By Folake Olagunju I
I vividly remember those days in secondary school, 2006 to be precise, when my friends and I would sneak out of our hostel in Fagba and walk all the way to Abule Egba, just to eat Pounded Yam and Egusi soup at the Mama Cass Restaurant located there. The placed was usually filled to the brim with people eating all kinds of traditional meals whenever we got there.
One would have thought that the leading dealer in local dishes would have peaked in terms of spread and popularity by now, eight years later. But that does not seem to be the case. In recent times, anyone passing by that food outlet at Ogba would not but wonder what must have gone wrong. The doors are closed and the only visible thing is overgrown weeds that have taken over the premises.
Whatever the issue might be, the Fagba outlet does not seem to be the only one facing it, as it was gathered that the outlets in Surulere and Ikeja Military Cantonment have also been shut down in the last one year.
There are also indications that the company’s management has concluded plans to shut down another 14 of its outlets across the country and in the United Kingdom due to poor patronage. To add to this, it is on record that the company has not launched any new outlet in the country in the last three years.
With these developments, it can be deduced that the dream of the quick service restaurant (QSR), reputed to have introduced the concept of traditional dishes in QSRs, to be the leader of the pack in that area is fast getting blurred as competition and other economic situations seem to be taking their toll on it.
After observing a trend whereby workers stopped at roadside canteens (bukas) to eat traditional meals for some time, Charis Grace Omobowale, the Group Managing Director of Mama Cass, in 1981, started a small shop at Alade market, where she sold pastries to workers and shop owners, while still an employee in another establishment.
In 1983, she birthed her first Mama Cass Cafeteria on Allen Avenue, Ikeja. Over the years, the popular Mama Cass Restaurant, with branches in Lagos, Ogun, Edo, Abuja and the United Kingdom, made a name for itself as a brand that upholds traditional heritage.
However, this heritage is fast waning in glory as a result of so many factors. One major factor that can be adduced for this is competition. Gone are the days when Mama Cass was the major place to go to for undiluted Nigerian dishes. Nowadays, many other fast foods outlets have dived into this segment, with so many other new ones springing up, fully dedicated to the cause of serving only traditional meals.
Another reason that could be said to have contributed to the seeming decline of the QSR is its deviation from the delivery of only local Nigerian dishes, the thing that drew customers to the brand in the first place, which, somehow, appears to be contrary to the company’s philosophy, as contained on its website: “Where others are diversifying, we understand the need to keep our traditional heritage passed on from generation to generation ….”
It would be recalled that in the course of time, Mama Cass began to offer continental dishes like fried rice, French fries etc and, being that the regular QSRs have similar offerings, the initiative kind of reduced its uniqueness and made the restaurant almost at par with the others.
This would not have been an issue if the organization had stepped up to the level of sophistication brought to bear by some of these other regular continental outlets like KFC, Chicken Republic, Nandos among others.
Mama Cass restaurants can do with some upgrading and sensitization in other to compete favorably in the QSR sector, as many people seem to have lost sight of the food service provider again, owing to its little visibility in recent times.
We can only hope that the company of nearly three decades is able to come back bigger and stronger to reclaim its position as the apex food service provider with the true Nigerian spirit.