Liberia: From Cold Water Seller to Restaurant Owner – Liberian Woman Defies the Odds

Christine Juah Settro is pragmatic and determined and her persistence is paying off. After several years in exile, Settro, who started off selling cold water in bags, is now the proprietor of Great Treat Restaurant on 9th Street Sinkor, was jobless and thus decided to open a medium size enterprise that has today changed her life in many forms.

Her motivation for a personal business started years back in Accra, Ghana.

It was her read of the book “Hundred Ways to Success”, written by Ghanaian preacher Mensah Ottabell that inspired Settro to embark in her quest to succeed.

Settro recalled that she was part of the congregation during a Sunday morning service when the preacher delivered a sermon aptly titled “Hundred Ways to Success.

Settro recalls that she bought a copy of the book and started working out what is today Great Treat Restaurant.

Settro explains that when she returned to Liberia from exile, she cried out to her uncle for a financial assistance in a bid to begin her own business in Monrovia.

Her uncle assisted with a three hundred United States dollars (300) to jumpstart a simple water and ice block business on the 9th street. She says she started with one refrigerated and in a matter of one year, she had acquired five refrigerators in total to boost her business.

Settro says she saw an empty shop in the area and decided to take it. The rest was history. But the enterprising businesswoman says beginning her first business was not an easy task, considering the many ups and downs involved. She says electricity was a major impediment as she was operating on a private generator. Her landlord was on the other hand increasing the rent as her business grew.

Recalls Settro: “I was renting at the first place I began my business. You know when you are doing business, your landlords don’t sometime understand. When they see a lot of customers coming to you, they just feel you are making a whole lot of money and they will want to hike the rent. So we had problem with that previously. I was paying two hundred and twenty five United States dollars ($225.00), he carried it to two fifty and then lifted it three hundred dollars and so I decided to move. ”

After years in the ice block and cold pure water business, Settro upgraded to a provisions shop, selling imported goods. But with many constraints from her landlord coupled with her passion for cooking, she finally landed into a bar and restaurant business.

Today, Settro has come a long way since she received the three hundred dollars capital investment from her uncle. She now owns a promising business providing about twenty three (23) job opportunities for many Liberians.

Settro believes moving to a restaurant business is another challenge in her business life but says the journey has not been without challenges. She outlines robbery and lack of dishonesty from her staff as serious impediment which could ruin her business.

“The restaurant business has profit but those that are working for you enjoy your money more than yourself. Because one person can’t do everything and if you cannot check every day, you get nothing. They (employees) are not honest are all,” Settro says.

Quizzed by FPA about her own examination of Liberia’s business environment, Settro says the climate is good but lack of honesty from employees is a major concern.

The businesswoman says expired food products at various supermarkets and shops around town is adding to the many day-to-day challenges facing her thriving business.

She says appropriate authorities responsible to curb the influx of expired products are probably bribed or just reluctant in taking violators to task.

Settro recalls “Like I had an incident here two to three months back when I bought a fish. The very day we bought the fish and put it in the pot for cooking, everything melted. It was rotten and so it spoiled my business for that day. I was so angry and I took the whole pot to the cool storage. And the only thing they had to tell me was that it’s frozen food and they are not in it to know whether it is rotten or not. But they changed it because I told them if you don’t change it this will be the last Liberian woman money you will eat and go free.”

Settro says government revenue inspectors continue to make business difficult for entrepreneurs. She says multiple tax inspectors from one ministry or agency visit her business center on a daily basis intimidating her to pay extra cash when all her tax clearances remain intact.

“Sometimes you will have four to five tax inspectors coming on a daily basis from one entity. When you show all your documents and they are correct then they ask you, “old ma find something for us na”. All because these foreigners know how to buy their way around but for us it’s very tedious.”

Settro believes the establishment of Big Treat Restaurant has changed her life in so many ways. But points out her success stories in few sentences: “Instead of being an employee, I am an employer. Secondly, I am more focused and have a lot of responsibilities.”

Liberia achieved a growth rate of 6.9 percent in 2011, but the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remains miniscule, at $1.2 billion, that ranks it 171 out of 191 countries, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Endowed with water, minerals and a tropical climate, Liberia’s potential for economic development is good. Agriculture accounts for 76 percent of GDP, with industry at 5.4 percent and services at 17.7 percent. But with all the ups and downs, success and achievement, Settro is looking forward to a new era. She says she’s eying a wholesale enterprise in the very near future and could likely get rid of the food and drinks trading.

Doing business in a country where nearly 80% of its 3.5 million populations remain unemployed and about 60% living in abject poverty, Settro is not deterred and hopes to make it no matter what it takes.

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