welcome to Cafe Neo – the first coffee shop chain in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling commercial capital.

Nigerians are famous for their eclectic cuisine but coffee drinking culture is somewhat new to the West African country.

Cafe Neo opened its doors in 2011. Vibrant colours, comfortable seating and free wifi are some of the other draws for those who purchase a cup of coffee here.

Established by two brothers, Ngozi and Chijioke Dozie, Cafe Neo has been so successful that they have opened two other coffee shops around the city.

The brothers noticed a gap in the beverage market in Lagos once they realised there were no coffee outlets

“We actually made an investment in coffee in Rwanda initially and in trying to sell more coffee in Nigeria, we actually discovered there were no coffee houses here so we tried to sell to hotels and other hospitality joints and when we saw that there was a market and opportunity we had to decide to set up Café Neo,” Ngozi Dozie said.

At about 900 naira (4 U.S. dollars) for the cheapest cup of coffee, not everyone can afford to buy one. Cafe Neo caters to a niche market, Nigeria’s growing middle class.

After years of headlines about Africa’s poverty, some analysts see middle class buyers with swelling disposable incomes as fuelling an economic boom from South Africa to Nigeria and Kenya.

Nigeria’s middle class make up around 23 percent of the population and earn around 80,000-100,000 naira (490-610 dollars) per month, according to a report by investment bank Renaissance Capital.

Cafe Neo’s founders invested up to 20 million naira (about 100,000 dollars) to start the coffee chain in Lagos. But the two faced several hurdles.

Despite its position as Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria still struggles with basic infrastructure problems which made it difficult to transport coffee grown in central Nigeria to Lagos.

“Currently we get our coffee from Rwanda but ultimately we see… the goal is, it’s an African brand and we are going to be serving the best of African coffee, Ethiopian, Ugandan, Kenyan, we actually tried some Nigerian coffee about a month ago, it’s actually fantastic coffee from Taraba State, the mambilla plateau. It’s more expensive because the logistics in bringing it here is more expensive than getting it from Rwanda and this is another challenge that we face,” added Dozie.

Marketing consultant, Ben Iordaah is a regularly at Cafe Neo and says the coffee chain is a great new addition to the food and dining experience in the city.

“I think it’s different, I think it’s one of the things that is needed, especially in Lagos a place where there is hustle and bustle everywhere, you just want a place where there is calm, there is a certain type of community of people who come here and great coffee,” said Iordaah.

Cafe Neo plans to expand and open 30 new outlets in the next five years placing them at the helm of a growing coffee culture in Nigeria.

“I like the fact that it is well placed and from the outside you can easily… it’s visible and the colour on the inside is really warm, it has that coffee feeling,” added property consultant, Babajide Babalola.

Outside a few places like Ethiopia, which consumes more than half the coffee it produces, few Sub-Saharan African markets have a taste for the drink. But with chains like Cafe Neo things are changing.

With premium coffee beans imported from Rwanda, Cafe Neo tells customers on its website that it is “celebrating the return of coffee to its African roots, one cup at a time,” an indication of the company’s vision to win over more coffee lovers not just in Nigeria but across the continent.